A new study shows that cognitive behavioral therapy is significantly more effective at treating seasonal depression than light therapy.
Seasonal depression affects people in colder regions all over the world. As darkness begins to fall earlier and earlier each day with the onset of winter, a palpable gloom sets in on large portions of the population.
There are many tactics people use to combat the dull winter months, from exercise to sitting by an ultraviolet lamp for an hour each day. According to a report from the Atlantic, however, a new study shows that the best cure for Seasonal Affective Disorder is help from a certified therapist.
The study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, shows that cognitive behavioral therapy is a much better option long term than short fixes like UV lamps. Researchers from the University of Vermont tracked 177 people who underwent either light therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy to combat their seasonal affective disorder for a six-week period. They followed up with the participants for two subsequent winters to see how their depression was affected.
In the first winter following the treatments, the researchers found that both therapies seemed to be equally effective at quelling the symptoms of SAD. By the second winter, however, the results were much more disparate.
27.3 percent of the participants in the group that had received cognitive behavioral therapy by the second check-in reported that their seasonal depression had returned. By contrast, 45.6 percent of the group who received light therapy reported that their symptoms had returned. The differences persisted after the researchers controlled for other treatments the participants may have received over the study period.
According to Kelly Rohan, a professor at the University of Vermont, cognitive behavioral therapy was more effective at warding off seasonal depression because it teaches people lifelong coping skills that help them deal with depression in the long term. Light therapy requires daily treatment, and its effects appear to only be temporary.
The results were somewhat predictable, Rohan says. Cognitive behavioral therapy is effective at treating forms of non-seasonal depression, and the same principles seem to apply with SAD. By teaching people to focus on their depression and actively make changes that counteract some of its effects, the therapy produces greater results than an artificial light treatment.
A press release from the University of Vermont outlining the study’s details can be found here.