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Description: As we head into winter and the amount of natural light available to us diminishes some of us will start to experience the effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). You may have heard about light therapy as a treatment for this disorder but how do you think the effects of light therapy compare to the effects of talking (cognitive behavioural) therapy?

Source: Talk Therapy May Beat Light Treatment for SAD: Study, US News and World Reports: Health, Robert Preidt.

Date: November 4, 2015

Light Therapy

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You have likely heard or seen something about the potential positive impacts of light therapy on seasonally related variation in people’s mood states. In extreme cases this can present as seasonal affective disorder, or depressive symptoms was appearance is tied to the changes in light level at the beginning and at the end of our winter season here in our northern latitudes. This study specifically examine the effects of light therapy and cognitive behaviour therapy on the depressive symptoms of individuals experiencing SAD. The researchers examined the reactions of participants to either light therapy or cognitive behaviour therapy over a two-year period. Basically they found that cognitive behaviour therapy had more lasting positive effects on the symptoms of SAD than did the light therapy. They indicated that it is often difficult for people to maintain a consistent regime of light therapy given that requires 30 to 60 minutes of exposure to light preferably in the morning every day throughout the dark months. Cognitive behaviour therapy on the other hand, seems to operate in a more preventative manner meaning that following therapy the effects continue.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Do you notice any changes in yourself or others mood states corresponding to changes in light levels particularly in the fall as it gets dark earlier and earlier?
  2. What kinds of challenges might affect the consistency of treatment in both light therapy and cognitive behaviour therapy in cases of SAD?
  3. If the results of this study are supported over time and replication how might we advise individuals who seem to struggle with SAD as the dark months of winter approach?

References (Read Further):

Rohan, K. J., Meyerhoff, J., Ho, S. Y., Evans, M., Postolache, T. T., & Vacek, P. M. (2015). Outcomes One and Two Winters Following Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy or Light Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry.

Mårtensson, B., Pettersson, A., Berglund, L., & Ekselius, L. (2015). Bright white light therapy in depression: A Critical Review of the Evidence. Journal of affective disorders, 182, 1-7.

Knapen, S. E., van de Werken, M., Gordijn, M. C. M., & Meesters, Y. (2014). The duration of light treatment and therapy outcome in seasonal affective disorder. Journal of affective disorders, 166, 343-346.