Is Feeling Good still relevant?
Comment: Dr. Burns, You’re the man!
My C.B.T. suggested your ‘Feeling Good’ book as a good read and when I noticed that it was written before I was born… I thought ‘surely this can be of no use to me – the theories and practices are outdated, archaic and will not be useful.’
Boy was I wrong! I want to personally thank you for your candor and the humorous nature in which the book is written. It has been tremendously helpful in my journey toward ‘feeling good’ and I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to create a product that has the power to fundamentally transform the way in which we think, if we so choose. I reference it often, sometimes daily, when times are tough and I am feeling overwhelmed by Life.
– Mike W
David: Thanks, Mike! I greatly appreciate your kind comment!
“Feeling Good Together is a goldmine!”
Comment: Dr. Burns,
I just wanted to send you a brief note about how much I appreciate your books (I own Feeling Good, The Feeling Good Handbook, Ten Days to Self-Esteem, and Feeling Good Together) and other materials (such as your recent podcasts, which I’ve been following with great interest). I have never (to my knowledge) suffered from clinical depression or anxiety, but I have had many loved ones close to me who have, and so your books have helped me understand it better and hopefully help them, too. In addition, by learning about cognitive behavioral techniques and the thought distortions we all have, it has helped me keep my own moods in check. And Feeling Good Together is a goldmine! The first time I read it I didn’t do the the exercises (I know–shame on me!), but now I’m reading it a second time and diligently doing the exercises. I believe already it has helped me greatly with my relationships, and I’ve recommended it to others.
I really liked your recent podcasts on the TEAM model. The idea about overcoming resistance is quite helpful. I am not a therapist, and I realize that the successful utilization of these techniques requires a good deal of skill and training; nonetheless, I hope that by learning about them I may become somewhat better at interacting with people in the course of my life. Thank you.
David: Thanks, EP! Fabrice and I really appreciate the support!
“Is there a Chinese Feeling Good?”
Comment: I am trying to help a Chinese person who is struggling with automatic thoughts. there is a language barrier. It would be so much easier if I could hand her a book written in Mandarin. Are your books printed in Chinese, and how do I locate one?
Patti, here is a response from my dear colleague and former student, Sunny Choi, who was born in Hong Kong:
Hi, Patty. The name of feeling good in Chinese is 好心情手册
You can google that and find places you can get it. For example:
I’m confused. You say that anger is irrational and illogical, but you’ve also said that anxiety occurs because people don’t allow themselves to feel angry. This sounds like a catch-22; if people reason away angry feelings, because they know feeling this way is irrational, then they’ll feel anxious and uptight. Either people feel angry, or they’ll feel anxious—and yet you’re saying feeling either way is irrational??
Thanks for your question. You clearly think about things deeply!
First of all, let’s distinguish healthy from unhealthy emotions / feelings. In my book, Feeling Good Handbook, I have a chapter on the differences between the two. Healthy anger differs from unhealthy anger in many respects, and the presence or absence of cognitive distortions is one important criterion. Another criterion would be the desire to attack with your anger vs. the desire to share your anger respectfully.
By the same token, healthy fear differs from unhealthy or neurotic anxiety, with similar criteria. Unhealthy or neurotic anxiety always results from distorted thoughts. For example, individuals with panic attacks often tell themselves, “I’m about to die,” or “I’m about to go crazy,” but these thoughts are rarely or never valid for individuals experiencing panic attacks. So the anxiety results from distorted thoughts and not from reality. In contrast, if one is in a war zone, the thought, “My life is in danger,” would be valid and would help to keep you safe. So that is healthy fear, and you don’t need to treat it with pills or psychotherapy!
So now let’s focus on unhealthy anxiety, and what causes it. In my book, When Panic Attacks, I mention that any forbidden or unexpressed feeling can trigger anxiety in individuals who are overly “nice.” It could be anger, loneliness, wanting something that you think you are not supposed to want, anything. So when you are upset, you may sweep your feelings under the rug, but you don’t realize that you’re doing this. Then the feelings may resurface, disguised as any form of anxiety.
For example, I used to treat first-year students at the University of Pennsylvania law school. They freaked out in class, and went to the dean saying they thought they had to drop out of law school because of their anxiety. But in most cases, it turned out they really didn’t want to be in law school. They were there simply because their parents had suggested it, or because they were top college students but weren’t clear about what career they wanted to pursue. But they were so “nice” that they thought they weren’t allowed to do what they wanted. They felt they “should” do what their parents wanted, or what they thought their mentors at the law school wanted them to do.
When this emerged during the treatment, then most of them were able to say, “I don’t like the model of becoming a wealthy wall street attorney that is promoted at the law school. I don’t want that kind of life or career.” This brought about immediate and complete relief for most of them. And surprisingly, instead of dropping out of law school, most decided to stay in law school, but to pursue the kinds of careers that really appealed to them. One decided he wanted to represent athletes and movie stars in Hollywood. Another decided she wanted to move to Israel and to legal work on the Palestine / Israeli conflict. Yet another decided he wanted to settle down in a small town in the Midwest and have a humble, general law practice.
So as you can see, the repressed or suppressed emotion can be anything, and not just anger. There is nothing wrong with having healthy negative emotions, including anger. In fact, I call the fear of negative emotions “emotophobia,” and it is very common among individuals struggling with any type of anxiety. I love treating anxiety for many reasons, and one of the reasons is that when you recover, you discover it is okay to be human, and to have all kinds of positive and negative emotions, and to express them.
I wasn’t clear from your excellent question if you were looking for help with your question, or simply registering a protest of some type. I know you signed it as “Anonymous,” and you gave a phony email address (email@example.com.)
Some individuals in our field, therapists and the general public alike, have strong feelings about things, and that is okay. But I wondered from the tone of your email, and from your reluctance to use even your first name, if you were perhaps turned off by my work, and possibly were trying to catch me in a contradiction, but I am probably way off-base. You can let me know with another anonymous email if you like. At any rate, I often contradict myself, as many things I teach can be seen from a variety of perspectives, and can be difficult to explain clearly. Things are not always “this way” or “that way.”
Finally, it is possible to express one’s feelings in a respectful, caring way, and to be free of anxiety as well. But it is hard for most anxious individuals to do this, because the tendency to sweep your feelings under the rug is so automatic, and you may not even realize that you are doing this. So when you start to get anxious, you may not even realize what you are upset about, and instead began to ruminate or feel anxious about something. Bringing those hidden feelings to conscious awareness and expressing them can be a potent anti-anxiety strategy for many anxious individuals. However, it is only one of about 40 treatment methods I use in treating anxiety.
Sincerely, Doctor David
A massive THANK YOU!
Comment: Hey David, I’m not sure if this will get to you, but just in case it does – I want to say a massive THANK YOU for your work and your book, Feeling Good.
A few years ago the book helped me out in a big way. I was flicking through it just today and I realized that you have no idea how huge and positive the impact on my life has been.
So that’s it, a big thank you from the bottom of my heart! YD
Response: Thanks, YD! I deeply appreciate your warm comment. When I wrote Feeling Good, years ago, I hoped it would connect with at least some depressed individuals, but had no idea that it would really be effective! This is so cool!
All the best, David
Another thoughtful THANK YOU!
Comment: Dear Dr. Burns;
I have been feeling depressed and anxious for the past couple of months because of some unfortunate events in my life and a counselor suggested reading “feeling good” to me. Today is the second day I am reading your book and I am only half way through the second chapter but I just felt the need to thank you and let you know how helpful your book is for me. It even helps me to get through my panic attacks which are mostly accompanied by shortness of breath but as I am writing to you right now I absolutely overcame my last panic attack by just reading “feeling good.” You make the world a better place.
Gratefully Yours, A
Dear A. I appreciate your comment and I’m so happy that Feeling Good has been helpful to you. You might also enjoy a more recent book of mine, When Panic Attacks, which should be right up your alley! Thank your counselor also! Coincidentally, I am teaching a group of residents at Stanford tonight (leaving in a few minutes), and plan to show a video of a woman who had a panic attack right in my office during a session. She was convinced she was about to suffocate or die! I used a treatment technique described in When Panic Attacks called the Experimental Technique. Essentially, I had her test her belief she was about to die of a heart attack by doing strenuous aerobic exercises during the panic attack. After several minutes of running in place and doing jumping jacks, she said, “I wonder if i could do this if I was having a heart attack?”
I said, “Is this what you see in the emergency rooms of hospitals? Patients with massive heart attacks standing next to the gurneys doing jumping jacks?”
She suddenly saw that her negative thought, “I’m about to die,” could not possibly be valid and burst into uncontrollable laughter. That ended ten years of extreme depression and panic, and she’s been good to go ever since!
Panic attacks, like depression and other forms of anxiety, result from distorted, misleading thoughts. The very moment you see that your negative thought is not valid, you will feel better. But making that happen is often quite challenging. That’s why there are so many techniques described in my books, so you can find the one that works for you!
The Spiritual vs. the Material World
I come from China. My psychological consultant hinted me that I am somewhat living a Platonic Life. And she pointed out a law of the real world–no material life, no spiritual life. In other words, she is meaning that spiritual life is based on material life. She suggested that I should earn money to live on my own feet and support my family, instead of burying myself in my inner world.
Do you agree with this opinion about material life and spiritual life?
Confused, ZL, from China
Thanks for your email inquiry. I am not an expert in spiritual affairs, and I don’t have much information about your specific circumstances, either. But for what it’s worth, I think there could be a couple of different ways to think about what your psychological consultant said. First, although our spiritual values and beliefs can be extremely important, there probably is probably some considerable wisdom in living in the real world as well.
At the same time, as a psychiatrist, I don’t see it as my role to tell people what they should or should not be doing, and I try hard not to give advice. Instead, I see my role as helping people with problems they are asking for help with. Then we work together as a team to find solutions, and this is usually effective and also very rewarding.
I am pleased that my book Feeling Good, has been published in China, and I think one or two of my other books have been published in China as well. If you can obtain a copy of Feeling Good, you will find methods that have helped many millions of individuals overcome depression and anxiety and develop greater self-esteem and happiness. But I’m not sure that these are problems you are struggling with!
I have noticed that when individuals suddenly recover from depression, and begin to feel great joy, they often develop a much deeper appreciation and understanding of their own spiritual beliefs. But my focus is quite practical, helping folks change the way they think and feel in the here-and-now. And this may be similar to the thinking of your consultant, wanting to deal with practical issues first, and spiritual issues second.
I wish you the best, and thank you deeply for your excellent question. I wish I could have given you a better answer!
Warmly, David Burns, MD