Learning to Think Yourself Happy

Depression self help with training in concrete thinking

November 27, 2011 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) It is often said that happiness is a state of mind, or a choice. But for those battling depression, it is not as simple as making up your mind to be happy.

However, new research is providing the first evidence that people can be trained, through mental exercises, to modify their thinking in a way that can reduce depression - in as little as two months.

"Ask about CNT therapy for depression."

Led by Professor Edward Watkins of the University of Exeter, the new study demonstrated the effects of an innovative new psychological treatment, a self-help therapy called "concreteness training," or CNT. The Exeter study consisted of 121 individuals who were currently experiencing an episode of depression,  allocated into three groups.

One-third received their usual treatment from their general practitioner, plus CNT therapy. One-third continued their usual GP treatment plus relaxation training. The remaining third simply continued with their usual treatment and nothing additional.

After two months, then again at three and six months, the participants were assessed to see what progress they had made. On average, the individuals who had only continued their regular treatment remained severely depressed, while those who received CNT had significantly reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.

During the first two months, the CNT patients had an average reduction in depression from severe to mild, and they maintained those effects over the following six months.

CNT is based on the fact that people who suffer from depression tend toward negative and unhelpful, abstract thinking. CNT teaches them how to be more specific when focusing on a problem, directly targeting the abstract, negative thoughts.

Repeated CNT exercises and practice helps people to shift their thinking style and reduce negative thinking.

“This is the first demonstration that just targeting thinking style can be an effective means of tackling depression," Watkins said. "Concreteness training can be delivered with minimal face-to-face contact with a therapist and training could be accessed online, through CDs or through smartphone apps. This has the advantage of making it a relatively cheap form of treatment that could be accessed by large numbers of people."

The researchers are calling for larger effectiveness clinical trials so that the feasibility of CNT as treatment for depression can be assessed. The study was funded by the Medical Research Council, and results were published in the journal Psychological Medicine.

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Review Date: 
November 22, 2011
Last Updated:
November 27, 2011