Light Therapy vs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

By Meghan Bialt-DeCelie

Light therapy.jpg

Image Acquired from:

Figure 2: An example of a light source commonly used in light therapy to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder.


With shorter days and winter approaching, over 14 million Americans experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or the “winter blues”. Commonly used, light therapy tackles the biological causes of SAD by exposing one to an artificial light for a period of time every day.

From the University of Vermont, Professor Kelly Rohan, recently led a study that investigated the effectiveness of light therapy in comparison to cognitive behavioral therapy modified specifically for SAD (CBT-SAD). This focused on the psychological issues through reconstructing behaviors.

Over six weeks, one group of subjects with SAD was treated with light therapy and the other was treated with CBT-SAD. After one year, both treatments had similar effects. However after two years, 45.6% of the subjects treated with light therapy had recurring depression as opposed to 27.3% of CBT-SAD treated subjects.

This study may cause a shift toward more psychological focused treatment of SAD.



In preventing return of winter blues, talk outshines light. Science Daily (2015).

K.J. Rohan, et al. Outcomes one and two winters following cognitive-behavioral therapy or light therapy for seasonal affective disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry (2015).



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