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CBT Beats Light Therapy for Winter Depression

19 Jan

Researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of Vermont in Burlington looked at the recurrence of SAD (seasonal affective disorder or depression) in the fall/winter, one year after receiving cognitive behavioral treatment.

The investigators had previously developed a group cognitive-behavioral therapy approach (CBT) specifically targeted for SAD and tested its efficacy in 2 pilot studies that compared outcomes with light therapy.

This study examines impact during the subsequent winter season (approximately 1 year after acute treatment), following participants randomized to CBT, light therapy, and a combination of both treatments.  (N=69).

Seventeen subjects dropped out during treatment, were withdrawn from their protocol, or were just lost to follow-up.

Of the remaining subjects, the CBT (7.0%) and combination treatment (5.5%) groups had significantly smaller proportions of winter depression recurrences than the light therapy group (36.7%).

Additionally, CBT alone, but not combination treatment, was also associated with significantly lower interviewer- and patient-rated depression severity at 1 year as compared to light therapy alone.

Among completers who provided 1-year data, all statistically significant differences between the CBT and light therapy groups persisted after adjustment for ongoing treatment with light therapy, antidepressants, and
psychotherapy.

If these findings are replicated, CBT could represent a more effective, practical, and palatable approach to long-term SAD management than light therapy.

Citation: Rohan KJ, Roecklein KA, Lacy TJ, Vacek PM. Winter depression recurrence one year after cognitive-behavioral therapy, light therapy, or combination treatment.  Behavioral Therapy. 2009 Sep; 40 (3): pages 225-38. Epub 2008 Nov 3. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award.