Depression and its Underlying Causes
Do you feel that you are useless, valueless, weak, feeble, powerless or trapped - essentially bad? If you do experience any of these feelings or some other sense that there is something seriously wrong with you, then you may be under the influence of some schema: that is an organised and relatively coherent sense of beliefs about yourself, almost certainly acquired in childhood.
It is equally lowering to hold corresponding beliefs about other people and the world. If you believe that other people are liars, only out for themselves, selfish and exploitative, then these ideas will have a tendency to aggravate a sense of depression. Convictions of this kind frequently produce the severity of symptoms which make depression such an intolerable experience, and it is upon them that I wish to focus.
Depression effectively defines itself. To depress is to 'push down', and this is at the root of the origin of depression. Depression can arise when other feelings such as anxiety, guilt and anger are being suppressed, perhaps because they are seen as negative, dangerous, selfish or inappropriate. People also get depressed when they are under attack, at work or at home, and also when they have been heavily criticised by a parent or bullied at school. Very often, the sense of an attack gets internalised and people then perpetuate a hostile, critical internal voice with which they have to battle even while trying to get on with their lives as best they can.
Of course, every depression is individual and it is important to approach it as such. Depression has many causes and, if it is to be successfully countered, everything needs to be taken into account. There may be very real factors in the present, such as loneliness or having an unrewarding job which can be usefully addressed in therapy. There may also be issues from the past which are still being felt, perhaps decades later. For example, someone who lost a parent in early childhood can feel responsible for that and so carry a legacy of unnecessary guilt.
In addition to this, many people will have read in their papers that cognitive therapy can help you to look at the ways in which your patterns of thinking in the present can be creating your emotions. This is undoubtedly true and this approach to therapy is validated by research.
But, unless there is also the presence of the schemata mentioned in the first two paragraphs, the depression may be less extreme and malignant. For this reason, it is important to consider these deeply entrenched and influential opinions about self, others and the world.
Often, this gives an opportunity to consider the decisions made in childhood and make new decisions which are more helpful. For example, a person who is over six feet tall may inwardly be certain he is weak because he was beaten up at school. On reconsideration, it becomes obvious that a ten-year old could not expect to hold his own against someone five years older. A person who was unable to win the praise of a critical parent may realise how talented she was, and that the problem lay with a parent who had himself not been adequately loved. It may take some time to change engrained ideas but a more respectful and compassionate sense of self is an enormous prize to gain, over and above the conquering of depression.
In achieving this, it can be seen that all therapy can be a cognitive therapy, in the sense of being a space for reflection.
In all this, it is vital not to lose the sense of the therapeutic relationship. If the therapist can be open-hearted and genuine, not just seeming interested because this is professionally required, then this sends a powerful message to both the conscious and unconscious mind of the client dispelling and deconstructing the negative messages. This communicates a sense that the client is worthwhile, interesting, valuable, and intrinsically loveable.
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