Coping with depression
Famed clinical psychologist explains methods of cognitive therapy.
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“We are not gurus,” explained Dr. Aimée Karam, renowned clinical psychologist and co-founder of Medical Institute for Neuropsychological Disorders (MIND). “We don’t know how to get people happy, we only know how to treat specific disorders.”
It’s a popular misconception about psychologists that Karam helped rectify on November 28 in her lecture on “Treating Anxiety Disorders and Depression Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.”
The event, organized by the Psychology Program at the School of Arts and Sciences, drew students, faculty and staff from all schools and departments.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), is a psychotherapeutic approach that addresses dysfunctional emotions, maladaptive behaviors and cognitive processes and contents through a number of goal-oriented, systematic procedures.
Karam addressed depression and anxiety specifically, a suitable topic as research has shown Lebanon to be rampant with the disorders.
In 2006, as part of WHO’s World Mental Health Survey Initiative, researchers at Beirut’s Institute for Development, Research, Advocacy and Applied Care published an evaluation showing that a staggering 49% of the population had experienced war-related trauma of some kind and another 17% met the criteria for having a mental disorder.
While a very few get therapy - due to either its high cost or the stigma associated with it - the use of anti-depressants is widespread in Lebanon. The largest number of mental health medications sold in 2011 were tranquilizers, or anti-anxiety pills, according to the Lebanese Syndicate of Pharmacies.
“Cognitive therapy can be as helpful as, or superior to, medication when administered by competent and trained professionals,” says Karam, who practices CBT.
One of the most important aspects of cognitive therapy is not to put the cart before the horse, as the saying goes. Identifying the problem and formulating a diagnosis are essential to the treatment process. It’s only after that that a therapist can work on the next steps such as examining the person’s belief system, setting goals for problem reduction, identifying NATs (negative automatic thoughts) and changing a patient’s behavior.
Six to 17 percent of adults are at risk of depression in their lives, which affects women more than men by a ratio of 3:2.
Signs of depression are seeing one’s self as pathetic, viewing the world as if nobody cares and perceiving the future as hopeless.
University students can be particularly vulnerable to such illnesses due to lack of sleep and unhealthy lifestyles.
“It’s an epidemic at the moment - more and more people are getting depressed, more and more people are taking anti-depressants - and very few people really know how to get better,” said psychology student Reem Assi. “So I think it’s really important to increase the knowledge base about these disorders.”
After the talk, the audience peppered Karam with questions, demonstrating just how curious many were about the topic.
LAU offers counseling on both campuses, where the therapists are experts trained to help students manage any difficulties they might be facing, whether academic, emotional, or social.