During a symposium in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in Boston on Saturday, Cheavens and University of Alabama at Birmingham's Laura Dreer mentioned some of the latest research on how hope could battle depression. Cheavens pointed out that hope had two components-a map or pathway to get what you want, and the motivation and strength to follow that path.
"If you feel you know how to get what you want out of life, and you have that desire to make that happen, then you have hope," Cheavens said.
According to her, hope is different from optimism, which is a generalized expectancy that good things will happen.
In a study, Cheavens and Dreer examined 97 adults, most over age 60, who had been diagnosed with macular degeneration or other conditions that would cause them to lose their sight.
Upon looking at measure of hope and depression in the subjects with low vision as well as their caregivers, the researchers found that the caregivers were more likely to have significant depressive symptoms if the patients themselves had symptoms of depression.
However, the caregivers who scored higher on measures of hope showed fewer depressive symptoms, even if the people they care for were depressed.
The researchers said that higher-hope caregivers also showed higher satisfaction with life, and felt less of a sense of burden.
"Hope seems to be protective for caregivers," Cheavens said.
She further said that hope was something that could be developed in people.
In another study, Cheavens and her colleagues tested a hope therapy treatment with a sample of 32 people recruited through newspaper ads and flyers.
The ads asked for participants willing to attend weekly group meetings designed to increase participants' abilities to reach goals.
For the study, published in the journal Social Indicators Research, the researchers specifically looked for people who were not diagnosed with depression or other mental illnesses, but who felt dissatisfied with where they were in life.
"Many of the people who seek therapy are not mentally ill - they don't meet criteria for depression or other illnesses. So if you focus primarily on what is wrong with them, there may not be much progress," Cheavens said.
"Hope therapy seeks to build on strengths people have, or teach them how to develop those strengths. We focus not on what is wrong, but on ways to help people live up to their potential," she added.
About half the study participants took part in eight, two-hour group sessions led by trained leaders. They were taught new hope-related skills as part of the sessions-such as identifying goals, ways to achieve them, and how to motivate themselves.
The researchers observed that people who participated in the hope therapy had reduced depressive symptoms as compared to non-participants.
"We're finding that people can learn to be more hopeful, and that will help them in many ways," Cheavens said.
"What I think is exciting about hope therapy is the way we are learning from people who are doing very well. We have been figuring out what hopeful people are doing right, and taking those lessons and developing therapies and interventions for people who are not doing as well," Cheavens said.
"And the great news is that it seems to work - we can teach people how to be more hopeful," she added.