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Overview of relaxation therapy as an alternative treatment for depression and anxiety and whether relaxation therapy works in treating depression.

What is Relaxation Therapy?

Relaxation therapy refers to a number of techniques designed to teach someone to be able to relax voluntarily. Programs most often include training in special breathing and progressive muscle relaxation exercises designed to reduce physical and mental tension. Massage, watching relaxing videos or listening to special music for relaxation do not constitute relaxation therapy, although they are sometimes included as part of a relaxation therapy program.

How does Relaxation Therapy for Depression work?

Muscle tension is usually associated with stress and anxiety, which are strongly associated with depression. Becoming aware of the link between depressive thoughts and mental and muscle tension may help.

Is it Relaxation Therapy effective?

There have been only a few small studies looking at the effect of relaxation therapy for people with depression. In two studies, it was found to be as effective as cognitive behavior therapy or antidepressant medication in the short term. The longer term effects are uncertain.

Are there any disadvantages?

None known.

Where do you get Relaxation Therapy?

Community groups often run relaxation classes. There are also therapists who teach relaxation. These are listed in the Relaxation Therapy section of the Yellow Pages. Books and tapes giving instructions in relaxation therapy are available from bookshops and over the internet.


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Recommendation

Relaxation therapy is promising as a treatment for depression, but needs further research.

Key references

Murphy GE, Carney RM, Knesevich MA, et al. Cognitive behavior therapy, relaxation training and tricyclic antidepressant medication in the treatment of depression. Psychological Reports 1995; 77:403-420

Reynolds WM and Coats KI. A comparison of cognitive behavior therapy and relaxation training for the treatment of depression in adolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1986; 54: 653-660.

Relaxation tape: Progressive muscle relaxation WARNING. Relaxation therapy is not for everyone. Some people who are very depressed or anxious or who have other types of mental health problems find that relaxation doesn't help. It might even make them feel worse. Please check with your doctor before trying relaxation therapy.

Before you begin. Find a place where you won't be disturbed. Make sure you are not hungry or thirsty and that you haven't been drinking alcohol. It is best to do these exercise sitting rather than lying down. Lower the lights. You will find that there are periods of quietness on this tape. You will know that the tape is about to finish when you hear "Open your eyes".

Download progressive muscle relaxation tape (File format - mp3, 17.7MB)

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