illustration treatment two therapies

Research found bright light therapy to work better against depression when applied alone than together with other treatments. Such a result is normal: almost everything works seemingly better alone. But there is a catch there: when alone, treatments work better for the statistician – but for the patient, they work better when applied together.

A meta-analysis from 2016 confirmed the healing power of bright light therapy in depression – but found the effect to be higher when no other treatment was present. It seems naturally smart to postpone pills or therapy and only enjoy the bright light for a while, to exploit the whole effect. But stand-alone therapy is the wrong horse to back, because multiple treatments are almost always better!

Treating depression is like digging a well

To understand the seeming ambiguity, imagine digging a well in mountains. First, you have some top soil to scratch, then you reach a layer of stones which then brings you to solid rock. Imagine you have several tools available and measure how efficient they are.

  • Imagine you only choose one of all your shovels. After the first day of digging you have many cubic meters of debris piled up next to the hole. Whichever shovel you used, it seems to be really efficient.
  • Imagine inviting a friend to dig along with another shovel. You will end up with two noticeably smaller piles of debris in the evening. Not because the shovels would suddenly worsen, but because you had finished with the easy soil early in the morning, made it through the stones at about lunchtime and spend the whole afternoon crushing the solid bedrock. Assessed separately, each tool appears less efficient – but together, they are still better than one. You reach the spring sooner!

The same is true about treatment of depression. Whenever you only start with one treatment, it seems to be more efficient because it may quickly get through what is changed most easily. But the progress would be almost always higher when you apply several treatments together. Each individual treatment would seem to be less efficient – but only because the faster progress makes it hit the bedrock earlier.

That is also exactly what a recent meta-analysis found: even antidepressants work better when augmented by bright light therapy.

Two treatments added up and multiplied

In some cases, there may be even more benefits of multiple treatments. Just as in digging you might be more efficient with a shovel and a pick axe rather than only one of them, when treating mental suffering, you may utilize multiple therapies targeting multiple aspects of the disorder. Inside us, everything is connected to everything else: our body, our mind, our behaviour and our environment. Changing more of them simultaneously may be far better than concentrating on a single aspect of depression, sleeplessness or other struggle.

Because there are studies showing that some knowledge of the disorder may itself facilitate healing, we offer a more detailed overview on the different layers of mental disorder. If you, however, only need a simple advice, use the combination of:

  • Psychotherapy (provided by a certified practitioner, you may easily find recommendations on the website of your local professional organization of psychologists – or online psychotherapy if the traditional option is too inconvenient or expensive)
  • Bright light therapy (find your guidelines here – and choose some of the lamps proven to be efficient in the studies)
  • Lifestyle changes relevant to the certain condition you suffer with (ideally, we would all daily exercise, only eat healthy and live in a peaceful, pleasant world. Of course, we don’t – but you should take special care about those habits that may directly relate to your problems.)
  • Depending on the severity of your condition, consulting your GP or psychiatrist about medication is a good idea, especially when the above options might not be strong enough to make you great again.