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Beyond Blue

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.

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