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Welcome to a practical pastoral counseling site of Dr. Harold L. White

 Every pastor can be a valued and competent counselor.

Overcoming Depression

Overcoming Depression

1. Change the way you talk to yourself.
All of us go through the day "talking to ourselves" in our thoughts.
We talk either in a positive tone or a negative, critical tone.
If we constantly criticize ourselves, we will undoubtedly hold grudges against ourselves
and get depressed.

Stop condemning yourself.
Look at the positive things in your life.
Look at your accomplishments instead of dwelling on past failures.
Would you ever criticize another person as much as you subconsciously criticize yourself?
You may think you need all that harsh talk, but you don't -- so stop it.

2. Understand your feelings, but focus on behavior.
You don't do what you do because you feel the way you feel
-- you feel the way you feel because you do what you do.
Think about that for a moment.

In other words, your actions (godly actions or ungodly actions) will determine how you feel.
If you choose to love your spouse, for example, and choose to act lovingly and respectfully
toward your spouse, the feeling of love will follow whether it was there before or not.

Some therapists (such as psychoanalysts) emphasize feelings,
whereas others (such as therapists from the schools of behavior modification or reality therapy)
emphasize behavior.
Both should be dealt with.

First of all, feelings are important and should be dealt with.
The writer of Hebrews noted that Christ is touched with the feelings of our infirmities.
Christ does understand our feelings, and He does care when we hurt.
It is important to have insight into our feelings and deal with our feelings.
It is important to understand how events in our early life may influence the way we feel now.
It is important that we have the freedom to share our feelings and problems with those we love.
Feelings are very important.

However, we should not let our feelings rule our lives.
Many times in the Scriptures the emphasis is on what we do.
For example in Philippians 4:13 we read, "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me."
In Philippians 2:13m Paul states,"For it is God who worketh in you both to will
and to do of his good pleasure
."

In Matthew 7:24-27 Jesus said: "Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine,
and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock.
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house,
and it failed not; for it was founded upon a rock.

And everyone that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not,
shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand.
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat
on that house and it fell; and great was the fall of it
."

This is a comparison of the stable individual and an unstable individual.
Notice that both of them have trials and tribulations.
On both houses the rain descended, the floods came, and the wind blew;
but one was able to endure because of what he did whereas the other was not.

We have very little direct control over our emotions, but we have maximum control
over our behavior.
In other words, we can change our feelings with our will only to a certain degree,
whereas our behavior is under the complete and maximum control of our will.

In Genesis 4:6, 7, Moses recorded, "And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou angry?
And why is thy countenance fallen?
If thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.
And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him
."

In this passage the Lord refers to feelings.
In fact, He refers to anger, and to a fallen countenance (which is indicative of depression).
And then He goes on to say that feelings can be changed by changing behavior.
He says in effect, "If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?"

This is a cycle -- one follows the other -- how we feel does tend to affect what we do,
but it is also true that what we do can change the way we feel.
Since we have minimal control over our feelings, we should focus on our behavior.

We need to understand our feelings.
And you need to find someone that you can talk with about your feelings,
and to deal with those feelings.
However, at that point, you need to go beyond feelings and focus on behavior.

While our feelings should be understood, they should not run our lives
because feelings are very fickle and subject to change.
They can change in whatever direction the wind blows.
A much more stable focus on which to base our lives is behavior.
We should determine to ground our behavior in sound logic and firm biblical convictions.

3. Focus on a specific plan of action.

In overcoming depression, a person needs to go beyond saying to himself,
"I need to change my behavior."
He needs to figure out a specific plan of action for changing that behavior.
It is the little things we do in our day-to-day activities that determine how we feel.

It is the little things, such as the time we get up in the morning,
our first response to our spouse in the morning, whether or not we eat breakfast,
whether or not we have some quiet time with God, whether or not we have a first thought
we are thinking about for encouragement during that day,
whether of not we are overloaded in our work, whether or not we're having enough social contact,
whether or not we are eating a good diet, whether or not we are having regular exercise
 -- these sayings determine how we feel.

That may seem so simple, but many, many individuals improve by forcing themselves
to figure out a specific plan of action consisting of perhaps ten things
they're going to do daily for the next week.
After they have worked on the schedule they have developed for perhaps a month or two,
almost invariably, there is noticeable improvement.

The authors of "Happiness Is a Choice" tells of a patient who was considering suicide.
In the emergency room, when asked what was going on and what was troubling him,
he stated that when he awoke that morning he had felt depressed,
and because he felt depressed, he decided not to go to work.
Then he felt depressed about not going to work.
He started watching television, and some soap opera came on.
He started to identify with the soap opera, and then he really got depressed.

When asked if he might be doing something that he felt was wrong,
something which could be intensifying his depression, he said he was doing one thing
in particular that made him feel very guilty and intensified his depression.
When this individual was given how to change his behavior, he became happier.

The little things that we do in our day-to-day life do determine how we feel.

They also told of one individual that made some very specific plans to change
her daily activities which enabled her to overcome her depression.
The list of things that she planned to do to help her overcome her depression included:
(1) Get up early at least three mornings out of seven regardless of how you feel.
(2) Every week memorize one Scripture verse on depression.
(3) Have more social contact.
(4) Do certain activities around the house that you ought to do, and that will make
you feel better for having done them.

By changing her activity and by ventilating her feelings, she was able to overcome her depression.

If individuals feel depressed about a certain situation, they should sit down and list
the different options they have and things they can do to overcome depression.
Then, they need to implement the plan and commit themselves to their plan
for at least a week at a time.
If after a few weeks their plan is not working, they should make a new plan
and try some new options.
But they must get off dead center!

Many individuals think that when they are facing a particular problem that is causing them
to be depressed, there are no other options -- that there are no other things they can try.
But if they will sit down and make a list of all the options -- the probable options,
the possible options, and even the ridiculous options -- they will often be surprised
at how many they come up with.

By reserving evaluation of the options until they are all listed, the process of creativity
will not be hindered.
Sometimes, one of the ridiculous options will turn out to be one that may be quite practical
and that they will use.

To summarize, if one is depressed, he should implement a specific plan of action
for overcoming his depression.
He should commit himself to this plan, and work on it from day to day
for a period of several weeks.

It is believed that it takes at least six weeks to change a habit.
Usually the individual will begin to see improvements.

4. Develop new interests and activities.

The depressed individual often gets in a rut.
He may plan some activity to do with his wife.
He made need, at times, to drive home a different way.
He may get involved in some athletic activity.

Depressed individuals will benefit if they will force themselves to develop new interests
and new activities.
Results of this will not be seen immediately, but over a period of several weeks
depressed individuals usually will begin to feel better.

5. Utilize the resources of prayer.

Prayer is a tremendous resource at the disposal of depressed individuals.
Through prayer you can incorporate supernatural strength.
Through prayer you can call on the power of God to help you in your depression.
Prayer is more than positive thinking.
It is more than the power of suggestion.
It is more than magical thinking.
It is calling upon the power of God who is available to His children.

First John 5:14, 15, says, "And this is the confidence that we have in him,
that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us; and if we know that he hears us,
whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him
."

God does not want us to be depressed.
He wants us to call upon Him so that He can help us to overcome our depression.

6. Utilize the resources of the Word of God.

The tremendous resource that we have available through the Word of God
will always prove helpful.
The Word of God has tremendous power.
His written Word can help to overcome depression in an individual's life.
Through the Word of God, we can overcome.
Through the Word of God we can become stable and strong.

The key to changing our lives and to overcoming our problems through the Word of God lies
in our loving, studying, and meditating upon the Word.
Nothing can help more in overcoming life's problems than spending hours and hours
meditating upon the Word of God.
Memorizing Scripture verses will help overcome problems.

The Bible is more than a book to be studied.
It is a book that needs to be applied.
We need to spend some time everyday studying the Word, memorizing the Word,
and then asking, "How can I apply that to my life today?"

7. Develop a friendship.

Most people who are severely depressed feel they do not have a single friend
to whom they can talk.
They often have no one with whom they can just be themselves.
They intensely fear rejection.
Simply developing a friendship can be of great assistance in overcoming depression.

In Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10, Solomon says: "Two are better than one, because they have
a good reward for their labor; For if they fall, the ones will lift up his fellow.
But woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up
."

In our struggles through life, we need a friend.
Being alone can cause depression, or it can certainly reinforce a depression already present.
We need people, and we need friends.
This can be of major importance in overcoming depression.

A friend is someone who is warm, concerned, caring, and open in sharing the problems
he has had, and how he has overcomed them.
He is sensitive, loving, and accepting.
A friend is one who is willing to give of himself to another.
A friend is one who really cares when we hurt.

It is difficult for a depressed individual to develop friendships because he cannot understand
how anyone could care for him.
He fears rejection.
He fears that if he really gets close, he will be rejected.
As he is able to overcome this frame of mind and begin to develop friendships,
he finds that this thinking is inaccurate, and that these friendships can help him
overcome his depression.

Because depressives are afraid to become close to others they may develop
defense mechanisms whereby they keep others at a distance.
The defenses thye use are usually of four major types:
denial, displacement, introjection, and projection.

First, they use denial.

They may deny their need for others.
In other words, they deny their own dependency needs.
They may cover up these needs by helping others.
They may have a large number of superficial friends, but none who are really close.
They use the technique of denial to avoid getting really close to others.

Secondly, as the depressive denies his own dependency needs, he also denies that
he is just angry because these dependency needs are not being met.
He displaces his anxiety onto his body and may develop physical problems such as a peptic ulcer.

Thirdly, the depressive uses the defense mechanism of introjection
whereby he assumes blame for things he didn't do.
He accepts responsibility for events which, realistically, are outside of his control.

This defense has been said to have its genesis in man's need to feel important.
The depressive can really believe that nobody feels that he is so guilty, so responsible.
The depressive uses his introjection combined with projection to keep himself
at a distance from other people.

Fourthly, he also uses projection.

Projection is the opposite of introjection in many ways.
The projector assigns to others his own faults and feelings.
If the depressive doesn't want to get close to others (for fear of getting rejected),
he might project his feelings onto them, and feel they don't want to get close to him.
He might feel that they are stand-offish.

The depressive uses these four defenses to severely distort communication
and to keep others at a distance.

8. Grow in fellowship.

A depressed individual can benefit from developing friendships with specific individuals,
but he can also benefit tremendously from the body of Christ as a whole.
There is real protection among and within the body of Christ.
If we are with a group of believers that love the Lord and enjoy life,
their happiness rubs off on us.

We will find ourselves being less self-centered and less absorbed in our own problems,
and we find our depression lifting.

Of course, involvement in group activities with other believers is contrary
to what the depressive initially wants to do for he wants to withdraw and be alone.
However, withdrawing and being alone is the worst thing he can do,
for withdrawing reinforces his depression.

9. Realize no one is perfect.

The depressed individual needs to realize that no one is perfect
and that everyone makes mistakes and does sin from time to time.
The depressed individual is unduly hard on himself, unwilling to forgive himself,
and makes unrealistic demands on himself.
He doesn't allow himself to make any mistakes.

First John 1:8 tells us, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves
and the truth is not in us
."
No one is perfect, and all of us sin, and that we all make mistakes.
We need to understand that we can benefit from our mistakes and learn from them.
The depressed individual needs to realize that no one is perfect.
He needs to lower his unrealistic expectations of himself and others.

10. Focus on assertiveness.

The depressed individual is often very nonassertive.
It is obvious that it is wrong to be an aggressive, who runs over people
and hurts them unnecessarily.
However, it is also wrong to be passive -- not to speak up when we ought to speak up,
but rather to internalize our feelings and become bitter.

A depressed individual tends to become passive.
He lets others run over him.
He simply takes it and turns inward, becoming bitter and depressed.

Depressive individuals may be passive for a long time and let their anger build
and build and build, until eventually they go to the other extreme and explode
in some aggressive behavior.

The healthy balance is to be assertive.
To be assertive is to express in love and in a tactful way how we feel.
To be assertive is to keep others from being irresponsible, especially when it concerns us
and relates to us.
Generally having gone too far in being passive, depressed individuals need to work on
being more assertive.

11. Deal with dependency needs.

Depressed individuals often have many dependency needs.
However, they do not know how to take care of their dependency needs in a healthy way.
They ought to get close to others since this would fulfill their dependency needs.
However, because they fear rejection, they do not get close, and therefore,
their dependency needs increase all the more.

They may try to deal with their dependency needs by going to the opposite extreme
and becoming very independent.
They may become a "super person" and a helper of others.
It has been noted that they not only need no one, but they can help everyone.

Of course, this is a defense mechanism whereby they deny their own needs
and try to compensate by becoming helpers of others.
However, the basic problem of their underlying depression still remains
and complicates their lives.

They need to learn to deal with these dependency needs by going ahead
and taking a chance on getting close to others.
They may have to change some patterns in their life to do this.

They may need to stop a life pattern of rejecting others because they fear they might get rejected.
They can learn that they can get close to others by simply no longer rejecting them.
Individuals may have put on excess weight to keep other people from getting close.
They need to learn that it is safe to lose the weight and to go ahead and get close to others.

They may need to deal with an alcohol problem.
Some may be of using alcohol in order to keep others at a distance.
They have numbed their brain so they cannot be heard by others.
They may also be taking illegal drugs for the same reason.

Again, they need to learn they can get close in a healthy way,
and they will not always be hurt.
They may need to change a pattern of compensation by means of which they have come
to think of themselves as superhuman.

This being a superhuman may be of some temporary help, but it usually turns to depression
because dependency needs are being met less and less.
This pattern needs to be changed.
This is not to say that those who fall into this pattern should stop helping others.
Rather, they should realize what they are doing and get their lives more in balance.

12. Recognize fear of rejection.

Depressed individuals are often caught up in a very unhealthy cycle.
They have excessive needs from within.
They have many dependency needs that were not met in their childhood.
These dependency needs are still present and crave attention.

However, while they have many dependency needs, they have learned to expect people
to fall short, perhaps just as their parents fell short and did not meet their dependency needs
when they were young.
This makes them very angry and hostile, and they begin to test the love of those
to whom they are close, to see if those to whom they are close will reject them
if they make enough demands.

All of the time they are anticipating rejection.
Eventually, they are rejected because they have set themselves up in such a way
as to get rejected.
This leads to even more fear of getting close to others.
Therefore, they do not get close.
Moreover, as a result of not getting close, their dependency needs become even greater
and their anger increases and the cycle continues.

There are individuals who fear rejection that they will reject someone they are close to
because subconsciously they fear if they do not reject him,
they will end up getting rejected by him.

13. Deal with fear of rejection by changing behavior.

Individuals who are depressed and going through the cycle mentioned above,
adding to their depression, can change this pattern by changing their own behavior.

They must learn that individuals will not always disappoint them.
They must learn to be more realistic in the demands they make on others instead of testing
the love of others.
They must learn to go ahead and take the chance of getting close.
They must learn to stop rejecting others.
They must be wary of the defense technique of projection.
Simply said, they must break the rejections cycle by changing their behavior patterns.

14. Recognize the anger.

Depressed individuals are often very angry individuals, and yet many of them do not realize this.
It is not uncommon for a person to say that he is not angry, even though
his fist is clinched and his face is stern.

As depressed individuals are able to recognize and admit their anger and gain insight into it,
they begin to get better.
Of course the recognition of the anger is not enough.
They must go ahead and deal with the anger.

15. Be careful with introspection.

While insight can be of great assistance in helping people overcome their depression,
it can become very dangerous if it goes beyond healthy insight into introspection.
This is a special danger for depressed individuals because they tend to be
overly introspective anyway.

A good counselor will encourage their patients to limit their time of introspection
to therapy sessions, or perhaps to periods when they are talking with a close friend.
They should be encouraged not to spend hours of introspection trying to figure everything out,
because they tend to be overly critical and overly hard on themselves.

If the individuals are so caught up within themselves that they cannot stop being introspective,
they should be encouraged to set aside a certain portion of their day for thinking about
their problem and to refuse to think about it all day long.

If they think about it all day long, every day, they would use up all their emotional reserves,
and their depression will become worse.

One reason that introspection is not good for depressed individuals is that much
of their introspection is not objective.
They are overly pessimistic and negative in their thinking, and their evaluation of themselves
and their situation is often not realistic.
When depressed individuals find themselves becoming introspective,
they need to get busy doing something and to do all within their power to stop this introspection.

16. Stop playing God.

In cases of depression, the individual has turned against himself.
He has turned his anger on himself.
He feels he deserves to be punished.
When he feels miserable and depressed, he is getting just what he deserves.
So, in a sense, he is playing God.

He needs to ask God to forgive him of his sins in the past and to let God decide
on the proper discipline.
It may be that God will not choose any further discipline at all.
And, if that is God's will, then the depressed individual has to learn to abide by God's will
and stop punishing himself.

17. Stop getting even.

Many depressed individuals use their depression to manipulate others and to get even.
Depression can be a powerful tool by which to make others suffer
and by which to manipulate them.

Depression is a way to relieve pent-up anger.
Therefore, some depressed individuals use their depression to relieve themselves of anger
and get even with others.

Depressed individuals may also use their depression as a way to gain attention from others.
Depressed individuals need to learn healthy ways to gain the attention they so desire,
and they need to find better ways to relieve their guilt.
There are many productive, healthy things that they can do that will gain them
this attention, attention which they may not even realize they need.

18. Accept responsibility for the depression.

Many depressed individuals can begin to get over their depression if they accept responsibility
for their depression.
By putting themselves in charge of their own lives they can begin to get better.
In Philippians 4:13 Paul says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

This is similar to what some have said: "Pray to God, but keep rowing to shore."

When individuals say, "I just can't get over this depression,"
what they really mean is that they won't get over the depression.

There is often some subconscious reason why they do not want to get over their depression.
They may be gaining attention from it, or they may be manipulating others with it.
or using it to punish themselves or someone else.
They may even use it as an excuse for not getting out and doing something more productive.

19. Choose healthy ways to cope.

Many individuals reinforce their depression by trying to cope with the stresses in their life
through unhealthy means.
For example, they may continue to internalize anger.
Also, they may continue the pattern for worrying, and therefore use up all their mental energy.
They may continue their pattern of being depressed simply because they are used to it,
and it is at least a familiar way to cope.

They can begin to get over their depression by finding new and healthy ways to cope.
Exercise is an excellent way to take hostile energy and diverge it into a more
productive and healthy direction.
We also need to be sure that we have some kind of social contact everyday.
It is healthy to get our minds off ourselves and onto others.

Of course, we do need to look at our own problems and the issues that we face,
but we should not become overly absorbed in those problems.
Helping others will help us in dealing with our own problems.

A major way to help overcome depression is to maintain a quiet time with God everyday.
It helps us to ventilate to our Heavenly Father.
It helps us to be close to God who loves us with a love like no other and loves us even with our sins.
This will give us confidence and give us hope.
It helps us see things more objectively.
We need the kind of help that we can receive from the Word of God itself.

20. Realize there is hope.

One way to achieve a good success rate in treating depression is to help people
realize there is hope.
Any individual can overcome depression.

Often, the first step is for him to simply realize that there is hope.
One Christian man who has seen a half-dozen therapists was told by a Christian counselor
that there was hope for him, and that he could get over his depression.

He exclaimed, "That's the first time anyone told me I could get well."
Within a month, he felt better than he had for 20 years.
There definitely is hope.

21. Avoid the sin trap.

One reason some individuals suffer from depression is that they are involved in sin.
One study among adolescents revealed that 80% of males and 72% of females feel
that premarital intercourse is acceptable, even though it can result in much grief.

Most depression and grief can be avoided by refusing to engage in sinful behavior.
For example, one the greatest regrets among women is having chosen to have an abortion.
Having had premarital and extra-marital affairs will also bring them grief.

Furthermore, not only to sin result in depression, but when people get depressed,
they often react by engaging in even more sinful behavior in an attempt to relieve
the emotional pain they feel.
Then, the result is that they feel even more depressed.

22. Avoid the guilt trap.

Depressed individuals feel a great amount of guilt.
They will benefit by learning to deal with their guilt.
If the guilt is true guilt, then it is simply a matter of either confessing it to God (1 John 1:9),
or perhaps dealing with that guilt in relationship to another person (Acts 24:16).

God desires that we confess our sins -- He forgives them -- and then, we should forget
about them and move on.
If the guilt is false guilt, as is often the case in depression, the individual needs to educate
himself concerning the grace and mercy of God.

Many obsessive-compulsive individuals feel intense false guilt.
Merely by gaining insight into their personality much of this guilt can be relieved.

23. Manipulate the environment.

Individuals can recover from depression by either learning to cope with stress from within
or by relieving the stress through environmental manipulation.
While we spend much time helping individuals learn new means of coping,
we also encourage them to do what ever they can to alter and relieve external stresses.

Perhaps their depression is partially brought on by working too hard,
and they can alter the amount of external stress they are experiencing by working fewer hours.
Perhaps, their depression is caused by a sin they are committing, and they can relieve
the external stress by stopping the sinful behavior.

There are often many things individuals can do to manipulate the amount of external stress
they are experiencing, and therefore significantly help to relieve their depression.
 

24. Respond -- don't react.

Many depressed individuals react pretty strongly when stressful situations come up.
They may become overly aggressive and attack another individual.
They feel bad about this afterward.

As they learn to control their reactions and to respond rather than to react,
they begin to feel better about themselves and the way they are handling the situation.

25. Increase self-esteem.

Individuals who are depressed usually have an extremely low level of self-esteem.
They will benefit by increasing their self-esteem.
Jesus told us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
This implies that we should have a healthy self-image.

We are able to give to others only as we have a healthy opinion of ourselves.
If we develop a low opinion of ourselves, we become overly absorbed in ourselves
and do not have anything left to give to others.

Many Christians confuse the sin of pride with the godly attributes of loving ourselves
in a healthy way.
However pride and self worth are really opposites.
Actually, the more inferior person feels, the more he will compensate with false pride,
and develop a "better than thou" attitude toward others.
This is to cover up his own feelings of inadequacy.

There are several ways that we can raise our self-image to an appropriate level.
The first is to grow in our relationship to Christ.
The second is to grow in our relationships with other individuals.
The third is to set realistic goals and work toward those goals.

First, as we grow in our relationship with Christ, we will develop a better self-image.
We will be doing what we know is important.
We will be helping to transform our minds from within through the Spirit of Christ.
Nothing can be more healthy than this.
Nothing will give us a better healthy self-image than this.

The second major way to improve our self-image is to improve our relationship
to other individuals.
Although it is unhealthy to depend too much upon others for our own self-image,
a certain amount of this is present in all of us, and is healthy.
Most of us to a certain degree can evaluate how we are doing by noting how we relate
to others and the feedback we get from others.

As we are able to develop more intimate relationships with others, our self image improves.
All of us need love from at least one other individual.
This is basic and of most importance to our self-image.
In fact, a lack of such love is one of the central core issues in many emotional problems.

A third major way to improve our self-image is through setting realistic goals
and obtaining those goals.
Through setting realistic goals and accomplishing them, we can say to ourselves
that we are important and have a feeling of work.

26. Approach the depression on a spiritual, psychological, or physical level.
Another way to deal with depression is to approach it on a spiritual, psychological, or physical level,
depending upon which is involved.
Each of these levels breaks down into certain categories.
By understanding the specific problems and specific categories, one will be able to deal with his problem.

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