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Light or Cognitive: Which Therapy Works Best for SAD?


With 2009 coming to a close very soon and the air temperatures changing for the colder, so does the cyclical reappearance of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) for many folks living in the Northern Hemisphere. Researchers may not understand exactly what causes SAD, but they certainly know how to identify its symptoms, among them declines in concentration and energy levels, depression and lethargy. Just as frustrating for most physicians and patients: Determining the best way to treat it.

A University of Vermont psychologist may have discovered the most effective treatment for SAD by assigning 69 patients to one of four groups based on two of the more popular strategies -- light therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) -- a combination of the two or a control wait-list and monitoring their progress, then following up with them a year later.

Despite all the news and the popularity of light therapy products produced to treat SAD, CBT was the clear winner.

For starters, only 7 percent of patients treated with CBT alone had a recurrence of SAD the following winter, compared to some 37 percent of those given light therapy alone. While the failure rate among patients in the group that were treated with both therapies was low (5.5 percent), when accounting for the severity of the depression, CBT was linked to less severe bouts of depression among patients than those treated with a light-cognitive combo or light therapy alone.

One interesting sidenote: Among those in the light therapy group, only four patients used it on their own during the following winter, probably because the treatment requires sitting in front of a light box every day for 30 minutes, which may explain why long-term use of light therapy is rare, according to the report.

Behavior Therapy, Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 225-238, September 2009

ScienceDaily October 17, 2009

Elements Behavioral Health October 19, 2009



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