Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

What “The Secret” Can and Can’t Do For Depression

Thanks to reader Larry Parker who wrote the following message on my “Oprah at Wellesley” post:

Creative visualization, or “The Secret,” or the Law of Attraction–or whatever you want to call Oprah’s philosophy–is not inspiring for those of us with depression. It is nothing short of monstrous. If I were to try to visualize what I want into creation during a manic jag, I would end up in a psych ward, in jail–or dead.

I certainly hope I haven’t given the impression that “The Secret” is all you need to treat depression. I completely agree with you that using JUST the law of attraction would be irresponsible, dangerous, and detrimental to mental health and recovery.
If I have seemed to be more pro-Oprah lately, it’s only because I was relieved to see some good information on her site and on her show on depression. I didn’t get the sense that she would endorse “positive thinking” your depression away. And if she did, I’d welcome the chance to debate that with her, equipped with a folder of neurological reports that show that severe depression is a serious brain disease that requires medical intervention.
I suppose I put “The Secret” into the same category (okay, maybe a rung or two lower) as positive psychology, the school of thought held by happy doctors such as Martin Seligman (“Authentic Happiness“) and Dan Baker (“What Happy People Know“). They basically tout an Oprah-ized version of cognitive behavioral therapy (which has been very helpful to me)–combining exercises of identifying distorted thoughts with The Secret-esque notions of gratitude, focusing on strengths, finding a purpose, the power of stories and words, and the importance of altruistic acts.
Now, during my suicidal days, all of this stuff was toxic to me, as it can be turned around in a depressive’s head to suggest that all the pain and suffering she is feeling is her fault. My doctor instructed me to close all books about the power of positive thinking and even cognitive behavioral therapy until I was out of the danger zone, and settling somewhere into moderate or mild depression. Only then could those techniques give me an extra boost in climbing out of the darkness–when each exercise ceased from being an opportunity to self-batter.

  • Jane Chin

    Interesting that your doc suggested that you stay away from all that positive stuff until you’re in the “mild to moderate” zone. I agree completely (and used to have a shelf full of positive thinking stuff).
    In the moderate severe to severe depressive state, something in the other “extreme” along the spectrum can have the opposite effect, even reinforcing the belief that “this is hopeless, I’ll never get there, I don’t relate remotely to what those people are writing about!”
    In the past I’ve noted a couple of instances where self-help books in depression therapy were in the news:
    Self-Help Books Not As Helpful?
    Read This Book and Call Me in a Week
    (note the English docs were specific about patients being mild to moderately depressed as the target patient population)
    Jane Chin

  • ellen ann fischer

    I have suffered from severe depression and Post tramatic stress most of my life. I have been on every medication known to man most of them very unsuccessfull I believe in medication and therapy and have been thru a series of EMDR sessions and have been very successfull with this type of therapy along with proper medication and nutrition I cant say enough how proper nutrition plays an important role in my moods I wish more people would look up the benifits of EMDR therapy and that there were more articals on this most amazing proceess Depression is a very real and very painful illness that only the individual can feel I am thankful to Jehovah for all he has taught me in this area and his guidience to this therapy I wish oprah wwould check into this so she could do a show on it. Thank you very much Ellen Fischer

  • Larry Parker

    I guess all I can say is, thanks for listening!

  • Linda Buchanan

    I have been living in depression since I turned 40 years old. I’m now 43, going on 44 this September. My depression is insane, my doctor keeps telling me to take pills, I refuse, maybe it’s time to go on them. I lost my 19 year old son July 2003, my husband 2004 and then my mom, best friend July 2005, I’m in soul search. I hope and pray for you all. Love Linda xoxox

  • Babs

    This is for reader Linda Buchanan — I too avoided medication for many years, and when I did try some, it took a while to find a medication that worked for me. I have been dealing with depression connected to post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from childhood abuse and neglect.
    My suggestion is first to reach out for help. See a licensed therapist, perhaps recommended by a friend. Don’t be afraid of medication — it isn’t a crutch but a tool. When I first began therapy, I stayed away from medication, but have made more progress since being on it. It has enabled me to continue working and allowed me to examine things in therapy that I used to stay away from because I would suffer from weeping jags that would go on and on. You have suffered some tremendous losses in a relatively short time and need to take care of yourself. I understand how isolating depression is. I find it difficult to reach out for help from friends because I feel like it is a burden. But my therapist suggested that I ask two friends to come to therapy with me to be people I could turn to if I found myself falling into an abyss. In the session, we talked about the tough stuff I was working on, and they promised to both be available to listen and encourage me, and to pray regularly for me. Then we all prayed together. I know for certain that this is helping me. I chose a pastor I used to work for, and a former principal, a real woman of prayer. I especially needed prayerful women because I find it excruciating to pray. Both of them were aware of my problems, so I didn’t need to feel self-conscious.
    Finally, I have for the most part stayed away from self-help books. I am not nearly as well-informed as Theresa on the many types of treatment for depression and bi-polar disorder. But I am letting you know what has been working for me.
    May God bless you and may you know that He will never let you fall from His grasp.

  • Nancy Orbe

    I was so relieved to find this site. I’ve tried to explain to people for years that neither my Master’s Degree in Psychology nor all the self-help/spiritual books I’ve devoured have done anyting for me. In fact, I read in a soul-oriented book last year that it is often best to stop reading altogether to see what the soul brings forth. I have been doing this since the new year. Believe it or not I found the fix-it mentality was constantly pressuring me to be someone different, i.e. better than I am. Not listening to my moods, inner voice, etc. put me in a constant state of disconnect which was even more desperate feeling. These days, I try to tell the truth to the right people, and accept myself huge flaws and all. I could totally relate to the woman who is raising kids and managing depression. Sometimes I have to tell my ten-year old daughter that I’m just struggling too much inside to be there for her and ask for her understanding. On the days I feel better I really do go for it with her since I never know when I will be incapable of anything more than work. I have not been able to get medication since I am low income, but can’t get Medicare because of my I.R.A. I’ve called all sorts of “free” places only to be told that I either don’t qualify or I’ll be put on a sliding scale and even at that I can’t come up with the extra money. I know my family, one has disowned me, get totally frustrated with my “stuckness” but I feel great just being productive and being able to manage my day as a housecleaner. I try to be grateful for what I can do, even if others think I should do more. I am happy that I am deep, soulful, Passionate, creative and a hard worker. I have found art and writing to help when I can get the energy to do them. Thanks for listening. Nancy

  • DeeDee

    You know I’ve to write my thoughts to you and I just can’t….but self help books sometimes make me feel worse not better….

  • lynny7

    I’ve only recently connected with your website and am thoroughly enjoying the insights. The struggle with depression other contributors tell about have helped me feel connected with the wider world of people either living with depression or overcoming it. I developed post natal depression and anxiety 44 years ago and it’s only been in about the past 12 months that I’ve felt I can cope with it. My psychiatrist started me on a brilliant medication for epilepsy (which I haven’t got) but which sometimes helps with hard to treat anxiety. I too have read all the self help books suggesting positive thinking and, until I read today’s postings, wondered why they mostly made me feel worse – guilty and unable to apply all the positives to my life. Some of the positive stuff HAS worked though but I’ve had to be very selective. All God’s best to fellow travellers. Lynny7

  • Anne

    IMO, the bottom line is you have to find what works for you. Since depression affects all differently as we have all seen there is no one solution. In other words, what works for me may not work for you. So I don’t get why some folks, like Larry Parker, make a blanket statement that about Oprah’s philsophy and those expressed in The Secret are not inspring for those of us with depression — because while it might not work for him, it has worked miracles for me.
    I have struggled with “I want to die” depression/bipolar issues since I was 17 years old, but did not realize it until I diagnosed in my late 30’s. Over the years I have been prescribed various meds and found that at first they did alter my “mood”, but they also left me quite zombie like. These days I can joke and tell others how I was there, but not there… when the reality was I hated it and decided I’d rather go back to being “crazy” with all the glorious highs and crippling lows rather than going through the rest of my life numb.
    Therapy also helped tremendously, but I was still just barely making it through each day. I felt as the days and years were slipping away with frightening speed with me getting progressively worse and no hope for improvement…until one day when I finally gave up and just killed myself to end the endless pain.
    … but I digress… Oprah’s show on The Secret was a major ephiphany for me. On that particular day I was on the verge of surrending to the abyss (what I call my depressive/anxiety episodes), but after watching the show and for the first time in years I felt a small glimmer of hope. Once I bought and began implementing the principles outlined on the CD to my complete amazement my quality of life changed and, in fact, is a significantly better.
    Btw, this is what I found worked for me: First and foremost I began to stop focusing on what was “wrong” with me and in my life and practicing the law of attraction. Since April, I have incorporated prayer, meditation, gratitude journal, The Secret, a manifestation book, inspirational sayings/readings, websites such as Beyond Blue (Therese, you are a brilliant, lifesaving LIGHT in the darkness), affirmations, cognitive therapy and a natural reuptake inhibitor together with incredible success. When I feel anxious or start tripping, I say to different things to myself such as, “Anne, these thoughts are not real. They are your depression (and/or bipolar). The reality is you are (positive things I have done, am doing or working toward)…”
    As time passes I’ll add other things to my regime as appropriate.
    This sounds overwheliming doesn’t it??? Had I looked at this list before starting I would never have done it — so what I did was one at a time and eventually as I became better I combined them in beneficial ways.
    … and yes, I still have my good and not so good days, but to my surprise I am not suffering endlessly like before.
    When I watched Oprah I didn’t get the impression that she was saying The Secret was the end all be all — just that it was ONE tool to get you where you wanted to be in life.
    In closing I’d like to quote Oprah’s saying: “All I know for sure” . . . All I know for sure is that the principles outlined in The Secret were awe inspiring and saved this depressed/bipolar’s life.

  • Anne

    … oy… pls excuse the typos in my earlier post… :@
    Btw, I hope you are all having a life worth living day.

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