This is her third week glued to her bed. Her boss has been calling her, with the last call an outright threat: Come to work or get fired. But she can’t seem to muster the strength to do anything. Her eyes feel like lead weights, and the glare of the fluorescent lamp feels as strong as a thousand suns. It’s like nothing matters. She’s just persistently and continually sad, disinterested, and tired.
That’s how oppressive depression or major depressive disorder is. Fortunately, it can be managed and treated. Neurofeedback therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and hypnotherapy are three therapeutic interventions that a doctor may use in conjunction with medication to treat and manage depression.
1. Neurofeedback Therapy
Neurofeedback therapy is a brain training approach that can be used to manage depression. Specifically, what it does is train the brain until it becomes capable of regulating its own activity. This ability to self-regulate can help the brain prevent the onset of depression or, at the very least, reduce its debilitating impact.
The Neurofeedback Premise
Neurofeedback therapy starts from the premise that the brain is so powerful it can regulate its own activity. But the brain can only learn to control brain activity if it’s aware of it happening in the first place.
Therefore, neurofeedback therapy provides the brain with instantaneous feedback. When there’s desirable brain activity, the brain is “told” about it so that the brain will realize what type of activity it must work towards achieving. Similarly, the brain may also be “told” whenever undesirable brain activity occurs so that the brain will become aware of activities it must avoid.
What a Neurofeedback Session Looks Like
In a neurofeedback session, you will be asked to sit comfortably on a chair to watch your favorite movie or show on TV. Electroencephalogram or EEG electrodes will be placed on your scalp to monitor brain wave activity in specific areas of the brain.
Your brain wave activity will be tracked in real time by software specifically designed for this purpose. And whenever desirable brain activity takes place, the software automatically lets your brain know by providing you with a sharper picture and clearer audio on the television.
This will happen many times in a session. Desirable brain wave activity will lead to sharper video and clearer audio. When the desirable brain wave activity ends, the video and audio will return to their less-than-ideal quality.
Through repetition, the brain will start learning how to adjust its own brain wave patterns – i.e., regulate itself – to produce more of the desirable brain wave activities that lead to superior audio and video quality.
2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy or psychotherapy proven to be effective in managing depression and other mental health issues. You know those movies where the protagonist sits on a couch while a doctor asks them questions? That’s talk therapy, and that’s pretty much what a CBT session looks like.
The Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Premise
CBT starts from the premise that how a person thinks, remembers, learns, and perceives directly affects how they feel and act. To put it simply, how a person thinks drives their behavior. Thus, when someone wishes to change their behavior – how they’re acting and feeling – they can begin by checking for possible flaws in how their mind processes thoughts, information, and memories.
Psychological problems can also arise from learned or acquired behaviors that are ineffective and unproductive. To address such issues, therefore, requires first pointing out and changing these counterproductive behaviors.
The CBT Approach
CBT produces change using a two-pronged approach.
First, it works to correct distorted cognitive and behavioral patterns that could be causing you to behave the way you are doing. The goal here is to help you find and resolve any flawed thoughts, perceptions, and learned behavioral patterns that could be causing or feeding your depression.
Second, it equips you with coping mechanisms that will help improve your quality of life. Such coping mechanisms will help you carry on with your daily activities even if you’re not entirely over your depression. For instance, the therapist might encourage your interest in repainting your kitchen or suggest that you learn a new hobby that has the potential to distract you from feelings of despair.
In CBT, therapy has a clear goal, is solution-seeking, and has a clear structure. The treatment also focuses primarily on the present, focusing on moving forward rather than on past events.
CBT is also collaborative. The doctor will set the guidelines, provide the direction, assign homework activities, and evaluate your progress. But you can make progress only if you participate actively, such as by doing the homework given by your doctor.
Hypnotherapy uses hypnosis to induce a trancelike state before the therapist starts discussing whatever issues might be driving your depression.
Hypnosis is merely a focusing tool. It is done to ensure you will be able to attain imperturbable relaxation that borders on detachment. This will significantly increase your ability to concentrate and focus on the essential issues and thus enhance the effectiveness of the therapy.
How Hypnotherapy Works
In the first session, the doctor will start by discussing your therapeutic plan and what the treatment’s desired outcomes are.
The therapist will employ a series of techniques to help you relax and focus in the following sessions. They will repeat these techniques until you can finally achieve the desired trancelike state – i.e., you are relaxed and open to gentle suggestions, but you also have heightened awareness and focus.
While you are in a trancelike state, your therapist will lead the conversation in a more productive direction. They will try to help you work through whatever issues you might be dealing with and make suggestions on how you can better cope with them. The overall goal would be to provide you with positive reinforcement.
Depression is real, and it’s something you cannot simply brush off with “It’ll go away. I just have to think happy thoughts.” It is a medical condition that needs a structured approach to treat and manage.
If you are leery of treating depression with medication, you can try neurofeedback therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or hypnotherapy instead. Whatever you do, however, try not to ignore the issue and get some help.
Dr. Upasana Gala is the founder and CEO of Evolve Brain Training, an award-winning neurofeedback-centered institute that focuses on using non-invasive brain training techniques to maximize the brain’s true potential. Earning a doctorate in Neuroscience from the revered Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Gala has spent over a decade trying to unravel the way neurochemical and neurophysiological changes in the brain affect the way we interact with the world. Her goal is to share her knowledge, encourage others to tap into and expand their brain’s capabilities, and dispel any myths surrounding our most complex organ.
Also published on Medium.