Friday 2 October 2020

Book Review: Feeling Great

Book Review: Feeling Great

Review Written by Casey Douglass

Feeling Great

I was first exposed to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) when I was getting treatment for a horrific bout of OCD in my teens. During a recent period of depression, I heard about Dr David Burns’ original book: Feeling Good. It was old enough that I worried it might be quite dated, but I bought the workbook based upon it after seeing it recommended in some relatively recent Youtube videos. It was mostly the CBT I’d read and practised, but Dr Burns’ variety of CBT does have a few elements that seem to set it apart from the others. Feeling Great is Dr Burns’ newest book, an update to Feeling Good that injects all he has learned in the many years since his first book was released. I purchased it at release, and here are my thoughts about it.

Feeling Great doesn’t take long to get into the meat of what Dr Burns teaches. It boils down to three things that underpin cognitive therapy: 1. Your thoughts drive how you feel. 2. Your upsetting negative thoughts are nearly always distorted. 3. If you change the way you think, you change the way you feel. Dr Burns then provides his TEAM-CBT framework to help you achieve this change.

A key element in TEAM-CBT is the patient filling out a Daily Mood Journal. This is a form where they record certain details of their feelings and emotions, their thoughts about a particular event, how much they believe them, and a little later, this where they analyse the cognitive distortions present in each thought. Cognitive distortions are ways that we twist our thinking; they make our thoughts appear to be something they really aren't. An example is Magnification, where we blow up the importance or seriousness of something that really doesn’t warrant it. Another is All or Nothing thinking, such as “If I’m not a winner, I’m a loser!”. There is no room for grey areas with that kind of outlook. There are ten common cognitive distortions, and some thoughts may have traces of all of them!

I’ve come across the concept of cognitive distortions before, in countless CBT and OCD related books. I find it very helpful to think about these distortions, and the more of them that I find in a certain thought, the easier it is to feel more certain that it’s a twisted thought. One thing that I don’t remember encountering before though, is positive re-framing. A very important element of Dr Burns’ treatment method is that he asks the patient: “What does having this thought or feeling show that’s really awesome about you?” As an example, most people want to get rid of their anxiety. It feels awful. If you stop and think about it though, feeling anxious about something, maybe an upcoming exam, actually says something about you. For a start, it shows that you care about doing well. This anxiety may have motivated you in the past to achieve things, and it also shows that you have high standards. It’s strange, but sitting and finding the good qualities in something that feels wholly negative, you find yourself in the position of not wanting to get rid of the anxiety in total, but maybe just reducing it so that you don't miss out on the good stuff it provides. In one of Dr Burn’s podcasts, he says something along the lines of “The therapist actually ends up saying to the patient: “If you get all these good things from your anxiety, why would you want to give it up?”. Paradoxically, this seems to lower any resistance to change, and makes the methods Dr Burns teaches even more effective.

Dr Burns gives the reader 50 tools to help them crush their negative thoughts, some of which work better on thoughts with certain distortions than others. The charm of having so many techniques is that it doesn't take long to work your way through some likely ones until you find the one that seems to do the trick. What’s more, Dr Burns often mentions on his podcast something he calls “fractal psychotherapy”. He believes that dealing with one specific moment, and the thoughts related to it, helps us to deal with the repeating cognitive patterns and issues that underlie most of our problems. This often means that “putting the lie” to one negative thought on your Daily Mood Journal often means you can swiftly work your way down the others, once you’ve found that one of the methods begins to shift your thinking. I’ve experienced this myself on countless occasions. Sure, you get some thoughts that might need extra work or multiple sessions, but for the most part, when one domino falls, the others fall quite easily.

I already feel that this review is getting a little too long, so I will briefly touch on other topics Dr Burns writes about in Feeling Great. He describes the 5 Secrets of Effective Communication, and how they can help relationship issues. He spends one section of the book talking about the philosophical idea of the self, if we really have one and the role it plays in feeling worthy or unworthy. He describes relapse prevention techniques for when you trip and stumble, as will inevitably happen with life's ups and downs. Dr Burns often says that “We are entitled to an average of five happy days a week and two lousy days.” I quite like this as it flies against the usual bullshit often seen in the media, that if you aren't happy all of the time, there's something wrong with you. The book also ends with a chapter written by Dr Mark Noble, who looks at the neuroscience behind why TEAM-CBT seems to be so effective.

Feeling Great is a lovely update to Dr Burns’ earlier body of work. It puts all of the newer advice that he so often shares in his podcast, and the things he has learned over the years, into a handy reference book that is written with humour and plenty of examples of real people’s struggles. A few of the tables/charts didn’t display very well on the Kindle edition that I bought, but that’s such a common issue across countless Kindle books I own, I don’t really mind. Using Dr Burns’ techniques helped me to get out of a severe depression a few months before this book released, and while most of the stuff in Feeling Great was already known to me, by way of his Feeling Good Workbook and his podcast, I am still very pleased with having it expanded upon and freshened up in this new book.

Visit Dr Burns at his website for more information and to find your way to his podcast.

Book Title: FeelingGreat - The Revolutionary New Treatment for Depression and Anxiety

Book Author: Dr David Burns MD

Publisher: PESI Publishing & Media

Released: 15 Sept 2020

ISBN: 9781683732884

Current Price: £17.79 (hardcover) / £10.34 (Kindle) (As of Amazon UK on 1st Oct 2020)