Depression has many causes. Sometimes depression is organic and can be treated with medication. Sometimes depression is situational, meaning it is caused by the way we organize our thoughts or feelings about situations in our lives. Sometimes it is both situational and organic.
Situational depression can be treated by working to reorganize our thinking patterns through a method known as Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). Often clients suffering from depression can benefit from both medication and CBT.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Often, those who suffer from situational depression follow a specific type of thinking pattern in which they perceive their situations as extremes—everything is black or white, amazing or terrible, with no intermediate levels of gray or so-so. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps people learn to avoid such “all or nothing” thoughts.
Clients suffering from depression tend to see things as all dark on bad days and all light when times are good. This black-and-white thinking pattern sets up the brain for mood extremes, which make emotional balance difficult. Because black-and-white thinking leads us to believe that good and bad cannot coexist, it keeps us from enjoying the everyday situations that are neither amazing nor terrible. Realizing that there is good and bad in almost every situation can open up our minds to perceive the positive aspects.
The ancient Chinese symbol Taijitu, better known as the yin-yang symbol, illustrates that opposites can interact and achieve harmony. Taijitu is symbolic of life, because everything in life contains both shadow and light, just as the white portion of the symbol contains a circle of black and the black portion contains a circle of white. Neither color in the symbol is complete without the other, but together they illustrate complete harmony. Only by recognizing both the black and the white in our lives can we find emotional stability.
Understanding that things are rarely all black or all white requires maturity. While a baby’s moods are very simple—I am happy or I am not happy and I am hungry or I am not hungry—mature thinking requires seeing complexities. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, therapists help clients see how black-and-white thinking harms them and creates mood extremes. Distressing events can be explained better in percentages or degrees rather than in terms of all good or all bad.
Clients are advised to delete key words in their descriptions like never, always, and must. Avoiding these words helps us avoid catastrophizing a situation. We then are able to see solutions instead of only problems. For example, a woman who has been physically abused may feel inclined to say to herself, “My abuse was the worst possible thing that could ever happen. I must never be abused again. I won’t survive it again, so I must always avoid every possible situation that could lead me there.”
This pattern of thinking creates a victim mentality and keeps us from moving beyond the problem toward a solution. To find solutions rather than justification for her way of thinking, the woman could reframe her response to her abuse in the following way: “I am a survivor of abuse. It was a painful experience, but I have grown and learned from my experience. I am skilled in self-defense now, and if a situation like that comes up again, I am prepared.”
Harmony and Peace
Life is a balance of good and bad, of shadow and light. We are healthier if we seek for integration—if we learn to accept the positive with the negative. Most of us are filled with both positive and negative traits and experiences. When we balance our strengths with our weaknesses, we find harmony and peace in ourselves and with others. We find the “yin and yang” of life.
Check out another one of my posts on depression: https://utahmentalhealthservices.com/black-and-white-thinking-leads-to-depression/
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