Mental & Emotional Health
Tackling Depression by Changing the Way You Think
Depressed people “don’t need to worry and ruminate,” says Professor Roger Hagen at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Psychology. “Just realizing this is liberating for a lot of people.”
Hagen and NTNU colleagues Odin Hjemdal, Stian Solem, Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair and Hans M. Nordahl have recently published a scientific paper on the treatment of depression using metacognitive therapy (MCT).
A March 2017 release from the university explains that the study shows that learning to reduce rumination is very helpful for patients with depressive symptoms.
Some people experience their persistent ruminative thinking as completely uncontrollable, but individuals with depression can gain control over it, Hagen says.
The patients involved in the study were treated over a ten-week period. After six months, 80 per cent of the participants had achieved full recovery from their depression diagnosis.
“The follow-up after six months showed the same tendency,” says Hagen.
Separating thoughts and reality
Today, medications and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) are the recommended treatments for depression and anxiety. In CBT, patients engage in analysing the content of their thoughts to challenge their validity and reality test them.
Metacognitive therapy, by contrast, focuses on lessening the ruminative process.
“Anxiety and depression give rise to difficult and painful negative thoughts. Many patients have thoughts of mistakes, past failures or other negative thoughts. Metacognitive therapy addresses thinking processes,” Hagen says, rather than the thought content.
Patients with depression “think too much, which MCT refers to as ‘depressive rumination.’ Rather than ruminating so much on negative thoughts, MCT helps patients to reduce negative thought processes and get them under control,” he says.
By becoming aware of what happens when they start to ruminate, patients learn to take control of their own thoughts.
As Hagen explains, “Instead of reacting by repeatedly ruminating and thinking ‘how do I feel now?’ you can try to encounter your thoughts with what we call ‘detached mindfulness.’ You can see your thoughts as just thoughts, and not as a reflection of reality. Most people think that when they think a thought, it must be true. For example, if I think that I’m stupid, this means I must be stupid. People strongly believe that their thoughts reflect reality.”
Patients who participated in the study have been pleasantly surprised by this form of treatment.
“The patients come in thinking they’re going to talk about all the problems they have and get to the bottom of it,” says Hagen, “but instead we try to find out how their mind and thinking processes work. You can’t control what you think, but you can control how you respond to what you think.”