One of the popular and well-researched non-medication alternatives for bipolar and unipolar depression is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), a method of helping people identify and change unhealthy patterns of thought and/or behavior. CBT looks at the interaction between feelings, thoughts and behavior, and helps participants learn to analyze the connections between them and how they influence each other.
For example, it’s very common that people experience feelings of helplessness and hopelessness during an episode of depression. This feeling of hopelessness can lead to behaviors like staying in bed all day, and it can lead to negative thoughts, like “I’m no good, things will never get better.”
Cognitive Behavior Therapy approaches this situation in two different ways. The first is called behavior activation. That’s when you take the necessary actions even though you don’t feel like it. Getting up and dressed, getting outside for morning light, going to the gym, etc. These behaviors can have the effect of changing the feelings and thoughts and therefore lessening the depression.
Alternatively, you can approach the thoughts themselves. What evidence do you have for saying “I’m no good”? What evidence can you find against this thought? For example, family members appreciate your contributions, you got good grades in school, you are successful at work, etc. Once you weigh up the evidence for and against, you will probably find that your negative thoughts are way overboard, and you can start to do cognitive restructuring, a technique for changing those negative thoughts. “I’m not really much of an athlete, but I have been getting stronger since I’ve been going to the gym more regularly”. “It took me a long time to catch on at work, but now I understand the job much better”. With practice, you will learn to replace the negative thoughts with more constructive and accurate ones.
CBT allows you to examine the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behavior, therefore enabling you challenge old, negative thought patterns and to reinforce healthier behavior patterns. For more information about CBT and some practice exercises, check out our new Bipolar Disorder Workbook.