A recent study in the Archives of General Psychiatry examined the relationship between our thoughts and our mood. In the July 2006 issue, Zindel Segal and colleagues from the University of Toronto and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto write about a study they conducted on people with a history of recurrent depression. Their results showed that for those with recurrent depression but who are currently not depressed, the more a sad mood influences their thought patterns, the more vulnerable they will be to further depression.
Participants in this research study were randomly assigned to receive either antidepressive medication or cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy. One interesting result the study’s authors found was that those participants receiving the cognitive-behavioral therapy had less “cognitive reactivity” to sad mood than those participants who received medication. This means that for those people receiving the cognitive-behavioral therapy, their thoughts were less influenced by a sad mood than was the case for those who received the antidepressant treatment.
It is generally accepted that cognitive-behavioral therapy or antidepressant medication, or both, are effective treatments for depression. However, the choice between these two treatment options can be difficult for many people. Often it comes down to personal preference. Some people are reluctant to go on medications for various reasons. Others are reluctant to enter psychotherapy. Research has shown both types of treatment to be effective for depression, and can help people struggling with depression to create some positive changes in their lives.
The above-mentioned study found an interesting difference between these two treatments: people who received antidepressant medication experienced greater changes in their depressive thoughts than those who had received the cognitive-behavioral therapy. This is a relevant finding because we know that depressive thought content can be either a cause or an effect of depressed mood. For example, if someone is often having thoughts like “I’m a bad person” or “I’m no good at anything” or “Something is bound to go wrong today,” these thoughts will quite likely have an eventual effect on the person’s mood. This effect can be greater or lesser depending on the exact content of the thoughts, and other factors. However, if a brief sad mood effects your thought patterns significantly, you may be more likely to experience a relapse of depression. This is especially true if you have a history of depression.
This study suggests that those participants who received the cognitive-behavioral therapy were more resistant to negative changes in their thought patterns. While the study did not investigate why people in cognitive-behavioral therapy fared better in this way, it does make some intuitive sense. Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches how to recognize and rationally evaluate thoughts that may be contributing to depression (or anxiety). It may be that the people who received cognitive-behavioral therapy were better able to recognize early changes in thought patterns, and prevented those changes from becoming more pronounced by taking a more balanced perspective on the depressive thoughts.