Understand Depression and How to Relieve it – What Human Givens Teaches

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Editor’s Note:  This is a guest post by Andrew Richardson, Human Givens practitioner.

Human Givens is UK based and only 15 years old yet there is respectable peer reviewed evidence that it helps with depression more effectively than medication or CBT.  Human Givens is more than another model of counselling and purports to be a new bio-psycho-social model of being human.

Understand why you dream and you will understand depression

Tonight you will dream, even if you don’t remember doing so.  Your brain will act out in story-form the hopes, fears and reflections that occupied your mind today. This refreshes your emotional brain, leaving it better prepared to deal with tomorrow’s stresses.

If we dream more because we are worrying more we slip into a vicious circle – of worrying, exhausting dreaming, leading to reduced motivation and energy and even more rumination. This is a depression.  Many describe it as being locked in their brain, unable to escape from useless and obsessive rumination – a terrifying trance state of inward obsession.

Why people get depressed

People sink into a depressed mood when their innate physical or emotional needs are not being met and, instead of dealing with this situation they worry about it. All depressed people worry. This increases their dreaming, upsetting the balance between slow-wave, recuperative sleep and energy-burning dream sleep. Soon they start to wake up feeling tired and unmotivated. This makes them worry even more as they feel that “something is wrong with me”.

5319509248_760acae263Photo Credit: HaoJan via Compfight cc

What feeds the depression

From a Human Givens perspective, the question would be – how possible is it to live a life where essential needs can be met, around safety, control, relationships and satisfying work? What is the nature of the crisis that might have triggered depression?  How well are emotions, habitual patterns of thinking and responding helping to get these essential needs met?  And finally, is there any trauma lurking somewhere in the past.

Helping depression clients – my experience

All efforts with a client must be directed in two directions.  First, get arousal levels down so that sleep improves and second help the client problem solve so that they can get their life working better. This may require the healing of emotional resources caused by past trauma and strong emotional patterning.

I will not, at least until my client is feeling better – allow any extended talk on the past and all the bad that seems to be there and their theories of why they are feeling so bad.

I also encourage my client to listen daily to my Lift Depression download.

The high arousal of a depressed person is a trancelike self obsessed focus, which destroys the capacity to problem solve and so correct the underlying lack that caused the depression. Being able to problem solve and therefore take control gives a sense of hope and movement and reduces arousal.

Depression: some distortions of fact

To be deeply depressed is just about the most awful feeling we can experience, apart from sheer terror. But the topic is surrounded by false ideas.  Depression, as experienced by the vast majority of sufferers, is not a biological illness; neither is it ‘anger turned inward’; nor is it a ‘chemical imbalance in the brain’ and it is not usefully divided into ‘clinical depression’, ‘post-natal depression’ and ordinary ‘depression’.

Low serotonin is the result not the cause of depression – and this is why anti-depressants are rarely the complete answer. Anti-depressants treat symptoms and not underlying causes and seem to work by suppressing REM (or dream) sleep.

Neither are depression symptoms hereditary.  The fact that family members may all suffer from depression is better explained by their common environment than common genes.

Comments?  Tell us what you think!

About the Author
Andrew Richardson

Andrew has been practicing as a Human Givens accredited practitioner for eight years and has a thriving private practice.  Follow Andrew @fbcounselling

Visit his websites Feelbetter Counselling and Depression Recovery and his Depression Help Blog 

Visit the Human Givens Depression website and Human Givens Publishing – for their best selling book on depression and the second edition of Human Givens.

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9 thoughts on “Understand Depression and How to Relieve it – What Human Givens Teaches

  1. Thomas
    June 19, 2014 at 10:48 pm

    I am very intrigued by the Human Givens approach to explaining the cause & effective treatment of depression. I have more to read in the website, but I do find it very interesting & seems to relate somewhat to my experience of depression. It would be great if the “cure” is as simple as it appears according to the Human Givens approach. I read the following article regarding Jerry Seinfeld’s Secrets to Success & Productivity & thought it might benefit others, whether or not you experience depression in your life. Here is the link: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/231023

    1. Michele
      June 20, 2014 at 8:48 am

      Thanks Thomas. That was a great link for me to see today.

  2. Thomas
    June 19, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    Hi Michele – I came across the following website about coming off psychiatric drugs that I thought you might be interested in if you haven’t already come across it yourself: http://www.theicarusproject.net/HarmReductionGuideComingOffPsychDrugs. It was linked to a website [http://beyondmeds.com] you mentioned in one of your blogs so thought I’d just share it. I am currently in the process of coming off my Effexor medication for bipolar (2nd month & things are going well – by next month I should be off all meds – yay for me!!)

    1. Michele
      June 20, 2014 at 8:47 am

      Hi Thomas. I hadn’t seen that link. Glad to hear you’re doing well!! I found Effexor hard to come off of but I made it eventually.

  3. Brenda
    June 27, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    There are many good points on the human givens website regarding depression, however I am getting very tired of theories regarding depression that insist this is the true and complete explanation of a complex issue. It seems rather like the blind men describing an elephant, and while a description of the ear may be very helpful in addressing the puzzle of the whole it is no more true that an elephant looks only like an ear than that an elephant looks only like a tail.

    For the benefit of others who may be struggling to find their own best path through conflicting theories, my suggestion is: trust studies and theories which report facts rather than simply present various theories attempting to interpret the facts. I think if you read a variety of studies it is probably accurate to summarize:

    - depression may resolve without either medication or psychotherapy, but may not resolve on its own
    - for both medication and psychological approaches: either strategy is frequently effective in resolving depression but in both cases there are a very non-trivial percentage in which this is not effective
    - response to different medication varies for the individual and it may take a while to find a medication to which you respond
    - despite various claims by alternate psychological theories the statistical effectiveness of different types of therapy provided by a competent practitioner is approximately equivalent
    - there has not been a great deal of study regarding the placebo effect in psychological counselling, but there do seem to be indications that the value of feeling supported by and trusting in a health care provider, whether in therapy or simply treatment as usual, is significant in itself
    - there are people helped by medication that are not helped by psychotherapy, there are people helped by psychotherapy that are not helped by medication, and there are people helped to a limited amount by either who respond more fully to both

    Considering that there are people who recover in about 6 months without any treatment, it seems extremely unlikely that thinking habits alone adequately explain depression when you consider that these people had their thinking habits for years without getting depressed, undoubtedly experienced some alterations in their thinking patterns during depression, then when recovered return to their normal thinking patterns without being depressed.
    This does not mean that thinking patterns are not a useful area to consider in fighting depression – simply that there is a very obvious weakness in considering this a complete theory of depression.
    For some people medication is either sufficient or necessary to provide the stability to address any other areas in life, for some people it is unnecessary or even counter-productive.

    It seems most accurate to say that at this stage of our understanding depression appears to involve an interaction of biological, psychological and environmental factors which may be different for each person and most probably respond best by treatment strategies addressing factors which predominate in that individual.

    I do in fact appreciate any effort to provide additional strategies which may help even some people with depression, but I am getting very annoyed by hearing so many “less than precisely accurate” statements which may prevent someone from receiving the help that is most beneficial to them. My personal experience has been that despite the seeming popularity of psychiatrist and medication-bashing, I have never heard a psychiatrist put down non-medication treatments for depression or say that non-biological factors might not be involved, but there seems to be a very large number of psychology-based proponents putting down psychiatry and medication. If it is claimed that psychiatrists have “ulterior motives” in claiming that psychiatry and medication can help depression, it seems that counsellors might equally be accused of having “ulterior motives” in claiming that psychological approaches are the answer. It is more probable that all offer value to the complete reality of depression, however mis-statements are a major disservice to people suffering from depression.

    To anyone else suffering from depression: there may be many points you might find useful in this (or any other) approach, but please PLEASE do some research yourself rather than accepting what is claimed to be known as not true about depression – I have read a lot of research studies and firmly believe that there is a distinct misrepresentation in some of those statements. The reason this makes me very angry is that statistics indicate that there are some people who may not improve without medication, and the probability that stating depression is ‘”not biological” is going to dissuade some of those people from considering medication may be truly harmful.

    And by the way about depression having no genetic component: one side of my family only one generation back has at least four people who have suffered from severe depression – this does not seem very likely to be due to chance. Environmental influence as an alternative explanation? Sort of falls apart as I have never even met these relatives. Interesting to consider that one example of something being true does not confirm a theory, but one example of it being false is pretty definitive in showing that a theory does not always apply …

    I do appreciate very much that these practitioners are trying to help, but it is in fact possible to say “these strategies are frequently helpful” without claiming to be THE answer or putting down alternative approaches that have helped people as well.

    1. Michele
      June 27, 2014 at 4:11 pm

      Hi Brenda, I want to thank you for taking the time to write. You obviously have passion and I think everything you said is accurate. I too read a lot of studies. I know there’s a genetic component because that’s what much of the drug research is focused on now – which anti-depressants work on which genetic makeup so that we can get past the whole trial and error business.

      I also know there’s a biological component but I think it’s a chicken and egg thing – does biology set off something, does it just predispose you or does biology become altered by your life experience. Who knows and does it really matter.

      You’re also right about the backlash against psychiatry and meds but I think it’s fair. Big pharma has been driving a profit agenda to the detriment of psychiatry’s credibility. Something needs to change there.

      I too am suspicious of any complete theory of depression but I just don’t think it’s possible for many more years. I like the ideas within Human Givens but they are still fairly early in terms of having robust evidence. I sent a note to Andrew who wrote this post so that he can comment as well. I’m hoping people see it as one more possible treatment and if it resonates for someone, that’s great. Depression will never have one size fits all solutions.

      Thank you again for a well thought out response Brenda. I know that would have taken you some time to write.

  4. June 28, 2014 at 1:45 am

    Brenda
    Thank you so much for your very carefully written post. Let me tell you how I approach this and what my back story is. I have never experienced a depression and neither have I any relevant academic/research background or ever been employed by a public organisation. I have simply been trained in human givens (which is getting a good reputation in the UK) and have a successful private practice where I find that most of my depressed clients get better very quickly. And I use the HG ideas around rumination and dreaming and getting needs met as the core of how I work. You will be interested to know though that HG also teaches counselling method and principles – to a very high standard and quite unconventionally compared to the standard approaches. It is also quite clear that the quality of therapists varies a lot and I do seem to be very good, judging by my outcomes. So I think that I am an unusual voice in this field.

    I have also seen at firsthand what the medical approach seems to do (antidepressants and/or CBT) for so many of my clients – though I recognise that my sample will be biased – those helped with their depression will not come to me.

    Finally I have looked at what is the conventional wisdom around what a depression is and how to lift it and unlike you see little of any value. I know of no competing depression theory but see instead mere descriptions of symptoms (eg low mood, loss of pleasure etc.), a hiding behind the DSM and general statements that depression is a serious illness with many causes. But beyond generalities – eg it is genetic whatever that means, nothing meaty is ever said

    Yes there are lots of people researching depression but almost invariably from a medical type model or social risk/public policy approach. But in terms of having an overarching theory, such as exists say for diabetes, it seems to me that there is nothing.

    And this is what you say
    “ It seems most accurate to say that at this stage of our understanding depression appears to involve an interaction of biological, psychological and environmental factors which may be different for each person and most probably respond best by treatment strategies addressing factors which predominate in that individual”

    This seems to me to be agreeing with me – that virtually nothing can be said beyond generalities.

    Do look at this link on my depression recovery website – it is my attempt at a much fuller answer to the common reaction to my optimism around depression understanding and its relief. http://www.depression-recovery.co.uk/5/Polemics/Confronting-Pessimists.html

    And do visit my blog if you can bear to read any more http://depression-help-blog.feelbetter-counselling-eastlondon.com/

    There I am challenging the conventional wisdom. But we are told that we are living through a depression epidemic and there is no signs that it is coming under control. So maybe the conventional wisdom deserves some critical scrutiny.

  5. Brenda
    June 28, 2014 at 8:40 am

    Thanks for posting it and for adding the points you brought up! And you are right I am passionate about this – people with depression are extremely vulnerable and the overriding obligation should be to do no harm – not to try to campaign for belief in a particular theory.

    I totally would not trust pharmaceutical companies any further than I could throw them, but I feel that this needs to be separated from the issue of whether or not medication may be a good choice for a particular individual. While I have certainly had psychiatrists who could have been much better at their job, the one I am seeing now is worth his weight in gold. And even in the case of those who were not particularly helpful I would give them the credit of assuming that they were trying to help. I have also had counselling which has been extremely counter-productive, but again think they were trying to help, and certainly with or without medication there are many lifestyle factors which will have a significant impact on depression such as sleep and exercise.

    I firmly feel those suffering from depression are best served by assuming a doctor suggesting medication is trying to relieve anguish as quickly and effectively as possible, and that those suggesting counselling is the answer are also trying to relieve depression, address contributing lifestyle factors and protect people from taking medication which may be unnecessary or counter-productive. I think patients are only served when health care providers of any type start giving very precise and accurate statements, which at this point pretty well boils down to “this helps some people, these other things help some people, what we can say about the situations in which each strategy tends to be effective is xyz, so here are identifiable options. As a health care provider my recommendation for a first step for you is A for reason (I) and (ii) – what are your thoughts of how you would like to proceed?

    Over-generalizations, whether from a physician or counsellor, are NOT helpful to people who are already having difficulty thinking clearly due to depression and are furthermore very likely to feel even more depressed if they do not experience improvement using a strategy that has been presented as “the” answer. My experiences have inclined me to believe that no matter which approach a particular practitioner favours, those who excel are aware that there are people not helped by their approach, aware of research exposing limitations as well as that supporting their theories – and most importantly, encourage their patients to be informed and are not threatened by, nor dismissive of, patient attempts to educate themselves and ask questions – including those about limitations or alternate strategies. Or to simplify: those who excel are perfectly capable of simply presenting the reasons why this would be their preferred strategy, and do not need to claim this is always the answer.

    At this time there is not a great ability by any method to predict who is going to experience depression or which strategies are going to be most effective for resolving it – really all studies showing a method is effective are simply saying “it is statistically improbable that this many people improved by chance” – NOT “this always works”. Regardless of whether thinking patterns or biological changes came first, the most promising research in determining what may be most effective for a given patient seems to be medical research such as that attempting to associate brain scan results with response to counselling or a particular medication, which is one of the reasons I feel discounting the contributions of psychiatric medicine to the depression question is extremely counter-productive.

    And most importantly, I think that patients with depression need to be aware that there is not “one” answer, you have the right to be informed, ask questions and receive assistance in deciding upon the treatment that is most effective for YOU, and “question any statement by any health care practitioner given as an absolute” is a pretty good plan of action. Even if it is simply stated more precisely that “Strategy A has a high probability if being helpful so is a good first step” at least then a patient can proceed without ending up more depressed if that particular approach does not work for them.

    My feeling is that if a depressed person fails to respond to a treatment presented as likely to be helpful they may be discouraged but are likely to accept that they fall into the percentage for whom that treatment is ineffective and move on to Plan B. However, if they are presented with a simplified version of “this will work” a significant percentage of those who fail to respond to a treatment will probably end up even more depressed – how could anyone study depression from any viewpoint and not see that this response from a depressed person is highly probable?!!! So whether doctor or counsellor – yes, you are very likely to do harm to some people by presenting less than precise or over-generalized information; and depressed person – yes, you have the right to expect precise information, to be aware that there is currently no complete answer, and to be suspicious and question any absolute statements. You also have the right to be considered the final expert of whether any strategy is helpful for you, and to receive support for deciding you prefer to try another strategy instead or in addition to that suggested, even if it means helping you find additional practitioners able to provide that treatment.

    Sorry – another long post! But I can’t help but think how helpful it would have been to have known this when I was a young person overwhelmed by experiencing major depression for the first time, and I think maybe it is time for depressed people to stop accepting over-generalizations or imprecision from health care providers in any field. I wish earlier on any time I had heard an absolute statement from a health care provider I had stopped to ask “Would this statement fly in a peer-critiqued research article?” and “Is it possible that alternate conclusions could be drawn?” And that’s a pretty big burden for depressed people to have to take on, when it should not be necessary if health care providers precisely presented the facts and distinguished facts from theories attempting to explain them and from their own opinions.

  6. Brenda
    June 28, 2014 at 8:46 am

    Sorry Andrew – I posted the above in response to the previous post before I had seen your reply. Thank you for replying and I will certainly take a look at the sites you mention and give them fair consideration before further posting.

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