249: Report on the Amazing Feeling Great Book Clubs!

Podcast 249

Update on the Amazing Feeling Great Book Clubs!

July 5, 2021

Today we report on the first two Feeling Great Book Clubs, with Dr. Brandon Vance and Sunny Choi, LCSW. Brandon explained that more than 200 people signed up for the groups, and that he 100 people on the waiting list for a future book club. The first two clubs have been a tremendous success.

Brandon explained why he started the Book Clubs:

It’s because these are tools in the book that people who are struggling with depression and anxiety can use to get better. Roughly 10% of the people in the world have significant mental health problems causing functional problems in their lives. That’s eight hundred million people! I have asked myself how we can spread these tools to people around the world.

Since I finished my psychiatric residency in 2003, I’ve been mostly working with individuals, but seeing factors influencing their mental health, like oppression, inequality, injustice, lack of safety, prejudice and othering, and environmental destruction with ensuing lack of resources. This has inspired my activism towards changing these things. I feel like we need to take action on those levels as a society.

At the same time, we have powerful and empowering skills people can learn on an individual level, and these skills can be taught in group settings to relieve suffering. I think we actually need an “owner’s manual” for the mind, and could teach mental health to children, right along with the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as adults.

Some people have more access to these tools in psychotherapy, but many people in the world may not.  I would love to make these tools like those in Feeling Great more accessible to people worldwide.  The book, Feeling Great, does that, and I created the Feeling Great Book Clubs, as a way to reinforce those concepts, so people can come together in groups during this period of isolation, and learn these techniques, get support, and have their questions answered.

Rhonda asked several questions, including

  • Where do the book club members come from?
  • Who helps them?
  • What happens during the hour.

The participants come from all over the world, including North and South America, Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa, and the Middle East. Most are lay people, but 15% are therapists. A number of certified TEAM-CBT therapists help out voluntarily, including:

  • Phillip Lolonis
  • Katie Dashtban
  • Sunny Choi
  • Heather Clague

Brandon described the breakout groups:

The typical group starts with music, followed by meditation, and a general check-in on how people are feeling. This is followed by answers to questions members have submitted concerning the assigned reading for the week, and reviews of the chapters.

Then everyone joins their breakout groups, which are the same each week. This facilitates the development of trust and bonding among the members in each group.

There are specific instructions for the breakout groups that relate to the material in the chapters that were assigned for the week. They may discuss questions related to the chapters, or work on a skill presented in Feeling Great. For example, they may work on identifying the cognitive distortions in their thoughts. Then they may use the “Straightforward Technique” or other techniques to challenge their thoughts with “Positive Thoughts.”

Last week while reading the chapters on Fortune Telling and Anxiety, we had a check-in circle, where one member describes a mildly embarrassing experience and shares some feelings she or he had. Then the other members practice responding with a couple of the Five Secrets of Communication. For example, they may use “Thought Empathy” to repeat a bit of what the person said along with an “I Feel” Statement and say, “I’m feeling sad to hear that.” In future weeks, we will use this same format but add more of the 5 secrets, including Feeling Empathy, the Disarming Technique, Stroking, and Inquiry.

Sunny mentioned that it is neat to see people from the most remote corners of the globe connecting and developing friendships.

He said that Brandon’s genius is in how he has created a safe environment to open up and has made the groups really fun, with singing and sharing that have made the groups a powerful and unique personal experience.

Sunny explained that when he grew up in Hong Kong, he had anxiety and panic attacks, but you don’t always need a therapist to feel better.

One of the most powerful groups was when Sunny shared his grief about a painful personal experience in the group, when his cousin’s restaurant was targeted and vandalized in an act of anti-Asian violence. Working with Sunny in front of the group as if he were a patient, Brandon demonstrated the Feared Fantasy Technique that they’d read about in Feeling Great that week.

Brandon said Sunny’s vulnerability opened people up and made it easier for them to share their feelings and experiences.

Sunny explained that many Asian people have an anti-therapist bias, but they are very receptive to learning how to use TEAM-CBT techniques in the context of a book club.

The club has also stimulated the creativity of people in the group. For example, one member has started a weekly Daily Mood Log practice group and another made visual diagrams of the patient sessions discussed in the book.

Sunny said that most of the group members began with the popular belief that therapy has to take a long time, but have discovered that this is not true, and that most people can improve and recover rapidly.

At the end of the podcast Brandon played a beautiful audio with touching endorsements for the book club, and for Feeling Great, from people around the world.

If you’d like to contact Brandon, you’ll find him at:

If you’d like to contact Sunny, you’ll find him at:

In the fall, Brandon will be leading two more book clubs starting in mid-August and running through mid-December. If you’d like to learn more about the book clubs or get on the waiting list for the next book club in the fall, please visit

This would be a good to get on the waiting list for that group, since it is filling up rapidly!

Rhonda and David

Dr. Rhonda Barovsky practices in Walnut Creek, California. She sees clients via Zoom, and in her office.  She can be reached at She is a Level 4 Certified TEAM-CBT therapist and trainer and specializes in the treatment of trauma, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. Check out her new website:

You can reach Dr. Burns at

This is the cover of my new book, Feeling Great. The kindle and audio versions are available now too! 

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