'Talk' therapy helps against inhibitions

by Tomoko Otake

Cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy are widely known abroad to be effective in treating depression.

CBT was developed in the 1950s by psychologist Albert Ellis and psychiatrist Aaron Beck, both from the U.S. It is based on the theory that the way we perceive situations affects our emotions. The therapy, which uses structured interviews and homework, helps people identify distorted thinking and beliefs and change their behavior.

IPT, though less popular than CBT in Japan, was developed in the 1970s and ’80s as an outpatient treatment for adults with clinical depression. It has roots in the work of U.S. psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan. It works on solving problems by examining interpersonal relationships, especially with “significant others” such as immediate family members and romantic partners.

For both therapies, patient sessions typically last 50 to 60 minutes.

Some Japanese experts say CBT, which involves challenging people’s thinking habits, might not work well for Japanese, many of whom do not feel comfortable debating with or confronting medical professionals.

But clinical psychologist Shin-ichi Suzuki of Waseda University says CBT can be adjusted to fit the needs of Japanese, citing his own experience of treating patients here.

“Therapists (in the U.S.) would often ask a patient, ‘Why do you think that way? Why? Show me the evidence (that your thoughts are realistic),’ ” Suzuki said. “In Japan, patients who get asked questions like that would be shocked, feeling like they are accused of doing something wrong. So I have changed the way I interact with patients, using phrases such as, ‘Let’s think about this together.’ “

While there has been little research on the effect of “talk” therapy in Japan, a 2007 research project commissioned by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and headed by Yutaka Ono, a noted psychiatrist at Keio University, analyzed the effect of CBT in a study involving 29 patients in five hospitals. The study found that 16 weekly sessions of CBT helped them overcome depressive moods and enhanced their sense of well-being, regardless of whether they were using drugs to treat their conditions.