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Joy. Cheer. Celebration. Carb-overload. Financial anxiety. Soul-crushing loneliness. The holidays mean different things to different people. While this season is a favorite for many, the sad reality is that millions of Americans suffer from seasonal depression.

Seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder, is just what it sounds like— a mood disorder that causes symptoms of depression around the same time every year. There are several causes for seasonal depression, including the effects of decreased sunlight on your circadian rhythm, melatonin, and serotonin levels. While there is little you can do about the physiological causes of seasonal depression, there is an effective method to combat the psychological effects: clinical counseling.

Clinical counseling can help people through seasonal depression and can also help those who may not necessarily be experiencing depression, but are suffering through negative psychological effects of the holidays. Perhaps it is the fact that the holidays signal the end of the year, and some people may find themselves in the same place as last year, or feel they haven’t achieved what they set out to over the past twelve months. Perhaps it is the anxiety of cramming a year’s worth of unfinished projects into the last few work weeks left. Perhaps it is the fact that the holidays are seen as a time to experience the joy of loved ones and many people feel alone. Perhaps it is the financial strain of a time of year in which you are expected to show your affection through material gifts. Or perhaps it is the societal pressure to be joyous, merry, and bright when, in reality, you just feel down. The truth is that the holidays can be filled with stressors, triggers, and a plentiful bounty of causes for depression.

So, for those dealing with seasonal depression and those who are just trying to get through the holidays— we spoke to Dr. Diana Concanon, assistant provost for our California School of Professional Psychology.

What is Clinical Counseling?

Clinical Counseling applies counseling and psychotherapeutic techniques to identify and remediate cognitive, mental, and emotional issues, including personal growth, adjustment to disability, psychosocial and environmental problems, and crisis intervention.

All mental health professions share a commitment to helping individuals achieve wellness.  Clinical counseling does so by emphasizing wellness and prevention, and assisting individuals to connect with their individual strength and resiliency, particularly when navigating times of change -- whether sought or unexpected.

How can a clinical counselor help someone through the holidays? Through the rough patches?

The holidays are often a tumultuous time for many, particularly those who have experienced trauma and loss, or for whom access to the emotional joy that is stereotypical of the season is harder to come by.  Even those who welcome and enjoy the holiday season can become overburdened by the added stress imposed by the additional demands upon an often limited supply of time and resources.

As when supporting individuals to negotiate many of life's challenges, clinical counselors can assist those for whom the holidays present heartache or struggle by helping the individual to acknowledge and honor his/her experience, while also strengthening connection to innate strength and resiliency.

How can a clinical counselor help someone experiencing seasonal depression?

It is not uncommon for individuals to feel a bit slower in the winter months, when the urge to stay indoors increases as the light of day decreases. For some, feelings of sluggishness may rise to depression, hopeless, difficulty concentrating, a feeling of heaviness in arms and legs, and even thoughts of suicide. 

Clinical Counselors can assist individuals to understand the complex interplay of seasonality on mood, to help those affected to assess the particular impact of seasonality on their own experience, and to connect to individuals to appropriate interventions to manage seasonal changes effectively.   

What would you say to someone who is on the fence on whether to see a clinical counselor?

I think that everyone deserves support. Clinical counselors offer support that is affirming, evidence-based, and meets the individual where he or she is.  I would say that, if you are considering whether to see a clinical counselor, you should give yourself the gift of doing so.  Seek referrals either from others, a health insurance plan, an employee assistance plan, or student assistance plan, or via the web, and look for someone who has the expertise or area of focus that speaks to the support you are seeking.  

What would you say to someone who doesn’t want to seek counseling for seasonal depression because it is just temporary? 

Seasonal depression, although temporary, is a form of depression and can be very debilitating, affecting sleep cycles, eating patterns, interpersonal relationships, and overall wellness. Anyone who is adversely impacted deserves support. 

Clinical counselors can help someone get through the holidays or through the rough patches we all experience in our lives. If helping support someone through the tough times speaks to you, our Master’s in Clinical Counseling may be for you. And, thankfully you won’t have to brave the season’s chill to get to class because Alliant’s Clinical Counseling program is now offered online. Check it out and see if becoming a clinical counselor could be your way of helping your fellow man.

Make a lasting impact in your community, and take the next steps in your counseling education online or on-campus, please contact the Alliant admissions department to learn more about their masters in clinical counseling degree.

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