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Does 'Hope Therapy' Help Depression?

Learning to Have Hope May Reduce Anxiety and Depression Symptoms, Study Suggests
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 18, 2008 -- Is being hopeful something we can learn? Researchers hope so. Several studies looking at "hope therapy" are showing positive results.

Study lead author Jennifer Cheavens of Ohio State University says in a news release that "hope therapy seeks to build on strengths people have, or teach them how to develop those strengths. We focus not on what is wrong, but on ways to help people live up to their potential."

That's a detour from traditional talk therapy, which often focuses on what's wrong.

One study looked at 32 people who attended hope therapy sessions for two hours a week for eight weeks. They were tested before and after, and compared to a group that did not go to therapy.

The therapy groups had four to eight people and were led by a pair of doctoral students in clinical psychology. The sessions were audio-recorded.

The group therapy participants had significant change in measures of self-esteem, life meaning, and anxiety than those not in the group therapy. There was a decrease in depression symptoms, but it didn't reach statistical significance.

The therapy group was taught skills that researchers believe are related to hope.

Cheavens says hopeful people have goals, the inspiration to go after those goals, and the skills to make them happen.

Hope Defined

Cheavens said hope differs from optimism.

"If you feel you know how to get what you want out of life, and you have that desire to make that happen, then you have hope."

People with high hope, according to researchers writing in background information published with the results, possess these "components of hope":

  • Goals: They have long- and short-term meaningful goals.
  • Ways to reach those goals: A plan or pathway to get there and the ability to seek alternative routes, if needed.
  • Positive self-talk, similar to the little red engine from the children's book, telling themselves things like "I think I can."

Researchers add that these three traits are related to each other and can be taught.

For instance, you set a goal that can create motivation to follow through, which can ignite inspiration and action to take the steps to get moving.

In background information presented with the study results, the authors write that many people who go to psychotherapy are not mentally ill.

They write that most talk therapies work with ways to help heal the damage to a person's psyche.

But authors say if that could be combined with ways to identify and shore up the person's strengths, the result could be much more powerful and help people not backslide into self-destructive behaviors.

Authors write that hope therapy borrows from standard cognitive therapy but it includes new twists.

"What I think is exciting about hope therapy is the way we are learning from people who are doing very well. We have been figuring out what hopeful people are doing right, and taking those lessons and developing therapies and interventions for people who are not doing as well," according to Cheavens in a prepared statement.

Cheavens adds, "The great news is that it seems to work -- we can teach people how to be more hopeful."

The findings are published in the journal Social Indicators Research.

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