Depression is one of the most common mental health issues in the UK. For many people with depression, it is common to experience cognitive bias, and thoughts of self-blame, rumination and catastrophising.
Now, new research from the University of Birmingham has found that focusing efforts on reducing thoughts of self-blame, is a strategically efficient approach to treating symptoms of depression.
The research has been published in the Journal of Behavioural and Cognitive Therapy.
Dr Artur Brzozowski, Assistant Professor of Forensic Psychology who led the study, said: “The study looked at self-reference and memory bias, which can lead to feelings of self-blame. This can simultaneously lead to rumination and catastrophising which can feed depression. So, if you think of yourself as a bad person and remember events considering this view, you will blame yourself for negative outcomes, this tendency will lead you to overly focus on those events and blow them out of proportion. Our study shows that instead of focusing on the initial memory bias through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), it is more beneficial to challenge the thoughts of self-blame.”
For the research, 251 people took part in a Self-Referent Encoding Task to measure self-reference and memory bias. The task asked participants to identify positive and negative adjectives as either a relevant or not relevant self-description, like ‘happy’ or ‘sad.’ Participants later had to recall as many of the adjectives as possible. The study says that more endorsements and recollections of negative adjectives are proxies of the respondents' negative beliefs about themselves.
By targeting the feelings of self-blame, rather than trying to deal with the cognitive biases, (which are further removed from the depression), therapy may be more effective and help get results faster. This is good news for therapists as many will already be trying to challenge the negative perceptions that their patients have of themselves.Dr Artur Brzozowski, University of Birmingham
By analysing the data, the researchers found that the tendency to blame oneself for playing an influential role in a negatively perceived life event seems to play a key role in the negative cognitive bias-depression relationship.
Dr Brzozowski continued: “The link between cognitive bias and depression is something that most CBT therapists will already have an understanding of, but now we have been able to pinpoint the underlying mechanism of this relationship.
“By targeting the feelings of self-blame, rather than trying to deal with the cognitive biases, (which are further removed from the depression), therapy may be more effective and help get results faster. This is good news for therapists as many will already be trying to challenge the negative perceptions that their patients have of themselves.”
The authors also suggest that to minimise self-blame, therapists could try shifting blame onto other people rather than the depressed person.
Dr Brzozowski concluded: “To redirect blame, CBT therapists can consider encouraging clients to take a ‘it’s not you it’s them’ approach. Therapists should help clients to consider alternative explanations about the perceived negative events that may have happened in their lives.
“I hope that this research can help inform future research and CBT interventions, and ultimately get the best results possible for people with depression.”