Cognitive Behavior Therapy Versus Light Therapy in the Treatment of SAD

NewStudy-Graphic-72x72_edited-3 According to a study published in the September issue of Behavior Therapy, researchers at the University of Vermont demonstrated that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) was more effective than light therapy (LT) in the long-term treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Rohan and colleagues first randomized 69 participants into one of four groups: a light therapy treatment, a cognitive behavior therapy treatment, a combination of LT and CBT treatments, and a waist-list control. They then surveyed participants one year later. The results of that survey indicate that the CBT group (7.0%) and combination group (5.5%) had significantly less recurrence of winter depression during the following season, than the light therapy group (36.7%). These results persisted even after adjustments for ongoing treatment with light therapy, medication, and psychotherapy were made. A $2 million, 5-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) will advance the next phase of this study, which is already underway.


Rohan, K.J., Roecklein, K.A., Lacy, T.J., Vacek, P.M. (2009) Winter depression one year after cognitive-behavioral therapy, light therapy, or combination treatment. Behavior Therapy, 40, 225-238.

Research Results: CBT is Effective for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Need help getting through the winter? This week’s NY Times article says that Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is effective for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) with or without light therapy, and that CBT is actually better than light therapy in preventing relapse among SAD sufferers.

The NY Times article refers to Dr. Kelly Rohan’s initial pilot study of 23 individuals with SAD. Dr. Rohan conducted a larger randomized controlled trial of 61 patients with SAD in 2005, and again found CBT to be effective in SAD treatment and relapse prevention. This later study is described in Science Daily, although the results have not yet been published. You can also read an interview with Dr. Rohan, in which she discusses her research on CBT for SAD.