light therapy for depression


Light Therapy for Depression

For many years my favorite psychiatrists have been prescribing light therapy for depression in my clients. Especially for my clients with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), light therapy is a treatment they enjoy and with which they have great success. Light therapy was first demonstrated for winter depression (SAD) 30 years ago. Most of my clients also use an antidepressant, along with light therapy for depression. It’s generally compatible with medications, so you don’t have to get off your medicines if it isn’t working. If you want to try it first, you can do that without high risk!


If you are interested in light therapy, you may have to educate your doctor or psychiatrist about it or bring at least it up. I have found that most psychiatrists are more likely to go with pharmaceuticals than natural interventions.

How Does Light Therapy for Depression Work?

Light therapy lamps should be purchased and used under the guidance of your doctor. You will use your light therapy box in the morning for 20-60 minutes, depending on the dose prescribed by your doctor. Your box creates an effect like daylight and has no harmful rays for most people. It should help your body relax, improves your mood, and also helps you feel energized.


You can also do other things while sitting in front of your light, such as read. It doesn’t seem like anyone knows precisely how this light works to alleviate depression. Still, it’s theorized this has something to do with our circadian rhythms, the biological clock, melatonin, epinephrine and serotonin.

Side effects with light therapy for depression are rare but can include headaches and an elevated mood. Also, if you have eye problems, you should check with your ophthalmologist. There are certain eye conditions such as:

  • Inherited retinal degenerations
  • Age-related maculopathy
  • Diabetic retinopathy

 that put you at risk when using light therapy for depression. 


Additionally, you may be taking medicines that increase your eye’s sensitivity and, therefore, your vulnerability to the light. Doctor supervision is essential. 



How to select the right lightbox for therapy for depression

depression treatment with light

How to Choose a Light Box


The Center for Environmental Therapeutics (CET) has published guidelines for how to select a lightbox. This website is incredibly thorough and will answer just about any question you might have about light therapy.

This is directly from the website. They suggest: 

INTENSITY: 10,000 lux illumination place at a comfortable sitting distance. Check the distance suggested carefully. Ask the manufacturer for calibration data, and whether a broad-field illuminometer was used.

PRODUCT SPECIFICATIONS: Check if technical information is absent.

UV FILTER: Fluorescent lamps should be fitted with a diffusing screen that filters ultraviolet (UV) rays that are harmful to the eyes and skin. Claims of UV protection are common, but questionable if a polycarbonate filter was not used.

SPECTRUM: White light is preferable. “Full spectrum” lamps and blue (or bluish) lamps with color temperature above 5000 Kelvin are not superior in efficacy.

ANGLE OF GAZE: The individual sits at a desk, usually looking down at reading matter or looking straight ahead. To avoid visual glare from the bright light, the lamp should project downward towards the eyes at an angle.

SIZE OF LIT AREA: even though a small light box seems elegant and transportable, even small head movements diminish the wished-for therapeutic dose of light to the eyes.


Kinds of Depression that Respond to Light Therapy


Evidence is growing for light therapy may even help with major nonseasonal depression, depression during pregnancy and perimenopause and bipolar disorder. Also, eating disorders, sleep disorders, and Parkinson’s.

Despite legitimate research demonstrating that light therapy may be useful for all of these other areas, scammers are making fantastical claims about light therapy. 

It’s essential to be skeptical and cautious of some of the claims you may see online for light therapy for wrinkles or hair growth that are just ploys to get you to spend money. 


More Links on Light Boxes

Light Box


CET recommends BOXelite OS. You can find it here.  


MORE INFORMATION Check the Web sites of the Society for Light Therapy and Biological Rhythms at and Center for Environmental Therapeutics at

References for Light Therapy for Depression

 Michael Terman, M., PHD (2013, January 23). Light Therapy, Antidepressant Meds—Either/Or? Both? [Web log post]. Retrieved August 16, 2020, from


Rabin, R. C. (2011, November 14). A Portable Glow to Help Melt Those Winter Blues. New York times.


 Let there be light: It’s used for everything from arthritis to a runny nose. but is phototherapy really such a bright idea? (2019, Sep 24). Daily Mail Retrieved from


Seasonal effective disorder

Reverse seasonal effective disorder

Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.

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