STRUGGLING with DEPRESSION, ANXIETY, or BIPOLARITY? LEARNING can really HELP. Start with ARTICLES above or Topics below. Ty! Bill

The Impact of Thought on Depression (Again): New Research

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“Okay, so I’m taking an antidepressant and I’m still having depressive episodes. I don’t get it. If the pills won’t work, what will? Am I out of options?”

Not by a long shot. But let’s face it, antidepressants alone aren’t the answer for mild to moderate depression. So that means we have to continue to look for non-med solutions – and they’re out there!

We frequently discuss the impact of thought on the mood and anxiety disorders here on chipur. And, of course, that includes their generation and relief. How ’bout some brand new research that bangs the point home?

A study team led by psychologists at the University of Exeter (U.K.) tells us depression can be treated solely by influencing one’s style of thinking. Yep!

They’ve come up with something they call cognitive bias modification. And it’s all about repeated mental exercises that target one’s style of thinking. The work was just published in the journal Psychological Medicine.

The study team has even offered-up a therapy to bring their work to life – concreteness training (CNT). They say it can reduce depression in only two months, and works just great as a self-help therapy.

The Pitfalls of Abstract Thinking

If you endure depression (anxiety, for that matter), you may be aware that your circumstances are worsened by counterproductive abstract thinking . By the way, if you weren’t aware, this article brings you even more hope.

So what’s counterproductive abstract thinking? Well, cognitive distortions are a great example, and we’ve discussed them plenty here on chipur. Here’s a link to one such piece.

Let’s take a look at just one – catastrophizing. Simply, it’s focusing upon the worst possible (amazingly unrealistic) outcome. Or thinking a situation is unbearable or impossible, when it’s only somewhat uneasy.

Bottom-line: counterproductive abstract thinking is about being removed from the facts in the here-and-now. Are you a participant?

The Power of Concreteness Training

The research team came up with CNT as a way to remove the pitfalls of abstract thinking. And it works because it teaches an individual to be more specific when reflecting upon his/her problems.

It isn’t difficult to see how that can aid in keeping challenges in perspective, improving problem-solving – and putting the smack-down on worry, brooding, and overall depressed mood.

(For the record, concrete thinking to the extreme is a major psychological problem. For example, someone with pathological concrete patterns of thought wouldn’t be able to accept, say, “Walking on Eggshells” as the idiom it is. Not good.)

How Did The Research Go Down?

Working with primary care physician (PCP) practices, the research team recruited 121 individuals who were in the midst of a major depressive episode. The participants were randomly divided into groups.

Some carried-on with their usual depression treatment from their PCP, plus CNT. Others took part in relaxation training, in addition to their PCP treatment. Yet others continued with their PCP treatment only.

All were assessed three times over a six-month period.

How was CNT introduced? Those who received it participated in a daily exercise, featuring focusing upon a recent mildly to moderately upsetting event. They did so with a therapist and alone, using audio guided instructions.

In keeping with CNT, the participants worked through standardized steps, and a series of exercises, to focus upon the specific details of said event and to identify how they might have influenced the outcome.

The Positive Findings?

CNT significantly reduced symptoms of depression – and anxiety, for that matter. How well? On average, severe depression symptoms transitioned to mild during the first two months. And the relief was maintained over the following three and six month check-in periods.

Those that kept on their current treatment path (no CNT)? They remained as depressed as they always were.

Fact is, CNT and relaxation work both significantly reduced depression and anxiety. But only CNT reduced the negative thinking typically found in depression.

And the best part is, CNT was found to work marvelously – alone – for those who practiced, making it a habit.

Oh, and the self-help piece? Sure, CNT can be delivered with the help of a therapist. But facilitating information can be accessed online, using CDs, and by smartphone apps. How cool is that?

Let’s Close

Yes, it’s difficult to accept the fact that antidepressants alone aren’t the answer for mild to moderate depression. True, we may have been sold a bill of goods, but it’s time to accept reality – and move on to real solutions.

Assessing and adjusting our patterns of thought is the most direct path to depression (and anxiety) relief. And concreteness training is yet one more vehicle to take us to our destination.

Thanks to for the heads-up on the research.

More chipur Feelin’ Better articles? Tap here. Looking for articles on the psychology of depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder? Here ya’ go.

  • Carma

    Bill, thank you for your article.  I enjoyed reading it and would like to offer a personal story to, hopefully, encourage others to see that you can change your life.  Twenty years ago, I checked myself into a hospital for depression and suicidal thoughts.  I spent 4 weeks in the hospital, participating in group therapy, individual sessions, etc. but with little to no results.  I was still depressed and didn’t know where to turn.  In the bookstore one day with my spouse and family, I spotted a book on the shelf by a guy named Tim LaHaye called “How to Win Over Depression.”  I don’t remember much of what it said now, but there was one concept that changed my life – I decide how I think!  Novel concept for someone who grew up thinking that they weren’t ever going to “measure up.”  I can decide what to think about and how to think about it.  I don’t have to listen to the voices in my head from my past saying I wasn’t good enough in some ethereal way.  It took time and practice to change the way I think, to stop the negative thoughts from rolling around in my head and “breaking my brain,” as my daughter says.  Negative thoughts do still creep up on me, attempting to drag me down into the darkness.  However, now I know that I can choose to dwell on them or replace them with more positive thoughts which will in turn encourage more positive feelings.  I’ve had 20 years of upward mobility, one step at a time.  I applaud the researchers at the University of Exeter for their approach and the relief so many people may receive as others pick up the torch to light the way for those who need help.  I’m so thankful for the help I found, at a time when I needed it most.  I hope others can do the same.

    • Thank you for the comment, Carma.

      You know, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve introduced the notion of the power of thought to someone enduring severe depression – and they’ve looked at me like I’ve lost my mind. But as you say, negative and inaccurate thoughts are devastating! I sure appreciate your offering your personal testimony.

      For anyone who’s interested in LaHaye’s book, here’s a link to it on Amazon: