Our portal is devoted to the neurobiological underpinnings and research evidence of bright light therapy. We also provide you with treatment guidance and practical recommendations. To complete this information, there is still one more topic to cover: the broader context.
Mental suffering as a leaky pipe
Whatever you struggle with, whether it is sadness, disturbed sleep, or anxiety, picture it as a leak from a complex piping system. What would you do when facing such a situation? Of course, if you can find one leaky spot and something to fix it, the solution is easy. But is there only one leak? In world of mental disease and disorder, this is not the case. Typically, we do not know what is leaking or where it’s coming from. Moreover, the leak itself is often a consequence of a less tangible problem: a combination of pressure, temperature, clogs, narrow spots, and the overall design of the pipe system.
Looking on the bright side, there are a variety of possible solutions. You could lower the total pressure or build new pipes that would relieve the overloaded pipes; support a specific part of the piping or search for big clogs; clean small deposits in narrow pipes or straighten curved pipes to reduce clogging; replace the most corroded parts or paint the whole system to slow corrosion; and make a schedule of regular maintenance for the pipe system. The list goes on.
Looking at mental health, the circumstances are similar. Rather than a single answer to the problem, there is a plethora of minor solutions that each work toward resolving the complex issue. Bright light therapy is one of them. It consolidates the natural brain rhythms that affect the complex system of the body and the mind. Metaphorically speaking, it supports the natural circulation of the network which is beneficial for the system as a whole. This may greatly improve the situation if the problem is in a specific set of pipes, meanwhile it can relieve only a portion of the pressure elsewhere. Naturally, the system will be significantly improved if you opt for more than one solution.
Bright light between medication and psychotherapy
There are different ways to get better – none of them being the ultimate panacea. Generally, treatments differ in their short-term and long-term effectiveness, price, and side-effects. From the consumer’s side, medication is often the cheapest option and produces the desired effects, even if only short-term. However, for these advantages, we often experience minimal to no positive effects in the long-term plus adverse side effects in the form of headaches, disturbances of internal equilibrium, and dependence on the drug. On the other hand, psychotherapy is costly but comes with the same benefits as pills in the short-term. In many cases, such as depressions and sleep problems, it is much more effective long-term as compared to medication.
Finally, bright light lamps tend to result in nearly 50% of the effect that medication or psychotherapy can offer. However, they do so without the adverse effects of the former and the steep price of the latter. Therefore, in conditions that can be treated by photo-therapy, the cost-effectiveness of bright light therapy is by far the best option in this comparison.
At the same time, it is important to note that only roughly one third of patients are completely and permanently cured with a single treatment. Please do not allow this fact to discourage you from trusting the mental health system. You only need to understand that the world of mental health lacks miraculous remedies with significant effects, no matter whether you turn to lights, psychotherapists, or medications.
Still, don’t hesitate to take advantage of what the bright light therapy may offer you, just don’t limit your treatment to lamps; Treatments work best combined.
Prescription medication: use it but don’t rely on it
Unless your problem is serious, try to avoid medications as they often do not pay off in the long-term. If the problem is unbearable however, try everything that can help, including pharmacological options. In most cases, medication can not solve the underlying problem (pressure or clogging of the pipes) – but may help you find relief. For anyone that has suffered from any type of ailment, you know that this alone is significant! Even temporarily, it’ll greatly improve your quality of life. Plus, with even partial relief, you will have more energy and patience to dedicate towards finding the ultimate solution.
On the other hand, never rely on medication alone. Psychiatric medication is meant to help you overcome the worst moments but is not there to make you live happily ever after. Use bright light, do your homework with appropriate lifestyle changes, and use psychotherapy. If you choose to opt for the medication route you should also check our review of a study showing that bright light therapy improves the effectiveness of antidepressants.
Psychotherapy – the gold standard of mental health care
If you are able to get referred for psychotherapy, do so. For most mental struggles, psychotherapy is the best and most effective remedy. Through changing our thought processes and behaviour we are able to change our feelings and bodily processes. Any progress you make in psychotherapy tends to be long-lasting. For instance, it was found that response to light therapy in seasonal depression was higher even among people with a history of psychotherapy. Even though they suffered from the same problems again, they retained something from the psychotherapy which predisposed them to receive greater benefit from the light therapy.
Finally: seek professional treatment
Especially if you have a health problem, don’t hesitate too long before seeking individual consultation with a licensed professional. Internet resources are great but no one is without prejudice when it comes to themselves. A friend of mine, a successful surgeon, refuses to accept his acquaintances even for banal surgical procedures, claiming that simply knowing the patient personally disturbs his routine. As personal feelings are always involved in psychology and psychiatry, it would be a ridiculous thought to believe that you can be truly neutral when diagnosing or treating yourself.