Depression is a complex mental health issue that affects people in different ways. Despite being more prevalent than ever, many individuals still struggle to understand and respond to depression. However, therapy can provide individuals with a safe space to work through their struggles and build a healthier self.
In Part Two, we discuss how therapy can help individuals cope with depression and offer strategies for support.
Depression looks and feels different for everyone; making it a complex journey. As a society, we are shown what depression is supposed to look like through the media. In today’s time, we have access to the world in the palm of our hands, showing us that depression is a lot more prevalent across all ages and backgrounds. Treating depression through therapy can help with the process of building a healthier self. It helps those who experience depression through compassion and teaches them that what they feel is valid. Being a support where the person can feel safe and comfortable to work through their hardships and complexities is vital. Focusing on safety and physical health is also a crucial part of the journey. Helping someone get to a place where they feel like they have two feet on the ground is a step in the direction of healing.
Depression symptoms and their severity vary in my client population, depending on who the client is. Depression can also sometimes be accompanied by anxiety, further complicating the client’s ability to understand why they feel like they do. Often described as distressing or debilitating, clients describe being frustrated and overwhelmed by an inability to first understand, and then to effectively respond to their symptoms.
In my role, one of the most important first steps when working with depressed clients is entering into a strong and clear safety plan, which I revisit in each session with the client. Next, validating my clients’ feelings about their symptoms helps to forge an important alignment between us as we work together to find effective ways to respond to and manage symptoms. Supporting the client as they explore the “whys” of their depression, seems to help them feel less alone in an environment that is set up with them as the priority. Reminding clients of their strengths, and their victories (no matter how small they may feel), sometimes builds courage and helps the client feel they can gain some understanding about their depression, and then a path forward in managing it.
It is important to spend time in whatever area the client wants to explore, not rushing them through the process. In session may be the only place the client feels safe enough to even discuss their feelings. Encouraging the client to use the safety of the counseling space to confront their depression allows them to feel supported by the clinician while also being vulnerable in a safe space. Understanding and patience are necessities as the client and clinician work together to gain control of these symptoms.
I think of mental health as a table that is held up by three legs: sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Depression can be especially tricky because it places each of these legs on unstable ground. We become dysregulated by sleeping way too much or way too little, eating too much or not enough, or having such diminished energy that we avoid exercise. And because of how this dysregulation can knock us out of whack, much of the initial treatment of depression involves taking time to make sure that each leg is rebuilt in a sustainable way. Because the reality is — until these legs are sturdy, our brain isn’t receiving the basic resources that it needs to heal.
The initial phases of therapy for depression can look like the smallest, baby steps, which can feel frustrating for someone who is so desperate to escape the darkness. I might sit with a client and help them plan exactly how they can incorporate 5 minutes of movement into their day, or help a client commit to eating 3 meals a day. Despite how insignificant these steps may feel, they can be life-giving.
And then… once we’re back to the baseline in these three areas, we can do the deeper work.
Until next time, Be Wise!
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