David D. Burns M

Review :

I have been interested in cognitive behavioural therapy, on and off, for many years, primarily because it is psychological flavour of the decade, or several decades.

On the other hand it presents perspectives which are often extremely alien to what I feel.... Often when I read books about CBT I just want to shout "No, no, no!!!" "Rubbish" and "You've got to be joking!"

This book went further than any other I've read to explain why CBT makes sense, why it's good for us, how it works, and how it can be applied to particular problems. It has been written by one of the leaders in the field, and someone who works with people with serious mental health problems. He runs a clinic in Pennsylvania with Dr Aaron Beck - another leader in the field of CBT. In the book he discusses all aspects of CBT in enough detail, from enough different angles, and with enough examples, that you really begin to get a solid idea of what the therapy is about, and how to use it.

The book also deals at length with depression, but can be be just as much benefit to people who aren't depressed - just a bit dissatisfied with their lives.

It's a 'doing' book - full of worksheets and exercises for the reader to use. I found it far better just to pick and mix rather than try and work my way through all the exercises. In fact if I had tried to do all the exercises I would have given up reading the book - there are just too many of them to tackle every one. Instead I made notes at the end of the book citing each exercise and worksheet...and the page number. This way I can go back in future and use them as and when I need them.

The building blocks of the whole book (& CBT in general) are described in a table about cognitive distortions (view spoiler)[



You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.


You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.


You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality become darkened,like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.


You reject positive experiences by insisting they "don't count" for some reason or another. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.


You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.

a. Mind Reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don't bother to check this out.

b. The Fortune Teller Error: You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact.


You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else's achievement) or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow's imperfections). This is also called the "binocular trick."


You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel it, therefore it must be true."


You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn'ts,as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. "Musts" and "oughts" are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct your should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.


This is an extreme form of over-generalization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a
negative label to yourself: "I'm a loser." When someone else's behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him:"He's a goddamn louse." Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.


You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event which in fact you were not primarily responsible for. (hide spoiler)]

One of my personal favourite chapters was the one on anger - and this was a big surprise for me. Moi Of course I have no problems with anger... I also got a lot from the one where Burns describes his own experiences of using CBT on his own cognitive distortions. In this chapter he shows himself to be very much an ordinary human being - with the same shortcomings that we all have. There is also, in the middle of the book, a harrowing Dysfunctional Attitude Scale test. (Well, harrowing for me, though I am sure you will all come out of it with your Girl Guide buttons twinkling ;O)) And this is followed by a very useful chapter tackling the issues raised by the results of this test.

The book isn't as long as it seems. The final big chapter of the book (pages 427-681) is all about drugs...which was a separate add on for later editions. I didn't read that part of the book, as it doesn't interest me.

I was so sure that I wasn't going to like this book. (Groan, another boring book on boring CBT....) But instead it was incredibly stimulating - and it made me question all sorts of things that I have previously taken for granted. It's also a keeper - and I say that as someone who gives 99% of her books to charity shops. I really want to use it as an ongoing workbook....

Final words Do not buy the very small, fat little paperback version that I did. I wish I had got the hardback instead.


David Burns TED talk.


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