You may have already read loads about depression, you possibly know much of the terminology related to it and the symptoms that come with it. You may feel it and live it every single day. You possibly surrendered to the explanation that you have been simply suffering from a chemical imbalance that needs to be altered by antidepressants.
Let me give you another explanation…
When I sit in front of a depressed client, I feel alone. There is such a vast distance between me and the person. Two lonely people facing each other. A depressed person feels isolated and alone in the world and the last thing they are looking for is to initiate contact with anyone. There is so much pain and loneliness in depression which drives him/her to look for support through therapy rather than through everyday life. There is very little hope that anyone could help to lift the heavy feeling of depression. I don’t approach depressed people in a classic way. I don’t offer strategies, I don’t suggest exercises, thoughts tracking or other methods that in my opinion offer very little help. To be honest that would be much easier for me, as it would have very little to do with me. I just need to “push” those strategies on a person and hope that it would bring change. I wouldn’t need to relate to the person as a human being because I am just “a strategy giver”. What do I do instead?
When I sit in front of a depressed person I seek connection. I know that it needs to be me who attempts to find a lost path to that person as the depressed person doesn’t find easy to initiate contact. I don’t want to change or “activate ” a depressed person, I am just interested in reaching that person so he/she and I are not alone anymore. It sounds so simple, but believe me it’s one of the hardest tasks. Depressed people know very well that they “disappoint” everyone, including themselves, they try so hard and nothing works. They have had so much experience of people trying to “help” them and despite that they can’t change; they are nearly waiting for people to give up on them. I don’t want to give up on them and I won’t, because for me the task is not to change them but rather to find the togetherness in that room that we are sitting in. I don’t want to waste our time on giving them strategies; there are far more important things to be achieved here. My objective in therapy is to be fully present with my clients. They can be rather suspicious of it. Why would anyone like to spend time with them, and be close to them? Being themselves comes with heaviness, a lack of energy and a meaningless existence. Why would anyone like to be close to that?!
They are used to being given advice but simply being together, seems very surreal. It takes time before they let me in… sometimes a long time. Eventually I feel like I am a bit closer, I am not alone anymore. In Gestalt the approach to depression is seen as the absence of presence. In my therapy room I am here to give that presence. It’s a new experience; a transformative one.
It’s annoying for me when I hear that simplified explanation of a chemical brain imbalance, I guess it lifts the responsibility from anyone involved. It doesn’t speak about the lost connection to other people, a lack of presence and loneliness. As human beings we are all born with a need for connection with others. If that connection is never there, or there is no other, or the other fails us in an attempt to find us…we get de-pressed. We withdraw to our own world. We are alone. The other is absent. If that happened to me I would also have a chemical imbalance, as we ALL need to be connected.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dismiss the use of antidepressants. Sometimes they can be a vehicle to some positive change. Although I don’t believe that they work by themselves. The symptoms may subside but they definitely don’t repair what’s broken at the core. They don’t replace the presence and connection. That needs to be addressed otherwise the depression will continue.
One of the main issues in depression is the fact that people feel guilty for their condition. They blame themselves for not having energy or not wanting to connect with the life that everyone pushes on them. They rarely view that others have failed them. They can accept the concept of a chemical balance in their brain but they still don’t understand why it happened to them?
I am writing this little piece in a hope to change the perspective on understanding depression; to move from the explanation of a chemical imbalance, to a loss of connection. I wish my depressed clients did not blame themselves for suffering anymore; I wish they see themselves as people who suffered from loss of the significant OTHER, who was meant to be there to support them.
The pandemic of depression is a sad reflection of our society. In an accelerated world the need of being close to someone, to offer presence and time has been pushed to the margins. No wonder depression is so prevalent, according to WHO depression is now the second cause in the world in terms of medical and social cost. For that reason therapy should offer something very different. And that is the need for real presence, human contact and a space to breathe together and find the lost CONNECTION.