Using Affirmations in the Treatment of Depression
Melissa Dawahare, ND
A potentially surprising statistic from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that about 1 in 10 adults experience depression each year. An even more surprising NIH statistic is that nearly two thirds of these people don’t get the help they need because the illness goes undiagnosed. This is unfortunate because depression is an illness that responds well to treatment.
In brief review, the diagnosis of depression is made based on a cluster of signs and symptoms. Signs and symptoms may include but are not limited to irritability, depressed mood, anxiety, poor eye contact, feelings of guilt, decreased interest or pleasure in regular activities, indecisiveness, inability to concentrate, sleep disturbances, hopelessness, helplessness, fatigue, appetite changes, social withdrawal, feeling numb, and recurring thoughts of suicide. These signs and symptoms must persist longer than two weeks or must interfere with the patient’s relationships and career.
Depression affects twice as many women as men. Common causes of depression include genetic factors, biochemical dysregulation, social factors, psychological factors, and environmental stressors. Typical allopathic treatment includes antidepressant medications like the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and the tricyclic antidepressants.
Naturopathic treatment protocols can be highly varied depending on such things as the root cause and physician and patient treatment preference. It can include high-dose B vitamins, detoxification, acupuncture, herbal support such as St. John’s Wort, L-tryptophan, counseling, psychotherapy, and body-mind treatments, among others. One body-mind treatment I have found helpful in the treatment of depression is the use of affirmations.
Affirmations are a statement affirming the truth. There are many ways to use affirmations such as reciting them in front of a mirror or journaling them daily for a designated period. My technique for affirmation use in clinical practice with depression is something I call affirmation rituals. This technique was learned in my shamanic training from a spirit mentor/teacher and can be easily adapted for almost any patient with depression.
Affirmation rituals are used in the following manner. For example, imagine a patient with depression who has the recurring thought of “I am not worthy.” When they catch themselves thinking this thought, they immediately stop what they are doing. Next, they get a glass of water and place their hands around it. They state the opposite affirmation, in this case “I am worthy,” several times and put the intention of this affirmation into the water. They drink the water down quickly and return to what they were doing. While this process sounds simple, it is surprisingly effective in breaking the pattern of limiting thinking or self-deprecating thoughts.
An affirmation ritual of this type can be helpful in depression because it does three things. First, it requires the patient recognize the unhealthy thought pattern. Once aware of the negative things they say to themselves, a patient begins to realize how they perpetuate the pattern of their depression. Second, this affirmation ritual interrupts the destructive thought patterns, changing the flow of neurotransmitters in the brain that feeds the cycle of depression. Third, it uses the water, changed by the patient’s positive thoughts, as a medicine.
Our understanding of the physical changes this ritual can bring upon the water involved is based on the work by Dr. Masaru Emoto, who found that water crystals change when specific concentrated thoughts are directed toward them. Positive affirmations change the water crystals into brilliant, beautiful patterns, and negative affirmations change the water crystals into sick-looking patterns. Dr. Emoto’s work gained worldwide attention with the popular movie What the Bleep Do We Know and is explained further in his book The Hidden Messages in Water. By directing positive affirmations into the water and drinking it, the depressed patient has an opportunity to absorb healing water and healing thoughts.
The following is a case study of affirmation rituals providing help for a 31-year-old female patient. She presented to the office in December of 2005 with chronic depression of 10 years. In and out of counseling, on and off SSRIs and other antidepressant medications, this lady found no relief from her depression. She dropped out of college because of the depression. She dreamed of investing in real estate, but was too afraid to try.
She reported being afraid of life, fearful of herself, fearful of learning new things, and fearful of abandonment. Other symptoms included insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, indecisiveness, and thoughts of suicide. Past medical history was negative. The patient had recently been on a weaning schedule for the SSRI Zoloft and was no longer taking the medication.
Her treatment began with some shamanic sessions—an ancient form of spiritual healing—nutritional support including a high-dose multivitamin, a high-dose B-complex, and L-tryptophan 500 mg tid; counseling; and the body-mind treatment of affirmations. With counseling and further self-analysis, the patient uncovered a deep core belief of “I can’t trust anyone or anything.” She used affirmation rituals to work with and change this belief.
Using the affirmations of “I have complete self-trust” and “I am trusting,” this 31-year-old woman began to address a root cause of her depression. She gradually began to take more risks in life and create a vision for herself that did not include depression. In her April 2006 follow-up visit, the patient reported feeling well with no symptoms of depression. She went back to school and, following her dream of being involved with real estate, bought an investment property. She reported using the affirmation rituals to center herself when she felt the old patterns of fear and depression creeping back. The patient also continued with her nutritional support program of the multivitamin, B-complex, and L-tryptophan.
I find that depression often responds well to comprehensive treatment. This case study demonstrates how helpful affirmations are in the treatment of depression as part of a well-rounded naturopathic treatment approach. Nutritional support programs work on the physical level, correcting the biochemical imbalances in a patient’s body. Affirmation rituals work on the mental and emotional level, correcting the body-mind imbalances that exist. The use of affirmations is helpful in the treatment of depression and addresses the body-mind connection, a connection that we all know is so important in the disease process.
Melissa Dawahare, ND, RN has over 10 years of clinical experience in allopathic and naturopathic health care. Dr. Dawahare practices naturopathic medicine and shamanism in Tempe, Arizona, specializing in body-mind-spirit medicine. She graduated from the University of Iowa and SCNM, and studies shamanism with the Foundation of Shamanic Studies (FSS). Dr. Dawahare sponsors workshops for the FSS in Arizona. She is the author of The ND Survival Guide for the Acupuncture Board Exam. Contact her at www.drmelissa.com.
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Emoto M: The Hidden Messages in Water, Hillsboro, OR, 2004, Beyond Words Publishing.
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National Institutes of Health: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/depwomenknows.cfm
Randlov C et al: The efficacy of St. John’s Wort in patients with minor depressive symptoms or dysthymia—a double-blind placebo-controlled study, Phytomedicine 13(4):215-21, 2006.
What the Bleep Do We Know: http://www.whatthebleep.com/crystals/