hole of obsessive scary, irritating, or sad thoughts and feelings. Also,
our therapy methods are oriented toward reducing symptoms.
Research, however, has shown that positive thoughts and
experiences reduce the negative reactions we have to stress, loss,
frustration, and helplessness. Therefore, distress and unhappiness can
be reduced by using a variety of pleasant, satisfying or promising
coping methods, which are different from traditional therapy methods.
Note that how well we cope is related to (a) perceived characteristics
of the upsetting situation, such as how changeable the situation is
seen to be, (b) personality factors, reflecting such traits as optimism,
self-efficacy, toughness, a sense of humor, and neuroticism, and (c)
social resources the person has, such family support, a devoted friend
or therapist, a fun group, etc. (Folkman & Moskowitz, 2000). To some
extent these factors are within our self-control.
What other coping methods might indirectly ease the pain of fear
or depression? One would be cognitive reappraisal or "reframing" or
"benefit finding." If there is one little bright spot, a ray of hope, or one
good thing, the situation is not so bad. You have to look for the
positive, however, so that you will not be overwhelmed by the gloom.
In bad situations, such as caring for a sick loved one, the bright spot
may be the satisfaction you feel about your steady contribution to
their care. Don't dismiss the good. And, at the other end, don't over-
Another aspect of coping that yields positive feelings is the fact you
are trying to improve the situation. Problem-solving efforts focus our
attention on the important and changeable aspects of the distressing
situation, motivate us to try something, give us satisfaction when we
try, and lead to mastery and pride if we have some success.
A third way to see the positive is to ask yourself "did I do
something that made me feel good?" Most people can find some
things, but you have to look for them and remind yourself that even in
the midst of an awful situation good things are still happening. So, in
the footsteps of Lewinsohn 20 years ago, today's cognitive therapists
often ask their patients to schedule positive events and to look for
positive meaning. The more positive events and experiences we can
have, the more we reduce the depression (Dixon & Reid, 2000).
Helplessness and hopelessness
Being frustrated so many times that you have no hope is surely
depressing. This is a very old idea; 2,000 years ago Aretaeus, a
physician, said melancholia sufferers "complain of a thousand
futilities." But it is also a fairly recent and rapidly changing theory.
Seligman (1975) was studying escape learning and found that dogs,
forced to stay in a box where they were repeatedly shocked, soon
gave up and stopped trying to escape. Not surprising. Moreover, 65%
of the dogs didn't try to escape the next day when the box was
modified so they could easily escape. They just laid down and whined.