Scientific studies have shed light on the relationship between learned helplessness and neurochemical changes in the body. Researchers describe an experiment where rats were “taught” helplessness by the use of shock. They were able to measure neurological changes indicating depression at various beta receptor sites. They comment on their research as follows:

Dr. Henn and his colleagues induced depression in another group of rats, but treated them without medication.  They made a behavioral intervention and "taught" the rats how to escape the shock.  Actually, a medical student working in the lab knit the rats little sweaters with long sleeves over their front paws.  Strings were attached to the sleeves and the researchers could pull the rat’s paws up, marionette-like, and train them to push the lever that would stop the shock.  With the rats no longer helpless, their symptoms of depression abated, and the beta receptor sites returned to their previous state.  Dr. Henn and others have concluded from these studies that, just as neurochemistry affects behavior, changes in behavior affect neurochemistry.

Complementary findings have been found in the treatment of human depression.  A brief psychotherapeutic treatment called cognitive therapy focuses on the thought processes of a depressed person, in particular the hopeless and helpless thinking, and by changing the negative thought patterns, has proved to be as effective as the antidepressant imipramine in treating the depression…

In other words there is a link between brain chemistry and hope. Your body is affected if you think you are helpless, hopeless and out of control. Symptoms of depression such as sadness, despair, lethargy, loss of appetite and sleep problems increase. Once hope is restored depression leaves. If the way we perceive reality and choose to believe has an effect on our physiology and biochemistry then treatment for depression should not be limited to medications. If that is the case, should a Christian ever take medications for emotional problems? Perhaps an analogy is the best way to answer that question. Suppose you are suffering regularly from acid indigestion because of your eating habits. Should you take medication to relieve the heart burn? I’m sure most people would and there is nothing wrong with getting temporary relief, but the long term answer is to change your eating habits. Your body is telling you something; Stop feeding me this junk! There is also the possibility that you have a serious stomach illness such as an ulcer or cancer, and such symptoms could also indicate a heart problem.

Dr. Neil

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