The use of Rewards and Sanctions – to cure depression?

Ok, so my CBT, (which incidently is not going well due to NO contact from the therapist, who was supposed to call me fortnightly, since I started it on 2nd Jan- being let down by mental health support makes me cross and is a post waiting to happen) has instructed me to reward good moods and punish low moods.

Now, the reward thing I can get behind. Who doesn’t like an excuse to eat cake? But punish low moods? I do that already, I hate myself for feeling sad, jealous, angry, guilty and the other unhelpful emotions I fight daily. I punish myself through self hatred and this technique has not helped me beat my anxiety and depression so far!

I am a teacher, and as such I feel perfectly at home using rewards and sanctions. Good work and behavior is reinforced with.praise and merits, the opposite is discouraged using whatever punishment may be suitable. It works, its consistent and it produces happy and calm young people who know whatbtk expect. But in the case of mood, I am not convinced by this strategy. 

If a student comes to me feeling sad, wanting to talk to me about things, (which happens frequently enough as I am actually quite a nice teacher) I would never  consider solving their problem with a detention and promising them some merit points when they cheer themselves up. I’d listen, I’d offer advice and ultimately I would do what I could to help them feel happy again.

(While I appreciate that in many respects our happiness is our own responsibility I also firmly believe that we have a responsibility to others too. If we can help, we should. – and I do mean should.- anothe future blog post.)

So, in order to help myself out of my depression I should reward myself when I am happy, (and therefore reinforce the good mood) and punish myself when I am sad. This is supposed to deter me from bad moods in the future.

I don’t know about you, but I think this has the potential to spiral dangerously out of control.  I feel sad, now I must punish myself. This all just sounds like salt in a very raw wound. A ladder further down that damp dark hole.

Perhaps I misunderstood. This is possible. No, in fact this is likely, I misunderstand frequently, particularly when I have a bee in my bonnet about something. Perhaps this is telling me not to indulge, not to wallow in low moods. That makes more sense. That I can get behind.  It is certainly true that I feel worse when I allow myself to dwell on the events, people or feelings that have caused the current dip. I dislike the phrase snap out of it, frequently used by those who have no understanding or experience of mental health problems, but, in some respects, I guess this is what I must encourage myself to do.

I can try.

And I am totally up for the reward aspect!

I have discussed the reward side of this with my ever patient husband. I have demanded a star chart. I want to earn stars through being happy, then cash in my stars for dinner out, or a film of my choice, or a massage.  This star chart does not yet exist, but I have already collected 3 stars to be added when it does.

So I suppose it must be working…


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