Book Review: Feel Good About Yourself, It's The New Mood Therapy


Clinical psychiatrist David Burns first published Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy in 1980. At the time, cognitive behavioral therapy was new, and Feeling Good brought the theory and practical application of this psychotherapy to the public in a form easily accessible by laypersons. The book is a best seller with sales topping three million, and Feeling Good is now considered a standard in self-help literature dealing with depression. Burns released an updated edition in 1999 and an edition in Kindle format in 2012.

The principles of cognitive therapy

Cognition is your perceptions, beliefs and attitudes. Everything you experience through your senses is filtered through your mind. The events themselves may be positive, negative or neutral. It is your own thoughts, the meanings you apply to these experiences, that create your moods. When these thoughts are dominated by negativity, you suffer the symptoms of depression. This depression is not based on accurate perceptions, rather a distorted view that allows negative experiences to overpower positive and neutral ones. Cognitive therapy helps to pinpoint and eliminate these mental distortions.

The distinction between sadness and depression

“Depression,” Burns writes, “is an illness that always results from thoughts that are distorted in some way.” You will experience loss, frustration, and anger.  It is part of being human and adds depth to your life. It is normal, at times, to be sad. When you distort the meaning of these experiences, you become depressed. This is not normal, or healthy. Burns uses actual cases to explain how even devastating events — the loss of a limb, death of a loved one — do not need to trigger a depressive episode.

Cognitive distortions

Drawing from his work as a psychiatrist, Burns lists 10 distorted ways of thinking that he most often finds in patients suffering depression. His list includes “all or nothing thinking,” the belief that failure to achieve 100 percent of goals means failure, and the tendency to disqualify positive experiences. For example, one might achieve a success, but consider it a fluke rather than evidence of his or her own competence. By identifying these types of distorted thinking, and recognizing the distortions, it is possible to replace them with rational thoughts.

Motivational paralysis

Do you just want to stay in bed all day? Do you sit in front of the TV mindlessly channel surfing when you know you have things to do? Burns addresses this tendency towards apathy and lethargy by describing the mindsets behind procrastination and lack of desire to do anything. He offers several “self-activation” tools in the form of worksheets and charts. Most readers will find one that suits their particular needs.

Rooting out underlying causes of depression

After working through the first three sections of Feeling Good, readers may feel more in control of their moods and better able to recognize the thought processes that lead them to a depressed state. Burns goes further in Sections IV and V, guiding readers on a journey to uncover the source of their distorted cognition. He describes techniques for overcoming negativity and unrealistic hopelessness, which is a crucial factor in the development of a suicide wish.

“Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” concludes with ways to cope with the stresses of daily life and find inner peace. He includes a discussion of the role chemicals play in mood disorders and provides a guide to antidepressant medications. Readers will come away with a new understanding of depression, and for those suffering the disorder, practice of Dr. Burns’ exercises may bring relief either as a sole treatment or as part of a treatment plan that includes psychotherapy and/or medication.