Monday, September 8, 2014

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy

I'd heard about this book from my Bishop, a good friend, and an article on I finally checked out the free preview on Amazon. Feeling Good, by David Burns. It's probably the best book on cognitive therapy I've ever read.

You have my permission to skip the entire intro and first chapter (I did), it's a little boring.
What first caught my attention was the checklist at the beginning of chapter two.
I've included a picture of it below if you want to complete it.

 Dr. Burns explains that a normal, happy, functional person would have a score around five, and anything below ten is considered normal. Someone who scores higher could use some of the techniques and exercises in this book to improve their level of happiness.

What I loved about this checklist and book is that it didn't just focus on feeling "sad," and it didn't focus on feeling depressed "for no reason," two things we commonly think of when we think of depression. It focuses on negative thinking being the primary cause of feelings of anxiety, guilt, pessimism, procrastination, low self-esteem, hopelessness, and other feelings of depression. It also addressed how most of these things come from how we perceive real problems and challenges in our lives. By changing the way we think rather than feeling we can't be happy until we change the situation, we are able to find happiness at all times throughout our lives and ironically find more motivation for change. (Where have I heard that before, OH YEAH, the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it's also a key principle of existentialism:)

Dr. Burns presents 10 common negative thinking patterns that cause one to feel those negative feelings. I hesitated to list them here, because I really just want you to read the book. It explains so much more.

1. All or Nothing Thinking. This refers to your tendency to evaluate your personal qualities in extreme, black or white categories.
2. Over-generalization. You arbitrarily conclude that since something that happened to you once will occur over and over again.
3. Mental Filter. You pick out a negative detail in any situation and dwell on it exclusively thus perceiving that the whole situation is negative.
4. Disqualifying the Positive. Transform neutral or even positive experiences into negative ones. (Including mind reading and fortune telling errors.)
5. Jumping to Conclusions. You arbitrarily jump to a negative conclusion that is not justified by the facts of the situation.
6. Magnification and Minimization. When you look at your own errors, fears, imperfections and exaggerate their importance, and when you think about your strengths, you may to the opposite.
7. Emotional Reasoning. You take your emotions as evidence for the truth.
8. Should Statements. You try to motivate yourself by saying "I should do this" or "I must do that."
9. Labeling and Mislabeling. Creating a completely negative self-image based on your errors.
10. Personalization. You assume responsibility for a negative event even when there is no basis for doing so.

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by Dr. David Burns Pages 60-70

One reviewer said the book was almost too "cheerful" for someone who is depressed to take seriously. I loved that description. :) It is very cheerful, but the scenarios and conversations recorded in the book make it accessible and relatable. Dr. Burns explains that it is, of course, normal to feel sad and have some of the above mentioned symptoms sometimes. But he makes a sharp distinction with examples between normal sadness and depressive hopelessness. He also explains how learning to think realistically takes time and improvement may ebb and flow, but that improvement will happen. He shares how he still does exercises from the book and how it helps him be happy in his daily life to deal with feelings and internal dialog in a realistic, honest way.
The book also goes into detail about the use of anti-depressant drugs in the last section, which may also be helpful for some cases.
David Burns also wrote a book on relationships and loneliness available here for free that is really great.

*Disclaimer: while I strongly recommend this book for it's superb presentation of cognitive therapy, I don't necessarily support all of the opinions and attitudes expressed by the author on other topics. :)

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