TREATMENT OF LEARNED HELPLESSNESS AND DEPRESSION WITH ASSERTIVENESS TRAINING

MARY WEISNER HOULIHAN, Fordham University

Abstract

The purpose of the present study was to further evaluate Seligman's learned helplessness model of depression by comparing the laboratory phenomena of learned helplessness to clinical depression for similarities in symptomatology and response to a particular treatment. Assertiveness training was employed as the therapeutic intervention since it is a clinical treatment designed to increase one's ability to control outcomes in social interactions. In light of the reformulated theory of learned helplessness recently proposed by Abramson, Seligman, and Teasdale, the interaction of attributional style with learned helplessness, depression, and response to treatment, was also investigated.^ Subjects were 48 male veterans assigned to either a depressed, nondepressed-made-helpless, or nondepressed control group. The depressed group consisted of psychiatric patients who were diagnosed as major affective disorder, depressed type. Thirty-two nondepressed medical patients were randomly assigned to either the learned helpless or control group.^ The experiment consisted of a pretreatment and a treatment phase. Depressed and nondepressed control subjects experienced a pretreatment waiting period while nondepressed subjects designated for the helpless group were exposed to an inescapable-noise pretreatment condition. Following the pretreatment phase, depressed, nondepressed, and nondepressed-made-helpless subjects were randomly assigned to either a treatment or placebo manipulation of equal length. The treatment consisted of a standardized pre-recorded assertiveness training program. The placebo treatment consisted of reading aloud a series of statements found by Veltan to be affectively neutral.^ Subjects were assessed for changes in depressed mood prior to and following the pretreatment phase and following the treatment phase by means of the Depression Adjective Checklist. Following the treatment phase, subjects were assessed for performance deficits by means of an anagrams task. Prior to and following the pretreatment phase, and following the treatment phase, subjects' attributions for success and failure experiences were assessed by a questionnaire developed for use in the present study. Finally, a manipulation check was done on the employed assertiveness training program and its effectiveness was confirmed.^ Results indicated that helpless and depressed subjects in the neutral treatment condition showed a depressed mood and impaired task performance in comparison to the control group. Assertiveness training significantly improved the mood and performance of depressed subjects, while significantly improving the performance but not the mood of the learned helpless subjects. The predicted relationship of attributional style to learned helplessness and depression received only partial confirmation.^ Results are interpreted as generally consistent with the learned helplessness model of depression. On measures of depressed mood and task performance, helpless and depressed subjects showed symptom parallels. The greater improvement of depressed subjects in response to treatment was considered to be related to its greater relevance to the past experiences of depressed subjects, in comparison to the laboratory trial of uncontrollability experienced by the helpless subjects. The information obtained on the attributional questionnaire and on a post-experimental questionnaire explicate these findings. Implications for the treatment of depressed patients, and for the use of standardized treatment programs, were considered. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Clinical

Recommended Citation

MARY WEISNER HOULIHAN, "TREATMENT OF LEARNED HELPLESSNESS AND DEPRESSION WITH ASSERTIVENESS TRAINING" (January 1, 1981). ETD Collection for Fordham University. Paper AAI8111546.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8111546

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