Light Therapy

San Jose Counseling and Psychotherapy

Light therapy, also known as phototherapy and heliotherapy, is the therapeutic exposure to artificial daylight.

The method used in most studies involves using a specially designed light, encased in a portable box, placed near the patient.

Research has found light therapy to be one of the most effective natural remedies for a large number of mental health problems. You may want to try light therapy for a number of reasons:

  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Other nonseasonal types of depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia and sleep problems
  • Eating disorders
  • Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia

Studies have shown that light therapy can increase the effectiveness of antidepressant medication as well as mental health counseling and psychotherapy. For some people, it allowed them to take a lower dose of antidepressant medication.

Light therapy is also helpful for women who want to avoid antidepressant medications during pregnancy or while breast-feeding. In fact, many people have been able to avoid taking medication because of light therapy.

The History of Light Therapy

A number of ancient cultures engaged in primitive kinds of light therapy, including people of Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, and Ancient Rome. The Inca, Assyrian and indigenous people such as Native Americans also worshiped the sun as a health bringing deity.

Sanskrit works on Ayurvedic medicine from around 1500 BCE outline a therapy using herbs with natural sunlight. Buddhist literature from about 200 CE and 10th-century Chinese documents make similar references. The Faroese physician Niels Finsen is thought to have designed and built the first artificial light source for a therapeutic purpose.

How Light Therapy Works

Light therapy mimics outdoor light and affects the rate of serotonin turnover in the brain, causing a biochemical change in the brain. Exposure to bright light suppresses the production of melatonin and contributes to the regulation of the circadian rhythm.

During light therapy, you sit or work near a device called a light therapy box. The box gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light. In selecting a light box, consider clinical efficacy, ocular and dermatologic safety, and visual comfort along with the following criteria:

  • A light box should be tested in peer-reviewed clinical trials.
  • The box should provide 10,000 lux of illumination at a comfortable sitting distance.
  • Blue light is superior to red light.
  • The light should not be projected directly into the eyes to minimize uncomfortable glare.
  • Small light boxes can work but be aware that head movements can take your eyes out of the therapeutic range of the light.

Health Care Practitioners Who Recommend Light Therapy

Light therapy is recommended by psychotherapists, psychiatrists, physicians and health care professionals who treat patients with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or sleep problems.

While light boxes can be purchased without a prescription, a mental health professional can provide guidelines as to how to use a light therapy box for maximum effectiveness and may recommend a particular light box.

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