Get Happy? Climbing Envisioned as Treatment for Patients with Depression
Earlier this year a study published in Psychology Research & Behaviour Management presented findings from a controlled pilot trial that compared rock climbing and relaxation sessions. The study assessed rock-climbing vs. relaxation and their effectiveness at regulating the emotions of patients with major depressive disorder (MDD).
To the researcher’s knowledge, it is the first controlled study that examined acute emotional changes in patients with MDD. Once a week two specialized nurses guided patients in 2.5-hour sessions that included warmup, basic climbing fundamentals and games. The relaxation sessions lasted between 25 to 35 minutes and were based on Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR).
Results show that in contrast to relaxation sessions, rock-climbing is associated with acute emotion regulatory effects. Coping emotions significantly increased and negative effects and depressiveness significantly decreased after sessions in comparison to relaxation sessions. Interestingly, comorbid disorders present in the climbing group included substance use disorder, anxiety disorder, personality disorder, adjustment disorder and PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder). Anxiety disorders were the only comorbid disorders present in the relaxation group.
However, the trial was non-randomized as patients could select whether to participate in either rock-climbing or relaxation therapy sessions. Consequently, the study stressed that future research needs to replicate the study using a randomized design in order to investigate the possible mechanisms contributing the emotion regulation.