Rising out of the Depths: A Nurse's Perspective on Depression

By: Wiep de Vries, R.N.

Health care practitioners gener­ally receive few tools for work­ing directly on the moods of their clients / patients. With depression we often try to protect ourselves from the impact of our patient's emotions, since these can rub uncomfortably with our own personal shadow sides. Rather, we con­sider antidepressants a welcome aid as we attempt to re-integrate the depressed per­son into daily life. Today, when depression has become such a common phenomenon, more and more people receive antidepres­sants as their primary therapy. Prozac has become our answer to depression just as Tylenol is our answer to pain.

I feel this focus on antidepressants does not take into consideration the inter­play between the environment and the individual. The crucial question is whether a chemical substance is the first solution, or whether it may be possible to arrive at a deeper understanding of depression and individual therapy. I would like to give you a practical perspective that considers per­sonalized care of the whole human being: body, soul, and spirit.

In his book Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore asks the question, "What is re­vealed in suffering?" He makes it clear that symptoms must be respected as a voice of the soul. Only a deep interest in the patient, and careful observation of symptoms can bring about insights which become the basis for healing.

Therapeutic implications
It is important that we hold back our primary thoughts and reactions, since we want to understand the phenomena that confront us. Grasping the image of the person that we see in front of us will lead us to the question: How can we address the healing forces within this person? We know that the will forces are needed for healing, and that the will must be activated from within. We know this must be done through nurturing, ensouled care. First of all, we must help the depressed person learn to perceive, to sense, and to feel boundaries again, to help bring the soul closer to the life forces. Second, we must be creative and search for ways to bring certain qualities into daily life by making small adjustments. Third, a form of long-term care can be given through biographical work which can help the spirit reconnect with soul and body.

Specific therapeutic suggestions

  • Bring rhythm into the day. Regulate the balance between sleeping and waking.

  • Provide warmth - personal warmth and attention, warm clothes, a hot water bottle.

  • Change a habit. This has a healing effect on the life forces. It is like an exercise, breaking out of the old pattern.

  • Give little tasks that can easily be met.

  • Nutrition must be tasty and well-pre­pared so that the person gets a sense of the vitality of the food.

  • Give elixirs such as Blackthorn or other strengthening drinks.

  • In the evening, encourage looking back on the day with the question, "What was it that moved me today?" 

  • End the day with a verse, and begin the day with a verse. (evening is trust, and morning is courage).

External Remedies
It is important to supplement medica­tions with external therapies. The skin is a sense-organ and certain external therapies will help the person reconnect with the body.

  • Give a bath and brush the skin with a loofa sponge—afterwards apply Rose­mary Oil, Prunus Oil, or Lemon Balm Oil to the skin.

  • To support the life-processes, work to strengthen the liver by applying a hot yarrow compress over it—wrapping a wool cloth over the compress and put­ting a warm water bottle on top of the wool.

  • Another therapy sometimes indicated and only to be administered by a health professional is the so-called "fever bath." Here the nurse gives a bath where the temperature of the water is gradually raised in accordance with the tempera­ture of the patient. The whole therapy is very closely monitored and supported by the therapist in order not to go be­yond the limits of the patient. An in­crease of warmth can bring about a change in both body and soul. We often find that the person undergoing this treatment has the experience of coming more 'into' him or herself, and feeling more centered. In addition, a patient can be given homeopathic medicine to strengthen the rhythmic system.

Those of us searching for an individu­alized approach to health care hope that science will once again take up the study of human beings as a regular discipline, and by doing so, reestablish the connection to real life. The danger of materialism, which studies only abstracted dead substance, is that it loses the connection to life, warmth and movement. Is it perhaps the overem­phasis on materialism, itself, that underlies the rising number of depressed people? By lifting ourselves above matter we can re­gain an understanding of life and the se­crets of the healing forces that live in us. Herein lies the answer to a new direction in health care.

Wiep de Vries is a nurse from the Nether­lands. She works as a consultant for anthroposophical health care, giving home health care classes and advice for home remedies and external therapies.



Spiritual Science and Medicine, Rudolf Steiner, Steinerbooks (division of Garber Communications, Inc.), 1989.

Soulways, The developing Soul-Life Phases, Thresholds and Biography, Rudolf Treichler, Hawthorne Press, 1989.

The Anthroposophical Approach to Medi­cine, Volume III, F. Husemann, M.D., Edited by Otto Wolff, M.D., Rudolf Steiner Press.

Earth and Man, Karl Koenig, Bio-Dy­namic Literature 1982

Human Organs, Their Functional and Psychological Significance, Walter Holtzapfel, M.D., Anthroposophic Press

Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore, Harper Collins Publishers.