By Carla DePalma, MAT, LPC
What does depression look like?
Many people are familiar with symptoms of depression such as general feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Other symptoms are a lack of energy or motivation, difficulty getting out of bed, difficulties with sleep, changes in appetite, lack of interest in activities that usually bring joy, and social isolation or withdrawal. This is not an exhaustive list. Some people become anxious, irritable, or tearful. You might also experience thoughts of suicide.
One of the myths of depression is that it can only happen to someone if they have an obvious reason to be sad; a lost job, the death of a loved one or a relationship breakup. However, many factors can contribute to feelings of depression, such as: having another mental illness or substance use, physical ailments such as chronic pain or disability, traumatic experiences, financial stressors, lack of social support, or societal problems such as racism, misogyny, or transphobia. Many of us are experiencing symptoms of depression as of late simply due to social distancing during the COVID pandemic.
Hope can be found!
Treatment comes in many forms. If you struggle with depression or aren’t sure where to start, speaking with a therapist is a great place to start. Psychotherapy has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression, especially when you find a therapist that you can trust! Therapists at Graceful Therapy offer particularly effective interventions to treat depression, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Art Therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
One of the most effective treatments for depression is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which examines the relationship between a person’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and physical sensations. A therapist may start by helping you identify feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness. I’m worthless, I’m unlovable, or my situation will never get better. The therapist might guide you through the negative thoughts that carry the most weight. As a result of these thoughts and feelings, you may isolate yourself from friends, perhaps not even reaching out by phone or text or sitting 6 feet apart with them on their front porch. You might notice feeling sluggish, a lack of appetite, or other physical sensations such as headaches. Using CBT, a therapist can help you challenge these negative thoughts and to approach the situation in a more balanced way. In turn, this may reduce physical and emotional symptoms and lead to healthier coping mechanisms.
Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy which uses art to facilitate the therapeutic process. Art therapy is not about evaluating or judging your artistic ability. However, I like to have conversations with my clients about any past negative experiences with art, such as people criticizing their artwork or others mocking their use of art as a pastime. I challenge clients to create images based on a specific prompt with specific art materials, or I may ask them to create something of their choice. CBT can be adapted to art therapy for a client experiencing depression. For instance, many clients say, “My art sucks” or share some shortcoming of their creation at some point during the session. I generally have to resist the urge to channel Bob Ross and simply validate the beauty of their work. Instead, I like to encourage explorations of their patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. You think your art sucks. Do you think you need to be perfect? Do you put yourself down? Can you draw these negative thoughts? I might ask them questions to help express their emotions. What color is your depression? How much does it weigh? I may then encourage the client to change their image in a way to reframe these thoughts. In the past, clients have blacked out negative words about themselves or destroyed images completely, using the scraps to create a more beautiful image symbolizing the change of their thinking or different behaviors.
Asking for help
Throughout the therapeutic process, it’s important to be kind, patient, and gentle to yourself. Think of how long we get stuck in patterns of behavior or thinking. How long does it take to learn a new habit or learn a new skill? It can be done with time, practice, and support, but it’s not always easy or a linear process. When we’re depressed, it’s hard to see anything beyond the mess of what we’re feeling. A therapist can help you see the forest through the trees. We also have to be ready to be vulnerable to do the work.
If you’re interested in talk therapy or art therapy, we are here to help! If you are having urges to harm yourself or someone else, or if you feel someone is harming you, please call 911 or have a loved one take you to the nearest Emergency Department to evaluate for safety. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at: 1-800-273-8255.