How Can My Wife Cure Her Depression?

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Reader’s Question

My wife of 46 years has suffered from clinical depression for most of that time. Both she and I attribute it to parental neglect and not being nurtured at an early age. Even after her early childhood years, her parents continued to ignore her feelings and treated her as a non-person. She often plays ‘tapes’ in her head about her worthlessness and self-inflicts substantial suffering on herself. Needless to say, our marriage has suffered a great deal and relationships with our three female children are not the best.

I would like to know if it is possible to bring her out of this depression so that she can enjoy what little time she has left. My wife has tried prescription medications and prefers not to use them as they take away emotional feelings that she would like to have in order to relate properly to other people.

Psychologist’s Reply

Yes, it is possible for her to come out of her depression but it will take a lot of work. For people who suffer from ‘tapes’ in their head that play negative thoughts, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is often a good treatment to try. CBT is an active therapy that deals directly with negative thoughts either by challenging them or replacing them with positive ones. It also is an empirically validated treatment (meaning that it has good research outcomes to support its effectiveness). CBT is very popular and many mental health professionals are well trained in it.

There is another type of therapeutic treatment that sounds like it might also fit with your wife’s depression. It is called Reparenting. It is not as popular as CBT but from your description of her situation, it sounds like it would be a good fit for her. Reparenting therapy helps people nurture themselves (and eventually others) and gain self-confidence and self-worth. It helps people to let go of the anger they feel toward their parental figures, accept themselves the way they are and establish healthy boundaries.

The process of Reparenting goes in stages. During the first stage, the patient becomes aware of how she or he was not parented in the way that they needed. Your wife may already be there, so she could easily move on to the second stage, of new beliefs. Healing Beliefs are thoughts like “My parents were flawed” and “Inadequate parenting has nothing to do with me as a person.” Challenging Beliefs include thoughts like ‚ÄúParents make mistakes and may have been wrong about what we needed” and “I do not have to live by their expectations or beliefs.”

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The third stage is Forgiveness. This is very tough for a lot of people, mainly because many people do not understand that forgiveness is not for the other person; it is for us. Forgiveness involves letting go of the anger and moving forward. So, during this stage, she would work on forgiving her parents and accepting who they are. She would also let go of the past and look to the future.

The next two stages are more fun as they help people establish a new way of living. The fourth stage involves Redefining Yourself. This is where patients burn away the negative of what they have been told about themselves so that they get to redefine who they are and who they want to be. They are encouraged to find examples to support their new beliefs and practice behaving like the new person they are.

The fifth and final stage of Reparenting involves Nurturance. This is the best stage because it can be very enjoyable. People are encouraged to discover how they can achieve their wants and needs. They practice new nurturing skills and work on healthy boundaries and improving existing relationships. They also work on finding ways to nurture others, especially children. This stage may help her repair her relationship with you and your children.

As I said, all of this involves a lot of hard work but it is indeed worth it. I have seen both therapeutic modalities work well for many people. I hope your wife can find a mental health professional who can help her on her journey. She doesn’t have to be miserable!

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