Light Therapy for Depression

Colette Dowling, LCSW

Author of the following article on light therapy for depression, NY psychotherapist Colette Dowling, LCSW, has written eight books, including "You Mean I Don't Have to Feel This Way?": New Help for Depression, Anxiety and Addiction.

Light Therapy for depression has had years of innovative research at Columbia University. Though originally used for winter depression (SAD, or seasonal affective disorder), Depression Light Therapy is now used at any time of year. Columbia University's Light Therapy Program is based on the interaction between light exposure, the biological clock, hormone balance, and mood and energy regulation.


The first of its kind the U.S., Columbia’s Depression Light Therapy program serves patients near and far. (It requires only one visit to Columbia, which is located in New York City.) Those who enter the program receive clinical evaluation, an analysis of sleep-wake and biological rhythm patterns during depression, instruction in the method, and monitoring and dose adjustments. (Yes, light therapy can be “dosed” just as medication can.)


Step 1. The patient seeking Light Therapy for depression completes a confidential questionnaire about history and symptoms. Once it's reviewed the patient is called with feedback.

Step 2. Next, the patient goes to Columbia to get a specially designed lightbox and receive evaluation, orientation and instruction. (If there are medication issues, Columbia will collaborate with the patient's psychiatrist.) This visit lasts about three hours.

Step 3. Light Therapy for depression begins at home. This includes keeping a daily log of sleep, mood and energy so that your progress can be tracked. Progress is closely followed for the first six weeks and light dose and timing are adjusted to maximize anti-depressant effect. After six weeks the program team remains available for further follow-up.


Light Therapy for depression is self-administered, usually for 30 minutes in the morning before you leave home. During this time you can read, write, use your laptop, iPod or phone, watch small-screen TV, have breakfast.

You don't look directly into the light, which is adjusted to a safe and comfortable outdoor level.

A doctor will dose the intensity of the light and set the session duration and time of day to provide you with the best response.

Columbia will send you the fee schedule, a daily log sample and further program information when you request the questionnaire.


Columbia Psychiatry Department, 212-305-6001. You may talk to a staff member about your interest in a general clinical evaluation for depression, light therapy, or both.

Or write to the program at:

Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms 1051 Riverside Drive, Unit 50 New York, NY 10032

E-mail address:

You will be mailed or e-mailed the Light Therapy Program confidential questionnaire. After you've filled it in and mailed it back, the program administrators will review it and you’ll be promptly called to arrange an appointment.

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Colette is a graduate of The Smith College School for Social Work, where she received an MSW. She is a licensed clinical social worker. She is also a psychoanalyst, having received her training at The Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy, in New York.

Ms. Dowling has a private therapy practice in New York. Her Chelsea office is convenient to Hoboken, Jersey City, Brooklyn and Queens. Colette may be reached at 718-594-0201, or at

To hear Colette speaking about what it's like starting therapy with someone new, click the audio button.

For more about depression see Colette's website on women's mental health.

For a description of Colette's therapy practice see Psychology today.

Copyright Colette Dowling, 2006-2010