I think it can be helpful to understand what we know about depression because our explanation or ideas about what causes depression can push us toward attempted solutions, or in some cases a dead end. If you think the answer to what causes depression is 100% spiritual then you may try a spiritual solution. And if that doesn’t work, are you depressed because you are a bad person and are not trying hard enough? If you think depression is caused primarily due to an environmental factor like your marriage, what do you do if your spouse is complacent and refuses to work on the relationship? Are you doomed to suffer from depression until the marriage ends? Is it merely a chemical imbalance that just requires a pill or combination of medications to get things back in balance in the brain? What happens if you can’t find the right pill or the side effects cause you to gain weight or destroys your libido?
Chances are the cause of our depression is more complex than most of us realize. A solution therefore needs to be sophisticated for it to work and requires more than remembering to take the anti-depressant on time. I want to refer to the Harvard health website. If you search online the question: “What causes depression?” The first legitimate site you can turn to is found here. As they explain, depression is typically caused by a number of factors. The short answer I hear a lot from some professionals is that it is a chemical imbalance that causes depression. The implication sometimes is that taking the right medication will solve your depression. In some cases that might be the case. However, one thing to remember is that a chemical imbalance can be caused by behavioral factors. For instance, if you are generally happy but for whatever reason get in the habit of watching TV every night for a couple of hours, staying up late, eating unhealthy foods, checking your Facebook feed frequently, and not getting any kind of exercise or other fulfilling stimulation, eventually you will feel lethargic, unfulfilled and eventually genuinely depressed. Now you have a chemical imbalance. Is it possible to correct a chemical imbalance by taking medications?
My aim is to help empower people. One major problem with depression is that we feel powerless and weak. I fear we reinforce the passivity of depressive thinking when we send the message, just take a pill and let it do the work, for more on this viewpoint go here. And no effort is made to develop new ways of thinking or developing a more empowering perspective. An opportunity can be lost to develop new skills.
I focus on the “how” side of things. Earlier I mentioned that many people ask why they are experiencing depression. “Why” questions are helpful understanding context but they rarely lead to solutions that are helpful. They lead to blame or understanding, but introspective understanding can fall short in changing depression. For instance, if a client gains an understanding that they experience depression because a parent was distant or harsh, then what do you do with that? You can’t change the past. As a therapist I look for ways to make changes, so I can’t change who your family members are or what they have done in the past or even what they do now. I can help you change how you respond to life events, to your environment or even how you make sense of your past. This includes addressing thinking patterns, changing what you anticipate or expect to happen. I can even help you develop new skills that empower you to change your “chemical imbalance.”
I don’t ignore the why questions, they aren't filthy, I just don’t focus on them when I am in a problem solving phase. I also understand that sometimes people need to ask “Why” questions before they get to the “How.” I respect that and utilize this need when it’s indicated. I also recognize that why questions can identify reasons for motivation, negative or positive. The focus needs to shift at some point to how to make changes. Someone can have all the motivation in the world to change their mood from feeling depressed to feeling happy, but if they don’t know how, frustration and helplessness can overwhelm the high motivation and destroy it. If you are not careful, dwelling on the why something is happening can reinforce the depression.
So I do focus on "How" questions. If you happen to consult with me, don’t be surprised when I ask “How” questions. So, here’s a question, How do “how” questions lead to solutions? Let me demonstrate something.
Why did you find out about that new recipe; why did you make such delicious rolls? Why did you pay off your mortgage in 15 years? Why did you lose 10 pounds in a month? Why did you finish that puzzle so quickly? Just for a quick little exercise, read those questions replacing “Why” with “How.”