A loyal reader complains of being “depressed about nothing in particular.”
As an REBT coach, my ears prick up when I see/hear the word “depressed” because REBT-CBT uses the word in a special way that is not the same way, I think, that “civilians” normally use it. As you know, REBT-CBT, makes a distinction, a large distinction, between unhealthy depression and healthy sadness. The problem is that civilians tend to use the word “depressed” to describe a “blue mood” or garden variety sadness. So, if you said to me “I feel sad for no particular reason” I would not be very concerned about that because it sounds perfectly normal to me. I have all kinds of thoughts, feelings, sensations, states and moods which ebb and flow daily, hourly in response to some fantastic, inscrutable rhythms of biology and psychology not under my conscious control. So, for me, I don’t pay much attention to my “sad for no particular reason” episodes because (1) I realize there is indeed no particular reason, and (2) that they are temporary and passing. I would not feel any need to dispute that unless I was inappropriately and erroneously making myself crazy over it by musts, awfuls and self downing (e.g., I mustn’t feel sad when I don’t care to, and when I feel something that I mustn’t feel, I can’t stand it, and it means that I am a weak person, a loser who cannot even control his emotions”). Even in the case where there is a reason, such as a loss or disappointment, sadness is a perfectly rational, healthy response. One might almost say that you “should” feel sad if you lose your job or your friend or anything that you value. It is only when you secondarily disturb yourself with nutty, distorted thinking, irrational beliefs and automatic, unhealthy self-talk that there is a problem that disputing, et al is called for . . .
On the other hand there is “clinical” depression which is (1) a cluster of symptoms which may include sadness, feeling numb, not feeling much of anything, irritability, confusion, “foggy” thinking, fatigue or agitation, ennui, the urge to sleep, the urge to do nothing, overeating or loss of appetite, and others. (2) the inability to “snap out of it” with various interventions, (3) the inability to feel pleasure or cheered up by the things that usually or used to bring pleasure, and (3) having persisted for several weeks.
This is a serious situation, can even be life-threatening, and can benefit from aggressive professional intervention. Typically, a good REBT-CBT guy will not allow a client to entertain vague complaints such as “depressed for no particular reason” for very long, and would work to find specifics instances, events, times and places when the depression is most intense or troublesome. After all, saying “I’m depressed” is a very broad generalization. I find it hard to imagine that anyone is 100% depressed, 100% of the time in all situations. Are you depressed when you are asleep? Are you depressed immediately upon awakening? Showering? Eating? Working? Alone? With other people? Which person or people specifically? Where do you feel this “depression” in your body? It can be a long list.
Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapists would probably prescribe some exercises where you spent time quietly sitting and breathing and observing your depression, allowing yourself to feel it, even embrace it without struggling to change it or fix it or cure it . . . which hopefully would make it easier to use rational tools such as ABC’s, et al to help yourself feel better and begin getting more of what you want from life, more in accord with your core values and “heart’s desire,” and less of what you do not want. Behavior change is important as well, as I am sure Dr. Gunars would scold me if I did not it mention here. To put it in a sort of ham-handed way; if you have created a lot of depressing circumstances and behaviors in your life, it is hardly surprising that you feel depressed. In fact, one might even say that under those circumstances you “should” feel depressed. So changing your environment, circumstances, relationships and behaviors is often a very important part of a comprehensive program of recovery from depression. Often, getting out there and doing volunteer work or providing service of some kind can make a huge difference. “Service” to other people is an ancient treatment for depression, and it is as effective in modern times as it was in ancient times, possibly more effective as modern people are often self-absorbed, narcissistic, self-indulgent and disconnect from other people and a sustaining sense of community.
It is nearly impossible to work on abstractions such as “depressed” without defining specific activating events (“A’s) which you can then do your ABC’s, Three Column, TME, or Will’s online forum.
Khon Kaen, Thailand
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Originally posted 2014-07-16 06:50:09.