CET at Twenty-five

1982. The US National Institute of Mental Health publishes a case study of a patient with bipolar disorder who shows recurrent annual depressions as daylength decreases. Stretching the day artificially with morning and evening light exposure proves therapeutic.

1984. The NIMH completes the first controlled clinical trial for patients with winter depression, sparking replications and extensions by 15 independent groups in the US and Europe. 

1985. The New York Times publishes a lead editorial, The Reason for Everything, noting a SAD frenzy: “Once in a while an ailment comes along that sorts out your life, clarifies mysteries and leaves you feeling better about yourself. More often than not it is self-diagnosed….”

1987. The Seasonal Pattern specifier for recurrent major depression enters the Diagnostic Manual of the American Psychiatric Association.

1988. The Society for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms is formed with 130 colleagues and students, focused on annual research meetings that continue to this day.

1994. CET is formed at Columbia by group of psychologists, researchers and a clinical trials administrator with the goal of disseminating findings of the new field to the general public and clinicians, and tempering the sensationalistic media coverage and commercial claims vying for attention. Activity centered around our website, cet.org, which featured news critique, referral to research centers, questions from the public, treatment recommendations, and a shop hosted by selected manufacturers, which helped support the effort.

You may notice that this is what we’re still about, dedicated to sorting wheat from chaff, and assisting patients, self-treaters and clinicians new to chronotherapeutics. Our website and social media feeds reach up to 20,000 people a day. More than million have learned about their depression, seasonality and chronotype though structured, automated assessments that provide detailed personalized feedback and guidance toward treatment.

The field has blossomed over the years, though it has yet to join the ranks of mainline medical and mental health practice. Applications of chronotherapy now extend far beyond SAD, with promising extensions to non-seasonal depression, bipolar disorder, sleep-phase disorders, pain disorders, cognitive disorders, Parkinson’s, and more. We still must counter the slight that we have “the reason for everything,” with vigilant attention to misuses of the technology and insistence on controlled clinical trials, at a time when research support is elusive.

Our sense of community, continuity and mutual purpose is key — and a cause for celebration.

— Michael Terman

Michael Terman PhD is president of the Center for Environmental Therapeutics, and Professor of Clinical Psychology in Psychiatry at Columbia University.