Couple Therapy for Depression

Depressed? Feeling low? Life seems pointless? Historically if you were feeling like life wasn’t worth living and you went to your GP, the doctor would prescribe anti-depressant medication or recommend that you saw a counsellor or indeed suggest both. However in the last few years one of the treatments of choice in the NHS for mild to moderate depression, if you are in a relationship, is to refer you to Couple Therapy for Depression. This model has been developed over the last 5 years after NICE identified the potential role of couple relationships in triggering, maintaining and resolving depression. This treatment is not available everywhere but it is increasingly available in many parts of the country.

What studies have demonstrated is that where couples are treated together in a 20 session integrative behaviourally based model, then there are significant levels of relief from the depression in the depressed partner. It may be hard for the non-depressed partner to recognise that anything they are doing is making matters worse, but what this model does is to highlight the interaction between the couple as being potentially a contributing factor rather than identifying one of the partners or the depression itself as the problem. By doing this it breaks the vicious circle that apportions blame and just makes matters worse for the individuals and the relationship.

Once the couple has been helped to identify their interaction, known as the formulation, they can then work together towards accepting and tolerating each other’s differences. Behavioural tasks are used to help the couple to learn to communicate more effectively, manage their feelings, and find alternative methods of solving their problems and caring for each other. This reduces the distress and increases the overall level of support in the couple’s relationship. In addition it is now clear that the work they do around their relationship reduces very significantly the level of depression in the partner presenting with depression.

Whilst it is not true that the one suffering from depression experiences a complete ’cure’, it does mean, for many, that they can function better both individually and as a couple. From the NHS’s point of view money is saved both in the short and long term through reducing the necessary levels of medication but more importantly the ‘depressed’ partner in the couple becomes healthier and is able to re-engage in society and get back to work where this has not been possible.

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