There is probably not a more common reason to seek therapy than depression. Nearly everyone experiences depression at some point, or many times, in their life. It is a rather familiar experience for many of us, and it is most always difficult to overcome. Some people suffer a deeper sort of depression than others, and some experience a chronic depression that lasts for months or years at a low grade but debilitating level. Some common symptoms of depression are:
- Feelings of sadness and emptiness
- Feelings of anxiety
- Experiencing restlessness or irritability
- Losing interest in all or most activities
- Problems with appetite that can lead to weight gain or weight loss
- Sleeping problems
- Loss of interest in sex
- Low energy that can include feeling tired much of the time
- Difficulty with concentration or making decisions
- Feeling negative toward oneself including worthlessness or excessive guilt
- Feeling hopeless or helplessness
- Crying spells
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs in order to cope with depressed mood
- Thoughts of death and suicide
The modern, conventional, way to deal with depression is to take an antidepressant and seek a bit of talk therapy. Many only opt to take the medication and skip the therapy. If you read about the clinical studies showing the efficacy of either of these approaches, it is difficult to get conclusive answers. There was a time when depression was considered such a normal part of life no one did much about it, except to patiently wait for its passing. During this waiting time, people often thought deeply about their situation, they may have even been found writing poetry, listening to music, or engaging in some other profoundly introspective activity. They may have just sat quietly and meditated, understanding that ultimately all would pass.
In our more modern time it would be interesting to do something similar, along with what modern science recommends. For example, it would be interesting to ask the psyche, the inner world of our mind, why it wishes to plunge us into depression. Of course we are the psyche, and the psyche is us, but nonetheless, we still can consciously ask our inner mind for explanations to better understand our circumstances. We might be surprised by the answers.
Few, if any, want to be depressed. But like a fever—which is also unwelcome but whose purpose is to rid the body of disease—depression may be just what we need at a particular point in our lives. I am not suggesting that we stay depressed and do nothing to alleviate the pain. But expecting the darkness to pass by ignoring its purpose or its underlying reasons for coming into our lives and as a result unconsciously find ourselves slipping deeper and deeper into despair without intentionally searching for answers and solutions, and not taking steps toward those solutions, may be just the course that keeps a person depressed.
Depression often is a wakeup call, a disturbing reminder that we are off track in a variety of ways: physically, dietetically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. If any of these things that make up the whole of us is out of balance, or not being nurtured properly, we may find ourselves depressed in an effort to bring us to action, introspection, or even to force us into a state of more reflective being.
In addition to these causes of depression, we may be responding to an external situation such as a profound loss, difficulty in relationship, or a problem with our work. We may also be grappling with unconscious forces that were created in our childhood through our relationship with our parents or caregivers that affect our sense of self worth, self esteem, and lovability. These unconscious systems often clash with our conscious world, contradicting what we think to be the cause of suffering and pain, or they challenge our own personal values, purpose in life, and meaning to living. These are huge issues, and if we are not in some sort of understanding about them, we can become depressed, bewildered, and confused.
Depth psychology (which is the primary modality I practice) treats depression from a variety of angles. It does not ignore the fire that is currently ranging and uses more conventional techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy to deal specifically with the symptoms of depression. At the same time a depth psychotherapist will look at the other deeper issues that may be bringing the depression on. We ask the psyche what it is looking for and why it feels it needs to sink us into depression. What sort of wake up call are we receiving?
Conventional medication is also an option, and working together with other medical professionals such as family physicians and psychiatrists, if the client is comfortable with such involvement, is always an option. These professionals can assess and then prescribe medications if need be. The point with all of this is to be intentional, conscious, and aware of the underlying reasons for depression and to honor those reasons, to give them a voice to be heard, and to strive for a better psychological balance. It is my firm belief as a psychotherapist that the human organism is meant to prosper, create, and essentially be productive, happy, and fulfilled—and to navigate through this life with purpose and personal meaning.
Todd Hayen is a psychotherapist practicing in Richmond Hill Ontario. Please leave comments by clicking the comments link below this post. I welcome any thoughts you may have.