In this blog, we will look at treating depression with a holistic, spiritual approach.
Major Depressive DO is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health issues in our world today.
Most patients are treated with a combination of medications and therapy, and many people experience an improvement in their symptoms. However, many do not. Or sometimes, this treatment works for a while, and the depression starts to return. Medications may be adjusted, and a different therapeutic approach tried. These are generally accepted practices, and I encounter many clients who are comfortable with the idea that, “I simply have a chemical imbalance, and I must accept it and maintain my treatment.” This is successful treatment, and I am thankful we have behavioral and medical treatments to aid our clients.
What if we instead see depression as a spiritual crisis, a “dark night of the soul” that springs from living an unfulfilling life devoid of meaning, or from a lack of deep personal connections with other human beings?
What if I have a sense of not belonging to my family, my friend group, my work team?
And what if I just continue to live my life, going through each day stoically, telling myself there is something wrong with me, that other people seem happy, that I just need to keep going and be grateful for what I have? This seems to be an acceptable course of action for many people, but what if, for some people, there are ongoing feelings that there could be more to life, but they have no idea how to accomplish it?
Depressive symptoms often include a sense of emptiness, a lack of enjoyment in life, a sense of worthlessness or hopelessness, disengagement from social connections, and a feeling that life challenges and obstacles are just too great to be overcome. So many people tell me, “I am just overwhelmed. All I can do is cry. Or sleep.” Depression often comes after major life changes or losses, and can sometimes be intertwined with grief. Depression often accompanies chronic pain or disabilities. Depression is a part of trauma and anxiety related disorders.
Therapeutic empathy is a big part of the therapeutic bond.
It can be challenging to simply be with another’s pain without wanting to fix it. However, studies have shown, and most clients will affirm, that it is the therapeutic bond which is the most important part of healing for the client. It shows that the therapist can be present with the suffering of another human being, that or she is not suffering alone.
This is spiritual connection, being a fully present witness to another’s pain without trying to get right to work on healing it. Acceptance of the pain and struggles of life can be the first step to healing it.
Although therapists are trained to only disclose personal information to a client when absolutely necessary, I believe that sometimes it can be helpful to disclose our own struggles with depression, substance use, or other mental health issues. This can help in creating a sense of equality between the client and therapist, and when there is a sense of equality, there can be a therapeutic bond as well as a spiritual bond that can be healing for the client. There can become what the mystic Martin Buber called the I-Thou relationship, in which each person is involved in creating a sacred, healing bond.
Spiritual tools used in therapy can include asking clients to try meditation, if they aren’t already practicing meditation. I encourage my clients to meditate, and sometimes will practice with them in session. We talk about the goals of meditating, and why it can be so helpful with depression. Depression takes us away from our higher and deeper selves, the spirit and soul that are our true selves.
I like to think of spirit as being our higher self, the expanded and free self that has perspective and knows that “this, too, shall pass.”
The soul is our inward, deep self, quiet and filled with eternal peace and wisdom. These essences surround and fill our physical bodies, but when we are depressed, we have forgotten-or never knew- these parts of ourselves that, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, can never be hurt or damaged. Meditation can open us up to our essence, our inner peace and outer knowing, that eternal aspect of ourselves that cannot be hurt or suffer.
Yoga, Tai Chi, or martial arts practices can be helpful in healing depression, and serve as true mind/body/spirit practices that will often unleash some deeply held feelings in our bodies. I will never forget a yoga session during which “Pigeon Pose” caused a huge outpouring of tears that was nearly uncontrollable. I was embarrassed to be weeping in front of other people, but the teacher came to me, put her hands on my back, and just sat with me till the tears stopped. I didn’t know what was happening, or why. She explained that I had been holding on to some hurt, and it was in the parts of my body stretched by the pose. I was able to explore this through journaling and gained an understanding of what painful memories I had been carrying in my hips. True mind, body, spiritual healing.
Here is a list of some of my favorite mind/body/spirit teachers and authors:
Mona Lisa Schultz
Thich Nhat Hanh
Faye Maguire, MA, LACC, is a People House private practitioner working with youth and adults, using a transpersonal approach to therapy. Counseling is her second career, after being a business owner for nearly 30 years. She enjoys working with people experiencing life transitions, grief and loss, depression, anxiety, trauma, addictions, relationship issues, and figuring out life’s direction, using a holistic approach. Please contact her at 720-331-2454 or at email@example.com for more information.