Feeling Good “Bibliotherapy”–Does it REALLY work? Or is it just hype?

“Bibliotherapy” means “reading therapy.” Is there any valid research suggesting that simply reading a self-help book can really help someone with moderate to severe depression? Or is it all just a lot of hype and marketing?

There are actually many published research indicating that my book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, has fairly potent antidepressant effects, even without treatment with medications or psychotherapy. That sounds encouraging, but is the research valid? Can reading a book actually cure depression? This may not seem possible, given the sad fact that antidepressant medications as well as psychotherapy are often not effective.

So how could someone recover just by reading a book? No way!

Here’s an email I received a few days ago, and I am sharing it with you with the permission of the author. I have withheld his / her name to protect this person’s identity, but want to thank him/her in advance for kindly writing me and allowing me to share this with all of you!

Hello Dr. David,

I just finished your book Feeling Good. My depression score on the first day was 51, and today after I just finished it, I scored 0.

I just wanted to thank you endlessly!

Best Regards, (name withheld)

In case you aren’t familiar with the scoring of my depression test, the one this reader used ranges from 0 (joyous, with no depression at all) to 100 (extremely severe depression.) His / her initial score of 51 indicate moderate to severe depression.

I am always overjoyed to receive emails like this. Since Feeling Good was published, I have received more than 30,000 emails or letters (in the old days) similar to this one.

If you, or a friend or loved one, or even a patient of yours, is struggling with depression or anxiety, you might suggest they give Feeling Good “bibliotherapy” a try. Many outcome studies indicate that my book is effective for two-thirds of patients with moderate to severe depression within four weeks. A three-year follow-up study of patients given copies of Feeling Good are also extremely encouraging, so give it a try. You or someone you care about might also benefit!

All the best,

David Burns, MD

Here are a few references for those of you who are more scientifically oriented:


Ackerson, J., Scogin, F., Lyman, R.D., & Smith, N. (1998). Cognitive bibliotherapy for mild and moderate adolescent depressive symptomatology. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66, 685-690.

Floyd M, Rohen N, Shackelford JA, Hubbard KL, Parnell MB, et al. (2006) Two-year follow-up of bibliotherapy and individual cognitive therapy for depressed older adults. Behavior Modification, 30: 281-294.

Floyd M, Scogin F, McKendree-Smith NL, Floyd DL, Rokke PD (2004) Cognitive therapy for depression: a comparison of individual psychotherapy and bibliotherapy for depressed older adults. Behavior Modification,28: 297-318.

Jamison, C., and Scogin, F. (1995). Outcome of cognitive bibliotherapy with depressed adults. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 63, 644 – 650.

Mains JA, Scogin FR (2003) The effectiveness of self-administered treatments: a practice-friendly review of the research. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 59: 237-246.

McKendree-Smith NL, Floyd M, Scogin FR (2003) Self-administered treatments for depression: a review. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 59: 275-288.

Norcross, J. C., Santrock, J. W., Campbell, L. F., Smith, T. P., Sommer, R., & Zuckerman, E. L. (2003). Authoritative Guide to Self-Help Resources in Mental Health, Revised Edition. New York: Guilford Press.

Santrock, J. W., Minnett, A. M., & Campbell, B. D. (1994). The Authoritative Guide to Self – Help Books. New York: Guilford Press.

Scogin F, Floyd M, Jamison C, Ackerson J, Landreville P, et al. (1996) Negative outcomes: what is the evidence on self-administered treatments? Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64: 1086-1089.

Scogin, F., Hamblin, D., and Beutler, L. (1987). Bibliotherapy for depressed older adults: A self-help alternative. The Gerontologist, 27, 383 – 387.

Scogin, F., Jamison, C., and Davis, N. (1990). A two-year follow-up of the effects of bibliotherapy for depressed older adults. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 58, 665 – 667.

Scogin, F., Jamison, C., Floyd, M., & Chaplin, W. (1998). Measuring learning in depression treatment: A cognitive bibliotherapy test. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 22, 475-482.

Scogin, F., Jamison, C., and Gochneaut, K. (1989). The comparative efficacy of cognitive and behavioral bibliotherapy for mildly and moderately depressed older adults. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 403 – 407.

Smith, N. M., Floyd, M. R., Jamison, C., and Scogin, F. (1997). Three-year follow-up of bibliotherapy for depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65(2), 324 – 327.

If you are reading this blog on social media, I appreciate it! I would like to invite you to visit my website,, as well. There you will find a wealth of free goodies, including my Feeling Good blogs, my Feeling Good Podcasts with host, Dr. Fabrice Nye, and the Ask Dr. David blogs as well, along with announcements of upcoming workshops, and tons of resources for mental health professionals as well as patients!

Once you link to my blog, you can sign up using the widget at the top of the column to the right of each page. Please forward my blogs to friends as well, especially anyone with an interest in mood problems, psychotherapy, or relationship conflicts.

Thanks! David