I have been amazed by the interest in cognitive behavioral therapy that has developed since Feeling Good was first published in 1980. At that time, very few people had heard of cognitive therapy. Since that time, cognitive therapy has caught on in a big way among mental health professionals and the general public as well. In fact, cognitive therapy has become one of the most widely practiced and most intensely researched forms of psychotherapy in the world.
Why such interest in this particular brand of psychotherapy? There are at least three reasons. First, the basic ideas are very down-to-earth and intuitively appealing. Second, many research studies have confirmed that cognitive therapy can be very helpful for individuals suffering depression and anxiety and a number of other common problems as well. In fact, cognitive therapy appears to be at least as helpful as the best antidepressant medications (such as Prozac). And third, many successful self-help books, including my own Feeling Good, have created a strong popular demand for cognitive therapy in the United States and throughout the world as well.
Before I explain some of the exciting new developments, let me briefly explain what cognitive therapy is. A cognition is a thought or perception. In other words, your cognitions are the way you are thinking about things at any moment, including this very moment. These thoughts scroll across your mind automatically and often have a huge impact on how you feel.
For example, right now you are probably having some thoughts and feelings about this book. If you picked this book up because you have been feeling depressed and discouraged, you may be thinking about things in a negative, self-critical way: “I’m such a loser. What’s wrong with me? I’ll never get better. A stupid self-help book like this couldn’t possibly help me. I don’t have any problem with my thoughts. My problems are real.” If you are feeling angry or annoyed you may be thinking:
“This guy Burns is just a con artist and he’s just trying to get rich. He probably doesn’t even know what he’s talking about.” And if you are feeling optimistic and interested you may be thinking: “Hey, this is interesting. I may learn something really exciting and helpful.” In each case, your thoughts create your feelings.
This example illustrates the powerful principle at the heart of cognitive therapy—your feelings result from the messages you give yourself. In fact, your thoughts often have much more to do with how you feel than what is actually happening in your life.
This isn’t a new idea. Nearly two thousand years ago the Greek philosopher, Epictetus, stated that people are disturbed “not by things, but by the views we take of them.” In the Book of Proverbs (23: 7) in the Old Testament you can find this passage: “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” And even Shakespeare expressed a similar idea when he said: “for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2).
Although the idea has been around for ages, most depressed people do not really comprehend it. If you feel depressed, you may think it is because of bad things that have happened to you. You may think you are inferior and destined to be unhappy because you failed in your work or were rejected by someone you loved. You may think your feelings of inadequacy result from some personal defect—you may feel convinced you are not smart enough, successful enough, attractive enough, or talented enough to feel happy and fulfilled.
You may think your negative feelings are the result of an unloving or traumatic childhood, or bad genes you inherited, or a chemical or hormonal imbalance of some type. Or you may blame others when you get upset: “It’s these lousy stupid drivers that tick me off when I drive to work! If it weren’t for these jerks, I’d be having a perfect day!” And nearly all depressed people are convinced that they are facing some special, awful truth about themselves and the world and that their terrible feelings are absolutely realistic and inevitable.
Part I. THEORY AND RESEARCH
1. A Breakthrough in the Treatment of Mood Disorders
2. How to Diagnose Your Moods: The First Step in the Cure
3. Understanding Your Moods: You Feel the Way You Think
Part II. PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
4. Start by Building Seff-Esteem
5. Do-Nothingism: How to Beat it
6. Verbal Judo: Learn to Talk Back When You’re Under the Fire of Criticism
7. Feeling Angry? What’s Your IO?
8. Ways of Defeating Guilt
Part III. “REALISTIC” DEPRESSIONS
9. Sadness Is Not Depression
Part IV. PREVENTION AND PERSONAL GROWTH
10. The Cause of It All
11. The Approval Addiction
12. The Love Addiction
13. Your Work Is Not Your Worth
14. Dare to Be Average: Ways to Overcome Perfectionism
Part V. DEFEATING HOPELESSNESS AND SUICIDE
15. The Ultimate Victory: Choosing to Live
Part VI. COPING WITH THE STRESSES AND STRAINS OF DAILY LIVING
16. How I Practice What I Preach
Part VII. THE CHEMISTRY OF MOOD
17. The Search for “Black Bile”
18. The Mind-Body Problem
19. What You Need to Know about Commonly Prescribed Antidepressants
20. The Complete Consumer’s Guide to Antidepressant Drug Therapy