In this Podcast, Dr. Burns describes the three basic principles of what has been called “cognitive therapy:”

  1. Negative feelings, like depression, anxiety, and anger, do not result from what happens to us, but rather from our thoughts about what’s happening. In fact, our thoughts, or “cognitions,” create all of our emotions, positive and negative.
  2. When you’re depressed or anxious, the negative thoughts that trigger your distress, like “I’m no good,” or “Things will never change,” are distorted or illogical. In fact, depression is the world’s oldest con.
  3. When you change the way you THINK, you can change the way you feel.

Dr. Burns describes a challenge he received in a thoughtful letter from a fan shortly after his book, Feeling Good, was published. The young man argued that when something horrible happens, the event itself can upset you, and asked, “Let’s say you’re trapped on a railroad track a a train is coming. Isn’t it true that you’d feel terrified, and the event would cause your terror, even without having time to put a negative thought in your head?” 

Shortly after reading the letter, Dr. Burns stumbled across an elderly man about to be hit by a train. You may be surprised to find out what happened!

Dr. Burns also describes the powerful and painful impact of his own negative thoughts when he was a young psychiatric in training and he received a stinging criticism from his supervisor, Dr. Aaron Beck.

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