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Saturday 26th May 2018

Psychotherapy best for SAD

3rd November 2009

Psychotherapy works better than light boxes do for treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD), according to a new study.


The type of psychotherapy used is called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

CBT is a type of psychotherapy that helps people to see when one type of thought process is influencing another.

The researchers found that CBT offered SAD sufferers better protection against recurrent depression than did light therapy or a combination of CBT with light therapy.

Kelly Rohan, a psychologist at the University of Vermont, said that psychotherapy is an up-front investment, involving three hours of therapy a week in total over six weeks.

She said that light therapy, on the other hand, depends on a lot of time and effort, with a minimum of 30 minutes in front of the fixture every day.

Light therapy is known to work for SAD sufferers about 53% of the time.

However, the CBT routine was designed by the research team for helping people who have SAD.

It works with peoples' attitudes and habits, and strives to isolate those which actually make SAD worse.

For the purposes of the study, 69 people with SAD were randomly assigned either the specially designed CBT alone, a combination of CBT and light boxes, light therapy, or no treatment at all.

80% of the people receiving light therapy in combination with CBT had recurrent SAD, while just half of the people who received one or the other did.

When the researchers tried do the study a second time, they found that the percentages differed greatly.

36.7% of the people who had received light therapy had gone into recurrence, while only 5.5% of those who received the two in combination did.

Rohan said that there is something about being initially treated with the combination that seems to water down the effectiveness of the light box the following winter.

Rohan said that once people have finished CBT treatment for SAD, they will never have to use a light box again, or go back to treatment.

Susan Zafarlotfi, clinical director of the Institute for Sleep/Wake Disorders at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, said that she agrees with the results of the study, though she also believes light boxes can be useful.


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