The best psychological ‘talking therapy’ for depression is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – commonly referred to as ‘CBT’. Although CBT helps with depression, around half of people who complete a course of CBT still have depressive symptoms. It is therefore vitally important that we improve psychological therapies like CBT so that more people can beat depression.
MRC CBU’s Caitlin Hitchcock and collaborators from Harvard, Exeter, and UNSW are working on a study to improve CBT. One way of trying to improve CBT is to use experimental, cognitive psychology to find out what stops CBT working. If a way to change the cognitive problems that get in the way can be found, then CBT should work better at shifting depression. One such cognitive problem occurs when people struggle to remember details about events from their past – what’s call autobiographical memories. Being able to easily bring to mind detailed autobiographical memories is very important in helping us to successfully solve everyday problems, to make accurate judgements about ourselves and the world around us, and to see both positive and negative things that might happen whenever we plan how to deal with a challenging experience (e.g., working hard to meet a deadline at work).
When someone experiences depression, the autobiographical memories they bring to mind are often very vague and broad and negative (e.g., my life has always been awful). People with depression find it very hard to reach those detailed autobiographical memories that they need to navigate everyday life, which keeps their depression going. This project will develop a new technique that can temporarily boosts people’s ability to access their detailed autobiographical memories. We will then determine whether this booster technique improves depressed people’s ability to do tasks that are similar to CBT, such as challenging negative thoughts. If our technique works, in the future we could provide depressed people a way to ‘switch on’ a detailed way of remembering things that they can use before a CBT session in order to get the most out of therapy.
Please contact Caitlin Hitchcock for more information.