I have a personal relationship with depression. The depressive periods in my life are highly situational in so much as in the past they occurred after my divorce and most recently since the death of my mother. However, I am no stranger to the effects that chronic depression can have on a person and the people in their lives. I am certain that along with having difficulties with anxiety, my mother suffered from depression – never really addressed clinically or in any other way. The man I married when I was in my twenties was most certainly depressed – like so many others I recreated in my adult life what was familiar to me as a child. He, also, do this day has never addressed his depression – or chronic basic unhappiness. I have been affected by depression and so I am interested in what this condition is and ways to combat it - and in another sense, ways to accept it and actively deal with it.
Depression is clearly defined by a list of symptoms in the DSM-1V and will certainly be defined, again if differently, as a list of symptoms in the upcoming DSM-V. Certainly, these criteria will aid counselors and other mental health professionals in the pursuit of helping their clients. Diagnosis is made with the use of the DSM – but there are many differing views of what depression is, how to treat it and if it really exists at all.
That being said perhaps we can, for the moment, rethink depression much the way William Glasser, the founder of Reality Therapy does. Glasser maintains that we need to take responsibility for what we are and what we are experiencing. He states that being depressed, being anxious, even having a headache are expressions which avoid our responsibility in behaving in these ways. We choose to be depressed and hence, when depressed, we are depressing. We choose to have a headache, and hence, when we have a headache, we are headaching. He uses verbs to describe these conditions because we are choosing to experience this. This viewpoint does not support treatment with a medication.
Depression through the lens of Dr. Martin Seligman, the developer of positive psychology, changes the focus from what’s wrong to what’s strong. This ideology views the fight against depression as a journey through which the client accesses creativity and strength to endure and overcome deep unhappiness. Through these actions meaning can be found.
Eric Maisel is a creativity coach has who has written a book “Rethinking Depression” and previously wrote an article for Psychology Today exploring depression. Like Glasser, Maisel takes a nonclinical look at depression and goes as far to declare that there really is no disorder of “depression” and that unhappiness, chronic or otherwise, need not be looked at from a medical model of pathology. Maisel makes a great case for this way of thinking and mentions how pharmaceutical companies have a lot to gain by making any state of human emotional or physical discomfort labeled as a disorder. Often depression/unhappiness is a normal reaction to what is occurring around you and is no way a disorder. Maisel’s goal is to help a client look at her unhappiness and aid her in making changes in her life.
Considering these ideas as a counselor in training I have to say I am absorbing them all like a sponge – and slowly formulating my own viewpoint regarding this issue. I’m strongly attracted to a non-medical model on which to build my practice. But what about a client who is so depressed they can’t get out of bed or function in any meaningful fashion? What if he or she is driven to suicide by unrelenting unhappiness? Would medication be a welcome component of therapy? Is a clinical definition of depression necessary? Human beings are meant to experience discomfort – even misery – often as a catalyst to change.
This is a fascinating subject and counselors in training have all points of view available to them. The more we know the better we’ll be able to serve our client. Here is on point of view.
Susan Jennifer Polese is a counselor in training, a personal coach and a freelance writer. Her areas of interest are mindfulness, divergent thinking, and creativity in counseling. www.evolutionlifecoachingstudio.com