Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Cognitive behavioral therapy may be an option for treating seasonal affective disorder

Bright light therapy is the mainstay of treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but it does not provide adequate relief for 20% to 50% of patients. A preliminary study led by researchers at the University of Vermont suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) provides another option.

In the study, the researchers followed the outcomes of 69 participants who had earlier been randomized to six weeks of treatment with light therapy, CBT, or a combination of the two. The researchers used standard clinical instruments to re-evaluate the mood of participants a year later, during winter months, when symptoms of SAD typically recur.

At the end of a year, 7% of those who received CBT, 37% of those who had light therapy, and 5.5% of those who received a combination had relapsed. People in the CBT group had milder symptoms than those in the other two groups.

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