A new study suggests an innovative psychological treatment called “concreteness training” (CNT) can reduce depression in just two months.
Researchers believe the technique could ultimately serve as a self-help therapy for depression in primary care.
As a result of the investigation, British researchers believe this new treatment could help many of the 3.5 million people in the UK living with depression.
According to the researchers, people suffering from depression have a tendency toward unhelpful abstract thinking and over-general negative thoughts, such as viewing a single mistake as evidence that they are useless at everything.
The new approach, termed Concreteness training (CNT), attempts to directly target this tendency, and repeated practice can help people to shift their thinking style.
CNT is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, teaching people how to be more specific when reflecting on problems. This can help them to keep difficulties in perspective, improve problem-solving and reduce worry, brooding, and depressed mood.
This study provided the first formal test of this treatment for depression in the UK’s National Health Service.
In the investigation, 121 individuals experiencing an episode of depression were recruited from primary care practices. They took part in the clinical trial and were randomly allocated into three groups.
One group received their usual treatment from their family doctor, plus CNT; another group was offered relaxation training in addition to their usual treatment; and the last group simply continued their usual treatment.
All participants were assessed by the research team after two months and then three and six months later to see what progress they had made.
CNT intervention consisted of participants undertaking a daily exercise in which they focused on a recent event that they had found mildly to moderately upsetting. They did this initially with a therapist and then alone using an audio CD that provided guided instructions.
They worked through standardized steps and a series of exercises to focus on the specific details of that event and to identify how they might have influenced the outcome.
The study found that CNT significantly reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. Participants, on average, reported a reduction in symptoms from severe depression to mild depression during the first two months.
Participants were able to maintain this effect over the following three and six months.
Researchers found that individuals who simply continued with their usual treatment remained, on average, severely depressed.
Although concreteness training and relaxation training both significantly reduced depression and anxiety, only concreteness training reduced the negative thinking typically found in depression. And when the technique was practiced and became a habit, CNT was better at reducing symptoms of depression than relaxation training.
Psychologist Dr. Edward Watkins of the University of Exeter said: “This is the first demonstration that just targeting thinking style can be an effective means of tackling depression.
“Concreteness training can be delivered with minimal face-to-face contact with a therapist and training could be accessed online, through CDs or through smartphone apps. This has the advantage of making it a relatively cheap form of treatment that could be accessed by large numbers of people.”
Researchers believe this low-cost approach should become a priority intervention because of the high prevalence and global burden of depression.
The researchers are now calling for larger effectiveness clinical trials so that the feasibility of CNT as part of the NHS’s treatment for depression can be assessed.
Source: University of Exeter