“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather,” wrote Stephen Fry.
People who struggle with depression and anxiety, it has long been thought, are over-thinkers by way of an unchangeable inner nature; doomed to an existence filled with racing thoughts and excessive worrying.
Many people become discouraged by this mentality. They resign themselves to a lifetime of troublesome thought patterns. Thankfully, there is another option.
According to new research, the assumption that people with depression need to live with their mental troubles is simply untrue.
A groundbreaking treatment called Metacognitive Therapy – or MCT – has recently been proven to reduce rumination and excessive worry in people with depression. According to a research study published in Frontiers in Psychology, MCT can produce a tremendous amount of long-lasting improvement in rumination – as well as other depressive symptoms – with less than three months of treatment.
The participants in this study were treated with Metacognitive Therapy over the course of ten weeks. Six months later, the researchers followed up with their subjects to evaluate their progress. They found that a shocking eighty percent of the participants had recovered fully from their diagnosis of depression. The researchers were able to contrast these results with a control group, in which the vast majority of patients relapsed into their depression instead.
Currently, the most commonly used therapeutic process in fighting depression is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. In this process, patients analyze the content of their troubling thoughts with the help of a therapist. In doing so, they examine the origin of these thoughts, challenge their validity, and reconcile them with reality.
Instead, the goal of metacognitive therapy is to decrease worry and rumination in general. In essence, it focuses primarily on the brain’s thinking processes, whereas CBT is more concerned with content of the thoughts themselves.
In Metacognitive Therapy, the tendency of a depressed or anxious person to ruminate on past mistakes, worries, and negativity is called “depressive rumination.” MCT addresses the tendency to overthink, rather than the thoughts themselves.
The reasoning behind this is that people who are prone to depressive rumination will always find content on which to focus. Therefore, it is more productive to address the process of rumination in itself.
By increasing awareness of their rumination, patients learn to stop it by taking control of their thoughts. As study author Roger 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.”
Mindfulness, long thought to be a spiritual practice, has been gaining credibility in the scientific world due to its simple concept and incredible results. To see a therapy incorporate this school of thought is encouraging to those of us who have used it to increase our own level of happiness.
The study’s participants, as well, found the process to be less intimidating and more results-oriented than traditional therapy. “The patients come in thinking they’re going to talk about all the problems they have and get to the bottom of it,” said 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.”