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BACP Senior Accredited Counsellor

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Seasonal Affective Disorder and the SAD Season

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The phenomenon of  Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) has become well known in recent years.  Like much in the world of human emotions and psychotherapy there are many different views on SAD.  Some regard SAD as an inevitable part of the annual cycle of life, to be accepted along with winter colds and flu whereas for others it  can be a very real threat to our well being which should be countered by the introduction of light boxes, antidepressants or therapy.

Parallels between the physical and emotional world can sometimes help us to gain a realistic perspective on the psychological challenges we face.  In the same way that we may from time to time have a slight stomach upset and think nothing of it unless it persists, so the same can be true of our emotional world. To have a brief sense of flatness or momentary distress is part of the fabric of life but things become more serious if that feeling persists and causes ongoing distress.

Perhaps the SAD phenomenon can also be thought of in this way.  For many people the cold dark winter evenings will act as a good reason to stay indoors and as a result activity levels drop.  Why go out and brave the cold when a box set and a glass of wine is easily available. And if this drop in verve and drive levels has a general depressive impact, well so be it. Christmas will provide some temporary relief and then Spring lies just around the corner.

For others SAD is a far more serious condition, provoking a period of at best gloom and at worst unremitting misery, which stretches across a seemingly unending grey winter plain. Energy drops away like the foliage from the trees and there is an all-encompassing sense of bleakness. When that type of real emotional pain persists it is sensible to look around for some support rather than just suffer.  That assistance may come in the form of medication or perhaps a talking therapy such as different forms of counselling including psychodynamic work or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). 

Of course talking therapies have limitations. Even the most effective CBT or Brief Solution Focussed work within the counselling room cannot actually make the sun come out. And there is unfortunately no specific counselling work carried out in Basingstoke which is where my office is based, which can ensure that all those winter mists are suddenly dispelled.

Nevertheless there may well be benefits to be gained from deciding to face head on the challenge of SAD and to go actively searching for ways of shifting those internal clouds. 

We would not put up with that stomach upset going on week after week and perhaps we should be less tolerant of that SAD feeling. That is especially if it starts to distort our enjoyment of life during what on some cold and frosty days can still be a fun time - depending of course on how deep the snow is and how long it lasts!



Geoff Boutle

added on 4th November 2012

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