Depression Doesn't Lie
Thursday, November 19, 2009

By: Terry Tempinski, Ph.D.

One of the things I continue to be impressed with despite my 30 years of practice is how harsh we are toward ourselves when we are struggling in some way emotionally. It is really striking when you stop to think about it. Our response to our struggles is much kinder and wiser when we encounter physical problems. When we have a toothache, we swiftly get ourselves in to see the dentist. A bad cold? We try to get some antibiotics, drink fluids, and lay low. But depressed? Oh my!?!

I am well aware that no one goes to see a psychologist without many months of trying to overcome whatever is bothering them. This makes sense; we all try to forage ahead when the going gets tough. But unfortunately, when things do not improve, we are often not our own best friend. Here are some examples of the things I hear again and again:

I really have no reason to be depressed.
The reasons for my unhappiness are not going to change, so how can I feel any better?
Others have problems way worse than mine.
How can psychotherapy help anyway?
Therapy is for those who have failed and are weak.

Please understand, I am not criticizing….I want to share with you our inclination to mercilessly beat ourselves up when we most need kindness and empathy! It’s bad enough struggling with depression or anxiety, without having to deal with the assaults we often make on ourselves about the fact of these symptoms.

The truth is that depression without cause does not exist.

I know the media is rife with commercials and messages that depression is a biological problem that requires a biological fix with medication. While medications certainly have their purpose at certain times, in 30 years I have never seen a case of depression without profound underlying psychological reasons. The notion that you are depressed but shouldn’t be is about as preposterous as believing that one’s fever is without cause. Moreover, the reasons for our symptoms are typically numerous and complicated. Given the many levels of our consciousness, our many years of life experiences, and the potentially many other hardships we’ve tried to brush aside over the years…well, you’re probably getting the idea of just how convoluted and complex the roots of our struggles can be. Sometimes people feel depressed but look at their lives and say, “I have no reason to be depressed; I have a fine life.” To this person, I would like to point out that the causes of depression often have nothing to do with our current lives or with external factors, for that matter.

While people’s emotional difficulties come in all sorts of different packages, each has its own logical, understandable evolution. In order to be our best selves, we all have the responsibility of being attentive to and caring for our feelings. How do we best do that? In my opinion, the best way to do that is to appreciate the underlying reasons for our struggles……..and that is the goal of psychotherapy.

“Why is it important to understand why we are depressed?”

First, studies suggest that when persons who have successfully completed psychotherapy are interviewed and asked, “How did the therapy help you to feel different inside?”, they inevitably answer similarly in saying something to the effect that as a result of the therapy, they now understand their feelings better. This is clearly an oversimplified way of describing something which is grand. Imagine how liberating it would be to realize that the dark feelings you have long carried inside are merely the product of unresolved feelings which can be resolved? I believe that most all of us come into this world with an emotionally healthy self. Over the years, however, we often lose a grip on it; but that doesn’t mean it has left us. Most of the time it just gets covered up with things like hurt, fear, pain which often gets repressed and then transformed into all sorts of different kinds of physical and/or emotional symptoms.

Secondly, the other reason it is important to understand why we are feeling depressed is that the unresolved feelings, conflict, or turmoil which causes depression and other symptoms are truly incapable of disappearing without attention and understanding. When we are faced with difficult emotions, there is ultimately no way of escaping them. We might attempt to brush them aside, take a detour around them, or deny them with all sorts of fancy maneuvers. This can often “work” for a limited period of time. However, unless we at some point face them in full, they will forever linger over our heads, so to speak, like a big black cloud. Then, inevitably, at some point, they rain down on us. Unresolved feelings can cause almost any symptom imaginable, including all sorts of physical symptoms, physical illnesses, psychological symptoms, relationship problems, performance problems, and more.

To conclude, if you are contemplating therapy and telling yourself that it is for people who are weak or for those who are failures at dealing with life, I hope you will think again. Please try a kinder approach. People who pursue therapy and stick with it until they feel better are courageous, strong, motivated, and health-bound individuals who have decided they want and deserve to be their best selves.

Author : Terry Tempinski Ph.D.
Dr. Tempinski is a clinical psychologist with more than 25 years experience treating adult individuals. She is fully licensed in the state of Michigan. Her solo private practice has been designed with the goal of maximizing client confidentiality.