Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Treatment: SAD Light Therapy vs. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for depression, but for Seasonal Affective Disorder, light therapy – either by itself or in combination with antidepressant medication – has become the treatment of choice. But a new study published in the September issue of Behavior Therapy showed that CBT was more effective than light therapy in the long-term treatment of SAD.

Study Shows Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for SAD Provides Longer-Term Benefit

Sixty-nine participants were assigned to four groups. Some received CBT alone, others received CBT and light therapy. A third group was given light therapy alone, and a fourth group was put on a waiting list.

During the follow-up one year later, the group that was given CBT alone or in combination with light therapy reported significantly less recurrence of symptoms than the group that received light therapy alone. The National Institute of Mental Health has made a grant for the next phase of this study.

Choosing the Right Therapy for Seasonal Affective Depression

There are a variety of antidepressant medications, talk therapies, and chronotherapeutics (the use of environmental stimuli like light and sleep deprivation to change biological rhythms) that help relieve depression. But not every treatment works for every person, and each has its own benefits and drawbacks.

Recent research has revolved around combining these and other therapies to minimize side effects and increase benefits. Choosing the right therapy may not be a question of which one, but which combination.

How to Combine Therapies for Depression and SAD

People must consider their own circumstances and preferences when deciding on a treatment strategy for seasonal depression. Some people may have a depression so severe that the only thing they can manage to do for themselves is take medication. The depression may interfere with their ability to attend a regular therapy appointment or get up early enough to sit in front of therapeutic lights.

Other people see medication for depression as a last resort. They may wish to try talk therapy or light therapy first, or a combination. Different mental health professionals may be more knowledgeable about one type of SAD therapy over another. So it may be important to seek out a psychiatrist who utilizes all the different types of therapies for depression and can refer patients to the appropriate person or facility for the treatment chosen.

How Does CBT Provide Long-Term Benefits for SAD?

The new study proves something that there is already agreement on by many mental health practitioners: while antidepressant medications are often necessary but take awhile to work, and light therapy can speed up the effect giving people relief much sooner, therapy for seasonal depression may not really be complete without talk therapy.

People can learn how their thoughts and actions worsen their depression, – even if that depression has its initial cause in brain chemistry, lack of light, or heredity. They can learn to take control and stop that downward cycle of depression, and even to reverse it. This is what cognitive-behavioral therapy for depression is all about.

People with seasonal depression can benefit by using antidepressant medications if necessary. Therapeutic light therapy for SAD can bring quick relief for many, with or without medication. To maintain the benefits in a lasting way, cognitive-behavioral therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder should be considered. All people experiencing depression should seek the advice of a medical or mental health professional.