The Healthiness of Depression?

In my search for answers on depression and my studies of brokenness and abundant life I came across some wording in a book ‘The Road Less Travelled’ by Scott-Peck that grabbed my attention – “The Healthiness of Depression”.

At the onset you might think what on earth could be healthy about such a thing but I believe the insights he puts forward are worth reflecting on.

It begins

…Yet somehow I had to change…

The foregoing is a minor example of what those people with the courage to call themselves patients must go through in more major ways, and often many times, in the process of psychotherapy.

The period of intensive psychotherapy is a period of intensive growth, during which the patient may undergo more changes than some people experience in a life-time. For this growth spurt to occur, a proportionate amount of “the old self’ must be given up. It is an inevitable part of successful psychotherapy.

In fact, this process of giving up usually begins before the patient has his first appointment with the psychotherapist. Frequently, for instance, the act of deciding to seek psychiatric attention in itself represents a giving up of the self-image “I’m OK.”

This giving up may be particularly difficult for males in our culture for whom “I’m not OK and I need assistance to understand why I’m not OK and how to become OK” is frequently and sadly equated with “I’m weak, un-masculine and inadequate.”

Actually, the giving-up process often begins even before the patient has arrived at the decision to seek psychiatric attention. I mentioned that during the process of giving up my desire to always win I was depressed. This is because the feeling associated with giving up something loved-or at least something that is a part of ourselves and familiar-is depression.

Since mentally healthy human beings must grow, and since giving up or loss of the old self is an integral part of the process of mental and spiritual growth, depression is a normal and basically healthy phenomenon.

It becomes abnormal or unhealthy only when some-thing interferes with the giving-up process, with the result that the depression is prolonged and cannot be resolved by completion of the process.

A leading reason for people to think about seeking psychiatric attention is depression. In other words, patients are frequently already involved in a giving-up, or growth, process before considering psychotherapy, and it is the symptoms of this growth process that impel them toward the therapist’s office.

The therapist’s job, therefore, is to help the patient complete a growth process that he or she has already begun.

This is not to say that patients are often aware of what is happening to them. To the contrary, they frequently desire only relief from the symptoms of their depression “so that things can be as they used to be.” They do not know that things can no longer be “the way they used to be.” But the unconscious knows. It is precisely because the unconscious in its wisdom knows that “the way things used to be” is no longer tenable or constructive that the process of growing and giving up is begun on an unconscious level and depression is experienced.

As likely as not the patient will report, “I have no idea why I’m depressed” or will ascribe the depression to irrelevant factors. Since patients are not yet consciously willing or ready to recognize that the “old self’ and “the way things used to be” are outdated, they are not aware that their depression is signalling that major change is required for successful and evolutionary adaptation. The fact that the unconscious is one step ahead of the conscious may seem strange to lay readers; it is, however, a fact that applies not only in this specific instance but so generally that it is a basic principal of mental functioning. It will be discussed in greater depth in the concluding section of this work.

Recently we have been hearing of the “mid-life crisis.” Actually, this is but one of many “crises,” or critical stages of development, in life, as Erik Erikson taught us thirty years ago. (Erikson delineated eight crises; perhaps there are more.) What makes crises of these transition periods in the life cycle -that is, problematic and painful-is that in successfully working our way through them we must give up cherished notions and old ways of doing and looking at things.

Many people are either unwilling or unable to suffer the pain of giving up the outgrown which needs to be forsaken. Consequently, they cling, often forever, to their old patterns of thinking and behaving, thus failing to negotiate any crisis, to truly grow up, and to experience the joyful sense of rebirth that accompanies the successful transition into greater maturity.

Extracted from Scott-Peck, M. (2012) The Road Less Travelled. pages 72-83. New York: Arrow Books

I’ll be discussing this some more later but in the meantime if you have any questions or need any advice on this topic then please get in touch.

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