When depression hits, it can leave your clients trapped in bed, neglecting personal care and their responsibilities. The cruel truth about depression is that the illness itself prevents people from helping themselves. Rumination, past trauma, and negative beliefs about the self can keep them trapped in a painful cycle. Fortunately, even small actions can make a big difference in your clients’ outlook. So how do you encourage your clients to do something, when their depression tells them to do nothing?
Acknowledge Their Symptoms
As a mental health professional, you’ve likely got the empathy part mastered. When someone feels hopeless (with or without depression), exhausted, and overwhelmed by life’s decisions, breaking a pattern may feel like a monumental goal. Acknowledging that depression is working against them and that their symptoms are real can go a long way towards helping them see their illness as an adversary, not a part of themselves. Crucially, they need to see that their depression is an adversary that can be beaten. It may feel impossible- hopelessness can overtake every aspect of a person’s life when depression comes knocking. That’s why it’s important to also point out your clients’ successes.
Acknowledge Their Successes
You can help your clients recognize the power of accomplishing small tasks by reminding them of the ones they already do; making it to therapy appointments is a major success that they might not congratulate themselves for. Recounting past successes such as academic achievements, recognition in the workplace, or simply a time that they overcame a challenging situation can help combat feelings of powerlessness and inadequacy. This might be especially difficult if your client is also dealing with feelings of worthlessness due to trauma. It’s important to remember that our successes don’t disappear when we can’t see them. Your clients may not be in the right frame of mind to remember those successes, so a little reminder can help them persevere.
Identifying a Goal
Maybe it’s walking around the block. Maybe it’s doing a load of laundry. Maybe it’s preparing and eating a healthy meal. When depression makes us feel incapable of completing tasks that we used to do without thought, tackling even the smallest of chores takes extra effort. When you’re identifying a goal with a client, it’s OK to start small. When they do the task they set out to do, the satisfaction of having reached a goal might just propel them forward into bigger and bigger goals. Sometimes, a little momentum is vital in breaking through the apathy and hopelessness of depression. Ideally, the goal would be something that improves their mood or benefits their health immediately. However, anhedonia is a significant barrier that means at first, your clients might have to force themselves to start working at their goal.
The Power of Doing
Although it may be hard to find the value of “doing” when you’re bogged down by depression, your clients can rest assured that although they might not feel better right away, research shows that behavioral changes affect brain function. Additionally, spending time outdoors is associated with decreased activity in a part of the prefrontal cortex that is linked to rumination, so sitting outside for a few minutes each day is a great place to start. Those with major depression may be predisposed to experiencing inhibited behavior, as regulated through their behavior control systems. This makes treatment, both at home and with a professional especially important. When depression has a hold on you, relief can feel impossible to reach. Accelerated Resolution Therapy has been shown to help clients achieve results within only a few sessions. To learn more about ART or to find a therapist, visit our website and contact us.