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Depression Health Center

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Talk Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy May Help, Small Study Shows
WebMD Health News

Oct. 31, 2005 -- A type of talk therapy may help treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), new research shows.

SAD is a form of depression. It's active during the fall and winter, when daylight hours are scarce, and eases during spring and summer.

SAD patients often get light therapy. That involves daily exposure to artificial bright light during the fall and winter.

Light therapy has been shown to help, but it doesn't completely relieve SAD for nearly half of the patients that try it, write Kelly Rohan, PhD, and colleagues.

Light might not be the only way to treat SAD, Rohan's small study shows. Rohan works in the University of Vermont's psychology department.

Different Approach

Rohan's team tested cognitive behavioral therapy on a small group of SAD patients.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy. It involves finding and changing negative patterns of thought and behavior -- with a trained counselor's help -- in a short series of sessions.

Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be effective in treating depression, write the researchers. So, they tested it on a small group of SAD patients.

SAD Study

Rohan's study included 61 people. They were split into four groups.

Fifteen people met in small groups for SAD-related cognitive behavioral therapy. They met twice weekly for 1.5 hours each time.

Another 15 people got cognitive behavioral therapy plus light therapy. They were given an at-home light box, along with instruction and a treatment plan from a light-therapy expert.

Other patients (16 people) got only light therapy. The fourth group (15 people) went on a six-week wait list for light therapy.

The treatments were all done during wintertime.

New Option?

Cognitive behavioral therapy, alone or with light therapy, was effective at treating SAD, write the researchers.

At the end of treatment, 80% of patients who got cognitive behavioral therapy and light therapy were in remission. (Keep in mind that the numbers of patients were small; 80% of 15 patients equals 12 people).

The results were based on the patients' scores on several before-and-after depression surveys.

The study was the first of its kind, the researchers note.

Coping with SAD

Here are a few of the strategies the researchers used in cognitive behavioral therapy treatments, which were tailored specifically to SAD:

  • Schedule pleasant activities during wintertime.
  • Challenge negative thoughts about winter.
  • Develop a personalized plan to cope with mood changes, especially when the seasons change.

Rohan's study is due for publication soon, states a University of Vermont news release. The findings were also presented in part earlier this year at the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting.

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