Depression is one of the most frequent psychological disorders in Western countries, and also one of the most complex. Therefore, it is complicated to manage these effects on mood, both in cases of severe depression and in others where there are milder depressive symptoms.
Fortunately, there are different types of aids that can help improve mood beyond the psychiatrist’s or psychologist’s office. The book “Buenos días, alegría” is one of these resources . On this occasion, we will talk to Jesús Matos , who in addition to being the author of this work, is a General Health Psychologist and a popularizer of mental health.
Interview with Jesús Matos, author of “Good Morning, Joy”
Let’s see what ideas led to the creation of this interesting book.
P. Hello, Jesus. What were the fundamental objectives you had in mind when you wrote “Good morning, joy”?
R. The truth is that when I was writing the book, I simply wanted to be able to give my patients at that time a step-by-step guide to the techniques we were following during therapy so that they could resort to them whenever they needed them.
At first I didn’t even consider that the text I was writing might end up being a book. It was a mixture between a personal diary with what I was doing week by week to overcome a difficult episode in which I was deeply sad and dissatisfied, and a step-by-step guide to gradually internalize the techniques that have proven to be most effective in depressive problems.
I suppose the objective that moved me at that time was to be able to provide the necessary knowledge about psychology and my personal experience so that the person reading the text would be able to put into practice all the necessary skills to effectively manage sadness without ever having stepped foot in a psychologist’s office before.
Q. What do you think is the main difference between this book and the idea that comes to mind when thinking about self-help books?
R. I have to confess that when the book was classified as “self-help” I got a little angry. Since the preconceived idea that we psychologists usually have about this type of book is that they are ineffective and usually focus on simple messages that the reader wants to hear and that in the end don’t make a substantial change.
Of course it was only a prejudice, as in life, within the self-help section there is everything. Books that have a great scientific rigor and that can help a lot and books that convey messages not only empty but potentially dangerous for the mental health of the readers.
The main difference I have found with other self-help books is that “Good Morning, Joy” proposes a step-by-step itinerary so that the person reading it knows exactly what to do during that week in order to acquire the necessary skills to effectively regulate sadness at the end of the program.
In addition, the techniques being proposed are first choice according to the treatment guidelines for mood disorders. This means that they have proven to be effective in thousands of people around the world.
In the end it is a different book because the approach is to simulate a 12-session therapy with a cognitive-behavioral psychologist. Including the homework assignments I usually recommend to my clients.
P. Part of the book is based on the principles of cognitive restructuring, the part of psychological therapies that focuses on making us question our most harmful beliefs. In your experience, what are some of those counterproductive beliefs that are often embraced by patients who are feeling sad or depressed?
R. Usually when we are sad for too long, a phenomenon called the cognitive triad occurs, that is, having negative thoughts about the future, the environment and ourselves. This process (among others) makes sadness last over time.
But these thoughts are only the tip of the iceberg. That is, they are supported by a set of nuclear beliefs that we have developed throughout our lives. The problem is that when a stressful event occurs or our emotions of anxiety or sadness overflow us, they activate what are called “cognitive schemes”, which makes the dysfunctional nuclear beliefs that we all have, begin to have more weight in our lives.
In my view, the most common and harmful beliefs in depressive episodes have to do with worthlessness or perceived ineffectiveness. These types of beliefs cause us to skew our perception to focus on negative stimuli, or even to interpret neutral stimuli as negative. This phenomenon makes sadness perpetuate itself. Working with this type of bias is fundamental to the success of the therapeutic intervention.
P. “Good Morning, Joy” is intended as a practical manual that gives step-by-step guidelines. Do you think this kind of literature is useful for reaching people who have never considered attending psychotherapy with a psychologist?
R. The scientific evidence tells us that it is useful. It is true that there are few studies on bibliotherapy interventions, but all point to the fact that this type of intervention can have positive effects. The key is that bibliotherapy is much less expensive than lifetime treatments.
This can have a great impact, perhaps not in terms of recovery of patients with depressive episodes, but in preventing these problems. Let us not forget that the WHO predicts that by 2020 depression will be the most common cause of disability in the world.
In addition, we psychologists have the handicap that hardly anyone knows exactly what we actually do in our practices.
All the professionals in this sector have met people who ask us if we give advice or tell the person what to do… And nothing is further from the truth, what we do in detecting the variables that maintain the discomfort and training the patient to be able to modify them. I suppose the book can be a good window into what goes on inside a cognitive behavioral psychologist’s office.
P. It must be complicated to summarize all the interesting information that exists about depression and sadness. What criteria have you followed to choose the type of information you would include in its pages?
R. The truth is that it is difficult. I don’t think the book summarizes all the research on sadness and depression, nor was that its purpose. I wanted it to be something very useful and easy for the reader to understand. A text that could be transferred to their day-to-day life so that it would really be a before and after.
The main criterion for inclusion was the scientific evidence, I reviewed all those techniques that the most prestigious treatment guidelines indicated as “first choice” and I selected those in which I was well trained and used regularly with my patients. I then drew up a treatment plan that I applied to myself first and then gradually wrote it down.
Although it is true that the text has two types of techniques, those that I call “obligatory” which are those that, as I said, have plenty of evidence in studies around the world when it comes to improving depressive symptoms, and another set of “optional” techniques that are more focused on increasing well-being and although they do not have so many studies behind them to support their effectiveness, they are proving to work.
P. It is often said about depression that scientists dedicated to studying it put too much emphasis on the biological and leave aside its environmental or contextual component, which links us to our environment and the rest of the people. Do you agree?
R. Well, in the end it all depends on the perspective with which you study. Surely if we measure the amount of serotonin in patients suffering from depression we find that their levels are lower than those of patients without this problem. But we also have to take into account that certain activities, contexts or people can influence our serotonin levels (the same happens with other neurotransmitters).
Science prevails, and the old debate of bilogy VS environment, is outdated. Almost the entire scientific community understands that there is an influence of genetics, of the environment and of the interaction of both.
We have several psychological models to explain depression that have a very solid foundation. But we always have to take into account the purely biological part, otherwise we will also be falling into reductionism.
In these very complicated disorders that affect all areas of a person’s life there are a lot of variables that we have to take into account and apply the necessary techniques to modify them if we want to have therapeutic success.
Therefore, both antidepressants and cognitive behavioural therapy are effective interventions in problems of depression. Often the key is to receive both treatments. Unfortunately, very few people in our country have access to these treatments.
P. Finally, what are the major myths about depression that you think do the most harm, and how do you think they might be countered?
R. I think the myth that hurts the most is the belief that the person suffering from depression is there because he or she wants to be. We have to keep in mind that nobody wakes up one day and decides to be sad most of the time. No one wants to stop enjoying the activities that made them happy before, nor does anyone want to have thoughts of suicide (among other symptoms).
It is true that we have influence over our emotional states. Otherwise, clinical psychology would be meaningless, but the problem is that most of us are emotionally illiterate and do not have the resources to deal with these problems.
Both patients with depression and their loved ones need to understand that they are not there by choice. Only by understanding that the person really feels unable to get out of bed can we support them. Otherwise, we will continue to stigmatize all those who suffer from mental health problems and the problem will grow.
To follow this author…
“Buenos días, alegría” is available both in physical stores in Spain and on Amazon, through this link. Jesús Matos publishes more information about his work both on the website of his practice (enequilibriomental.net) and on his Facebook account. He also has a youtube channel, where in addition to videos made specifically for this platform, his media appearances, such as this one, are compiled: