Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) Department of Psychology say that it can be quite liberating for depressed individuals if they just stop thinking about their worries.
Many people believe that persistent ruminative thinking is completely uncontrollable, but individuals with depression can gain control over it," says the researchers. The study conducted by NTNU shows that learning to reduce rumination is very helpful for patients with depressive symptoms.
The patients involved in the study were treated over a ten-week period with metacognitive therapy (MCT) that focuses on lessening the ruminative process. After six months, 80 percent of the participants had achieved full recovery from their depression diagnosis. The follow-up after six months showed the same tendency with very little regression.
Today, medications and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are the recommended treatments for depression and anxiety. In CBT, patients engage in analyzing the content of their thoughts to challenge their validity and reality test them.
Anxiety and depression give rise to difficult and painful negative thoughts. Many patients have thoughts of mistakes, past failures or other negative thoughts. “Patients with depression ‘think too much, which MCT refers to as 'depressive rumination’. Rather than ruminating so much on negative thoughts, MCT helps patients to reduce negative thought processes and get them under control,” said the researchers.
By becoming aware of what happens when they start to ruminate, patients learn to take control of their own thoughts. Instead of reacting by repeatedly ruminating and thinking 'how do I feel now?' patients try to encounter their thoughts with 'detached mindfulness’. You can see your thoughts as just thoughts, and not as a reflection of reality. Most people think that when they think a thought, it must be true. For example, if I think that I'm stupid, this means I must be stupid. People strongly believe that their thoughts reflect reality."
Patients who participated in the study have been pleasantly surprised by this form of treatment. "The patients come in thinking they're going to talk about all the problems they have and get to the bottom of it," said a team member behind the study. "But instead, we try to find out how their mind and thinking processes work. We tell them that they may not be able to control what they think, but they certainly can control how they respond to what they think."
According to the researchers, a lot of mainstream depression treatment shows a high recurrence rate. Out of 100 patients, fully half relapse after a year, and after two years, 75 of the 100 have relapsed. "The relapse rate in the MCT study is much lower. Only a few percent experienced a depressive relapse," they claimed.