The Bigger Picture

Every epidemiological survey, whether national or international, indicates depression is on the rise around the world (Yapko, 1997, 1999). In the United States, depression receives a great deal of attention for all its negative effects on health, productivity, and relationships. However, the lion's share of research funding goes to exclusively biological interventions, a direct suggestion that medications or some other biological entity will alleviate depression. The evidence is irrefutable, however, that much of what spreads depression around the world, between and within cultures (including ours), are social factors. What people learn (and don't learn) in their evolving patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior; how active and skillful they learn to be in problem solving and in building healthy relationships; how self-absorbed or selfless they are encouraged to be; and so many other such value-laden factors evident in one's socialization can all serve to increase or decrease one's vulnerability to depression.

The small but growing movement in the direction of a so-called positive psychology (Seligman, 2002; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000) is an important step toward shifting the blame away from our biology (i.e., "It's all in your genes") and placing the responsibility on ourselves to create the personal and social conditions that empower people to lead more satisfying lives. Ultimately, it is up to each person to take the responsibility for his or her own quality of life, and to learn the relationship between the choices he or she makes and the consequences they yield.

Practitioners of hypnosis, those serious-minded clinicians who have already absorbed the implications of the truth that what you focus on defines your experience, are in an especially strategic position to make a significant difference. Appreciating the parallels between the benefits of positive, hypnotic "believed-in imaginings" (Sarbin, 1997) and the detriments of negative, depressive believed-in imaginings encourages the use of hypnosis in new and innovative ways. Hypnosis can be considered an original positive psychology in its foundational premises that people have more resources than they're typically aware of and that conditions can be created through hypnotic procedures that bring these resources to the fore where they can be amplified and directed for personal and social benefits. The potential of hypnosis in this domain is only now starting to be considered. How exactly the role of hypnosis in treatment, and of equal or even greater importance in depression's prevention, will evolve is not yet known. The prospects, though, can foster a deep sense of optimism.

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