• Sabrina Vitale

Light Therapy

Light therapy, also called phototherapy or bright light therapy, is a treatment where a person is exposed to an artificial light source. This treatment is primarily used to treat seasonal affective disorder, also known major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns. SAD occurs during a certain time of the year depending on the person. Light therapy can also be used to treat other conditions including sleep disorders and other types of depression.

Light therapy is meant to treat SAD by mimicking and compensating for the lack of exposure to sunlight that is thought to be the reason for seasonal affective disorder. A person sits near a light box that emits between 2,500 and 10,000 lux of light. The light is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing SAD symptoms.

Light therapy treatments usually begin in fall and continue until early spring. The sessions where someone is exposed to the light box lasts from 10 to 15 minutes. The length of the session depends on how well the person can handle the treatment and the strength of the light box.


The name is pretty self explanatory; light therapy is defined as “the use of light in the treatment of physical or mental illness; phototherapy.

Short History

In 1890, Danish physicist Niels Ryberg Finsen developed the first carbon arc lamp that produced ultra-violet (UV) radiation. This is the beginning of modern phototherapy, which was used during this period to treat the Lupus vulgaris.

Who Does It Benefit the Most

Light therapy produces the most positive effects on people who undergo other types of treatments, including psychotherapy or a drug regimen. Dr. Carl Vincent, a psychologist, says “The idea is that it could be used as a supplemental therapy,” Vincent says. “In addition to treatment, people suffering from depression in the winter months should try to be more active. Winter is a time when people tend to be more sedentary, and getting more exercise can help improve mood.”

The key to effective usage is to be consistent, choose the right light box with help from your doctor, and track the timing of the sessions.

Resources For Practices

It is best to ask your doctor before starting light therapy.

Here are useful websites that discuss purchasing a light box and what you should know before you purchase one:

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