The Only Therapy That Really Works Virginia Ironside Battled Depression with Meditation, Psychotherapy and Even Acupuncture. Then She Tried Using Common Sense. Here, She Tells Why She Thinks This Is
TOO many hours of my life have been spent sitting in dingy basements in group therapy, hoping that interacting with other dysfunctional people would relieve my depression.
Too many hours in counsellors' sanitised rooms, tissues at the ready, trying to get in touch with my hostile feelings. Endless weeks on psychotherapists' chairs, failing to get in touch with my inner child.
Years on a couch, speechless or crying, while a silent analyst did nothing except take my money.
I tried workshops, psychodrama, meditation and acupuncture. It was only when, five years ago, I was dragged, suicidal, into the Priory Clinic that I discovered cognitive therapy, which is nothing more than applied common sense.
'I like cognitive therapy,' said my psychiatrist, 'because Aaron T.
Beck, who devised it, is a happy, life-enhancing kind of chap. Freud, on the other hand, was a miserable, gloomy old sod.' As a child of the Sixties, I had been raised in an era of touchyfeeliness. Those who argued that depression could be alleviated with medical treatment were seen as dangerously mad. Science and logic were to be feared.
'Don't let them give you pills or try to reason you out of depression,' we told each other. 'We will go to therapists who will help us to delve into our inner souls and make us suffer the pain of centuries.
Then we will become whole.' Meanwhile in the U.S., Dr Aaron T. Beck, known to his friends as Tim, had become disillusioned with his work with patients when he used psychoanalysis. He found they got better when he suggested strategies to help them take control of their lives.
The idea could not have been less in harmony with the times, so it is probably small wonder that it's only now, 40 years later, when we've learned that traditional analysis, counselling and psychotherapy do not deliver, that Beck's radically pragmatic approach to mental problems has come into its own.
Nowadays, a combination of cognitive therapy and medication is most usually prescribed for depression and anxiety.
I have been dogged by depression all my life, but my last serious bout, five years ago, was triggered by the break-up of a relationship.
Fed up with wondering whether I was subconsciously in love with my father and wanted to kill my mother (or vice versa), I turned to cognitive therapy.
It works on the premise that all our thoughts and behaviour are interrelated, and that we can learn to change the way we feel by changing the way we think, and how we behave. Change the thought and you change the feeling.
So although a cognitive therapist will ask you what you feel, he or she will concentrate on the thought that stimulated that feeling. Then the therapist will question whether that thought has any basis in fact.
After my first visit, I was given a chart to take away. The columns read 'Situation', 'Feeling', ' Automatic Thought', 'Realistic Thought', 'Outcome'.
I was encouraged to check my feelings as often as I could and write down my responses, because altering just tiny reactions and feelings can get you into a habit of thinking more realistically, rather than 'catastrophising', as it's known.
So let's say, under Situation, you have: 'Best friend has not rung though I've left two messages.' The Feeling might be: 'Sad, worried.' The Automatic Thought that inspired the feeling? 'She doesn't like me. No one likes me. I'm a horrible person.' Now comes the clever bit: you take your Automatic Thoughts to a kind of Cognitive Court and put them to the test.
While the defence sticks to the negative Automatic Thoughts, the prosecution, arguing for the Realistic Thought, says: 'The reason your best friend has not rung back may be because she is away. Or she may be incredibly stressed.
SECONDLY, even if your best friend is irritated with you, so what? We all get annoyed with friends. …