People who are in a dark depression or overwhelmed by anxiety are not inclined to pick up a book to go through a self-guided program. However, people who recognize that something is wrong and have even a small bit of motivation could very well benefit from Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks: A Workbook for Managing Depression and Anxiety, by Seth Gillihan. These are the people have some insight into how they feel but need the tools in order to make changes.
The assumption with this workbook is that readers can be active participants in CBT, since they are experts about themselves. For someone who is seriously depressed or highly anxious, though, I would encourage them to work through this workbook with a therapist rather than try to work through it alone.
In Part One — Before You Begin, Gillihan includes brief definitions about the different kinds of anxiety and depressive disorders. The intention is not for people to diagnose themselves or provide a thorough clinical definition of these issues, but to provide some idea of how a clinician would define some of the things they are struggling with. Gillihan then gives an overview of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The key point is that our thoughts and actions are connected and it’s very difficult to change one without changing the other.
CBT is focused on the present and is a very active treatment where clients learn new skills. Gillihan says, “Knowledge about the benefits of physical activity is helpful, but we only benefit from actually exercising,” and the same thing applies for CBT. Reading about it is not enough. So, in Part Two, Gillihan introduces the seven-week program. Each week has a theme, information, and exercises to help readers work through their mild depression or anxiety using CBT methods. The seven themes are:
- Week One: Setting Goals and Getting Started — Readers are encouraged to think about what feeling better looks like and how life could be different.
Week Two: Getting Back to Life — Readers are asked to examine their current and desired behaviors.
Week Three: Identifying Your Thought Patterns — Readers are asked to jot down times when they noticed that their mood has declined and write down the thoughts they had during that time. The goal is to look for negative thought patterns.
Week Four: Breaking Negative Thought Patterns — During this week, it’s time to do some work to change the things readers discovered in the three previous weeks. Hopefully readers can see that many of the thoughts they have are not entirely true. Gillihan explains, “The goal in questioning our negative thoughts is not to convince ourselves that nothing is our fault. Rather, we want to see ourselves more clearly, faults and all.”
Week Five: Time and Task Management — The focus this week is getting organized. When people are depressed and anxious, it’s very hard to find motivation to get things done. Having a written plan is vitally important for moving forward, and this week details how to do that.
Week Six: Facing your Fears — Readers are taught that overcoming fears requires facing those fears. Readers are invited to create their own exposure hierarchy of things they think they can face with little anxiety and then progress from there.
Week Seven: Putting It All Together — Readers are encouraged to review everything they accomplished in the prior six weeks. They are to make a plan using the things that worked so they can refer to their plan if anxiety or depression comes up again.
As a licensed therapist, I felt this was a practical book on CBT written for someone who is struggling with mild depression or anxiety. Readers who have a fair amount of insight into their behavior could benefit from this. The exercises each week are easy to understand and do not require any previous knowledge of the mental health field or CBT. And it is definitely written for the struggling person and not a clinician. For people who know that they are just not feeling “right,” this is a valid tool for helping them find a way to live more fully. They can do these exercises on their own and probably see some benefit within seven-week timeframe.
Those who have a more moderate case of depression or anxiety will definitely need some accountability to go through this book. Depending on the depth of their mental health concerns, they may not have the motivation to go through a seven week course. It does not necessarily mean that someone with a moderate case has to see a therapist, but I do think some kind of accountability partner would be important. For those who are severely depressed or anxious, this book would only be useful in conjunction with a therapist. The thought of doing these exercises and thinking in terms of seven weeks may overwhelm those who have more serious mental health issues. One hour a week is not enough for somebody to recover from a mental health issue so accompanying therapy with a guide such as this is very doable and will improve the chances of a successful recovery.
Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks: A Workbook for Managing Depression and Anxiety
Althea Press, October 2016
Paperback, 236 pages