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Talk Therapy Better Than Light Treatment For Seasonal Affective Disorder

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A new study found that talk therapy may be better than light treatment in terms of managing patients with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

More than 14 million Americans experience SAD, affecting 1.5 percent and nine percent of southern and northern states, respectively. As per estimates, about 10-20 percent of all cases of intermittent depression follow a seasonal model.

Initial researches point out that cognitive-behavioral therapy produces better outcomes for patients with SAD compared to light therapy, which is the gold standard of treatment. In a new study, researchers performed a large-scale, randomized abreast comparison of these treatment modalities one and two winters after short-term therapy.

The study involved 177 adults diagnosed with recurrent major depression that follows a seasonal pattern. The participants were randomly assigned to undergo either cognitive-behavioral therapy (talk therapy) or light therapy for six weeks. They were then followed up after one and two winters.

For the cognitive-behavioral therapy group, 88 participants received two weekly sessions for six weeks with each season lasting 50 minutes.

For the other group, the study subjects had light therapy in the morning for 30 minutes at home. The time of light exposure was eventually adjusted over the course of six weeks to ensure maximal response and minimal side effects. The researchers instructed the participants to continue the therapy until spring and were given access to a light box during the subsequent winter.

Follow-up visits were conducted by the researchers during the months of January or February each year. Telephonic assessments were performed in October and December during the first year of the study.

The findings of the study showed that the therapies did not exhibit significant differences in results during the first year of the study. However, discrepancies were noted during the second year, with 27.3 percent and 45.6 percent of recurrence in the cognitive-behavioral and light therapy groups respectively. Remission rates were larger in the cognitive-behavioral group (68.3 percent) compared to the light therapy group (44.5 percent)

"The degree of improvement was substantial," said Kelly Rohan, lead author of the study and psychology professor at the University of Vermont. She added that both modalities produced big and clinically valuable progress in depression symptoms over the winter season, which lasted for more than six weeks.

Rohan, however, commented that with the challenges associated with administering light therapy and significant number of Americans experiencing recurring SAD, cognitive-behavioral therapy may be the better choice for long-term management.

The study was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry on Thursday, Nov. 5.

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