The Feeling Good Handbook
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702 of 712 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2001
In both this book and its predecessor ("Feeling Good"), David Burns has done an excellent job of putting tools into our hands so we can change the feelings and behaviors that we want to change. The tools in this book that I've found most helpful include (i) instruments to measure both anxiety and depression, (ii) a "pleasure-predicting sheet," (iii) a daily mood log to help identify and change unwanted feelings, and (iv) tools to help you overcome procrastination.
I agree with another reviewer who said that this book and "Feeling Good" overlap to a great extent, and I recommend this one. You don't need to read "Feeling Good" first, and the worksheets in this "Handbook" are larger and easier to copy and work with.
While Dr. Burns uses tools from cognitive behavioral therapy, I strongly recommend that you also obtain "A Guide to Rational Living," by Albert Ellis. Dr. Ellis invented rational (cognitive) behavioral therapy in the mid-1950s and still writes, lectures, and works with clients. While Burns' books are generally better written than Ellis', Dr. Ellis teaches you how to use cognitive techniques more effectively than Dr. Burns does. Instead of just showing you how to recognize faulty thinking that produces unwanted feelings and behaviors and think of alternative thoughts, Dr. Ellis teaches you how to PERSUADE YOURSELF that this faulty thinking is both irrational and counter-productive. In my view, the difference in their approaches is similar to that between an intellectual discussion and a thoroughly persuasive speech. In order to make the desired changes, you need to convincingly and powerfully persuade yourself to change your thinking.
Together, this book and "A Guide to Rational Living" give you most all of the tools you need to experience the changes that you want in your feelings and behaviors. The approaches in both books require work. Passively reading them (or anything) will not lead to significant changes. The best news of all is this: There is hope! And you can have the tools at your fingertips.
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208 of 213 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2004
This is a crucial book to evaluate for those suffering from depression but skeptical of the effectiveness of most psychologists and self-help books.
Burns is one of the biggest popularizers of cognitive-behavioral therapy, one of extremely few therapeutic forms that have stood up to any scientific scrutiny. Over the last 20 years, CBT has become the predominant form of therapy practiced by psychologists. This book is intensive CBT, much more involving and direct than the form practiced in most psychologists' offices.
Burns takes a very simple approach: he does not place any weight on diagnostic categories or figuring out "why" people behave the way they do or the roots of their problems. Instead, every depressed thought is traced to irrational thought processes. Why those thought processes were developed is irrelevant; the challenge is identifying one's distortions and learning to think more rationally.
Contrary to some reviewers' opinions, I believe this book is best for people who have long-term depression in the medium range (recurrent major depression or dysthymia), with substantial experiences with psychologists. Clearly for more extreme cases - a manic depressive or a suicidal person - the first course of action should be a psychiatrist or psychologist, not a self-help book. This book requires a very high level of involvement and personal responsibility. I believe that it is patients who think of themselves as having a medical problem, seeing psychologists and taking medication for years and perhaps feeling dependent on them, who will at some crisis point become frustrated, develop the energy and motivation to work through a book like this and benefit the most from it. Patients with more minor depression will not feel sufficiently motivated to actually do the exercises, which take a substantial amount of time and clash with other life priorities.
CBT encourages short-term (only 12 weeks on average if seeing a psychologist!) therapy and extreme personal responsibility. For most problems, I believe CBT, either in the form of this book or combined with short-term therapy, is much better than seeing a psychologist long-term. Long-term psychotherapy without very clear goals strongly encourages dependence on the psychologist or medication and reinforces the idea that one is permanently ill. This dependence produces further irrational thinking and can very easily lead to continual depression. Reading a book like this and doing its exercises is an exercise in independence and self-reliance and a major accomplishment in itself. The ability to solve one's own problems is difficult to achieve but extremely powerful - perhaps the only solution - for relieving long-term depression.
Burns feels that virtually no one should be on medication long-term - more than about a year - a view that is somewhat debatable (he excludes, obviously, bipolar and schizophrenic patients). The long-term effectiveness of SSRIs is unproven, but Burns' one-year limit seems purely arbitrary.
CBT is also more art than science - although anyone with any experience with psychologists or self-help books will realize that this is true of the entire field. Often Burns' methods and categorizations of irrational thoughts seem completely arbitrary and hardly authoritative. They could probably use more refinement and clarity. What I think is important is that CBT, and even simply reading Burns' book "Feeling Good", have been demonstrated through scientific means - double-blind testing - to produce considerable improvement.
All in all, this is a book with a clear philosophy that has stood up to scientific scrutiny, unlike psychoanalysis or most other therapeutic methods practiced by psychologists. It requires high involvement and emphasizes personal responsibility, and one has to develop considerable motivation to make any use of it. But the results can be extremely worthwhile.
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392 of 417 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2002
Many people don't buy into the whole "root of your problems" mentality that seems to infect the mental health fields nowadays. That's understandable. There certainly is something to be said for a more pragmatic, straightforward approach to the treatment of certain mental states. It is to this group of people that Dr. David Burns addresses his Feeling Good Handbook.
The methods in The Feeling Good Handbook are aimed at helping those suffering from depression, anxiety, and other "mild" mental issues to train themselves into healthy mental patterns. Burns has put together a series of writing exercises and journaling that is intended to help readers recognize fallacies in their thought processes. He then spends a great deal of time on each of these fallacies of thought and how to overcome them.
Burns is an avid supporter of cognitive therapy. It is obvious that Burns feels the best way to mental health is through learning to master these negative thought processes. Furthermore, he states outright that it is possible to train yourself to be positive and happy by following these exercises.
Like most self-help books, Burns' popular book has both positive and negative attributes. Burns has managed to accurately classify the thought traps that those suffering from clinical depression and anxiety fall into. He also presents them in such a way that they are easily memorable and will often return to the reader's mind throughout the course of the day. Burns also includes a surprisingly accurate quiz to gauge the progress of the reader.
However, Burn's book depends very heavily on the reader following his instructions with exactness--and some of them are extremely tedious. This is, perhaps, not the best way to help those suffering with depression. Usually depression saps an individual of their desire to do anything at all. Additionally, Burns tends to be a little over-simplistic about his methods and even more over-enthusiastic about their results.
On its own, The Feeling Good Handbook is a moderately useful book in the amateur diagnosis and treatment of mild depression. When used in conjunction with a counselor who understands cognitive therapy, this book is an excellent tool in training the reader to think in a new way.
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50 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2002
I bought this book a few years ago and find myself visiting this page at Amazon because I want to recommend it to a friend and find that my own copy is out on loan to someone else!
There are so many self-help books on the market that I tend to be wary of them, but I found this one genuinely helpful at a time when practical help was really needed. Dr Burns says it very clearly himself - you have to do the exercises to get the benefit, because this sort of approach is all about getting intimate with the thoughts in your own head. The book does give theoretical explanations, but fundamentally it's a practical tool to help you to get inside your own head and change what's going on there. Dr Burns' approach is about challenging your own negative thoughts, which some people might say you don't need a book and exercises to do. I can only say that when I was deeply depressed it was exactly what I did need - someone to take me gently but firmly by the hand and lead me through my own head in order that I could get through the paralysis and begin functioning again.
Dr Burns includes a depression rating test which enables you to monitor your own progress. I found that this had 2 applications - firstly it helped me to take my own depression seriously, and secondly it encouraged me to keep going as I could see the results of Dr Burns' approach on a daily basis.
A lot of people don't like being told what to do, especially when it comes to dealing with their own problems. This book does require that you come at it with an open mind and are willing to be guided to some extent, and are willing to be honest about what's really going on with you. The exercises are deceptively easy and for this reason I can see that some people might be dismissive of the approach. On the plus side you can hit the exercises absolutely at your own level - you don't have to tackle everything all at once. Start with the 'little' things if that's where you're at (motivating yourself to eat lunch, for instance). No-one else can tell you exactly why you're depressed and what's going to make it change for you. This book is for people who really want to feel better and are willing to make an effort on their own behalf but want to do it at their own pace and not feel bullied. It isn't easy to come through depression - it's paralysing by nature. This book can't do it for you, but it can be a companion through it.
I still do refer to this book and use the exercises when I get stuck (it also includes a fantastic section on procrastination which I would recommend to anyone, depressed or not!) I also want to add, though, that at the time that I was first using the book I was also taking anti-depressant medication - without that I wouldn't have been able to even pick up a book like this, never mind work with it! It's not the same for everyone, but don't beat yourself up if you need the medication too.
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67 of 74 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 13, 2001
My copy of this book is from 1980. I am certain that the current edition is even more useful! In my case, I combined the cognitive therapy Burns recommends with medication to control my depression, and I would recommend that ANYONE suffering from depression use the same approach. Burns has an excellent treatment of modern antidepressants included in the book.
An exceptionally useful item in the book is a self assessment. I used this to periodically rate my level of depression to show if I was getting better or not. This tool alone is worth the price of the book.
In any case, if you are suffering from the symptoms of depression, GET HELP! From personal experience, it is extremely difficult to dig your way out of depression alone. Burn's book will augment any form of therapy and medication.
By the way, in the early days of my depression, I took the Misnnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) which rates you on a number of items. On the depression scale, I scored 10 out of a possible 10 points! (Which is as bad as it gets!!)
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Cognitive Therapy is based on the premise that what you think determines how you feel. If you want to change how you feel, then change how you think. My introduction to Cognitive Therapy came from Dr. Burns' first book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. It offers practical and powerful advice on treating depression without the use of drugs.

Burns' follow-up, The Feeling Good Handbook, offers a greater emphasis on application, and covers a wider range of problems than Dr. Burns' first book. He has expanded his treatment of such problems as perfectionism, procrastination, various anxiety disorders, and low self-esteem. There is even a chapter on how to use Cognitive Therapy to give more dynamic interviews!

But the biggest addition is the section on improving relationships through effective communication. Our thoughts can interfere with communication before we even open our mouths. When we feel good, communication tends to be easy. But what about when we are angry, or when we feel blamed or criticized? How well do we communicate then? According to Dr. Burns, "the key to intimacy, friendship, and success in business is the ability to handle conflict successfully." He explains the characteristics of bad communication and offers several effective techniques for improving communication in conflict situations. One of my favorite chapters is "How to Deal with Difficult People." I wish I'd learned these techniques twenty years ago!

Whether Cognitive Therapy is new to you or you've used it before, I recommend this book because of its emphasis on practical application. What Burns has given us with The Feeling Good Handbook is a comprehensive set of easy-to-understand exercises and tools to feel better about all areas of our lives. By emphasizing the paramount importance of using these tools, he makes it quite easy for the reader to start "feeling good."

(The Feeling Good Handbook is featured in the Turn On to Life! home-study course. The Turn On to Life! Free Newsletter features a new self-help book review each month.)

©2005 Curtis G. Schmitt / TurnOnToLife.com
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47 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2005
I suffer from mild to moderate social anxiety and depression and have for my entire life. Recently my anxiety has increased to a point that I was going to start taking medication again. I really dislike all the side effects of the medication and as a last resort researched the web for natural anti anxiety solutions that do not have these horrible side effects. While doing this I found many positive references to the Feeling Good Hand Book so I thought what could I lose and bought the book. I have been using the book for a little over a month now and I have easily reduced my anxiety from moderate to mild during that time. I am certain in the next six months I will be able to reduce it by as much again. I can not speak for others but for someone with mild to moderate anxiety and depression do not hesitate and start feeling better soon. Buy the book.
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56 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2000
I would recommend this book to everyone. My psychologist highly recommends it. Infact she was amused by the fact, that as I was talking to her, I was correcting myself. Be warned, however, that there is another book written by this author that have similar information. Get this big book and not the small one it doesn't have all the info. in it and only about 2 worksheets. Without the worksheets to do, it is just food for thought. I got both, but should have just got this one, only.
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87 of 99 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2000
I'm rather disappointed with this book; it adds nothing to what was said in the original Feeling Good (a book I found to be nothing short of revelatory, perhaps the best book on depression self-help I've ever encountered). I'd expected new information and a great deal of useful pencil-and-paper work not contained in the original "FG". There is some of that here, but far too little, and functions neither to add new info to nor to expand meaningfully upon the original book. Also, a quarter to a third of the Handbook consists of a guide to medications. Useful info, indeed, but not the sort of thing I go to a volume on cognitive therapy to read up on--this info is available in so many other places, and as presented here will soon be out-of-date as well.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2002
The advice in this book is extremely beneficial. It does work. Some of the things Dr. Burns states a depressed person must do is get out of bed and get busy. He also states you must face your fears and suggests that you make yourself "crack up" It is impossible. You can face your fears or phobias using a proces he calls "flooding." I forced myself to face my fear of going back to work. Once I made it through the first day and was successful, I had disproved my distorted thoughts. Dr. Burns gives some incredible writing exercises to do. You state your automatic (negative) thoughts . He has you identify the distortions and then write a realistic thought. You then rate your realistic thought and then again rate your belief in your "automatic" thought. The writing exercises really help, but it does take time and practice. You start feeling gradually better and within a month of hard work, you actually do feel good most of the time. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with any level of depression, phobia, or anxiety attacks.
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