This book is a must read for anyone and everyone.
Firstly I would like to say that this review is predicated on the assumption that self-help books are best reviewed in comparison to other self-help books. On that note, this is a no-nonsense, evidence-based introduction to cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and how they relate to common themes and issues in clinical depression. Unfortunately the vast majority of self-help books are short, careerist essays on "Positivity," and despite some good writing and the best of intentions tend to come off as incredibly glib or trite.
I have just finished reading this book, it took me nearly 6 months. It took me nearly 6 months because it consistently challenges you, every other page is an epiphany. Even the front cover is uncomfortably "in your face." This book is successful though because it spends a great deal of time exploring the WHY's of clinical depression, it delves into the evolutionary and social aspects of depression and offers you understanding, compassion and forgiveness. I have never read a self help book that says anything like:
"So you feel like shit today, that's fine, your not alone, your not a bad person and all those negative feelings are understandable, logical reactions because of your biology and experiences - lets look at some of those in more detail."
This is surprisingly taxing, the authors writing is not the prettiest of prose or most lyrical of poetry but is instead candid and to the point, it can be incredibly disarming. He is often very honest about his own experiences and this provides an insight and sense of understanding which I have not found in other self-help books. Sometimes the web of emotion and behavior one might experience and feel totally wrapped up in are laid out with such startling simplicity and warm acceptance that you have to put the book down and walk away. For example, I had never considered how difficult relationships with teachers as a child would underpin a complex and lifelong sense of perfectionism as well as overwhelming anxiety when starting a new class or trying to learn a new skill. Understanding exactly how emotions work, and how our experiences can shape them and lead our minds to create thematically linked emotional/behavioral symbionts is at first quite frightening, suddenly years of fear or anxiety make sense! You see how past experiences, biology and normal human emotional logic intersect to result in certain moods, styles of thinking or behaving.
The book is large and I think it is fair that other reviews criticize its technicality and size on the basis that when depressed, few people feel like tackling a large book. However I pushed through and I think it was well worth it; the volume and more technical details are smoothed over by a clear and rhythmic structure. Chapters explore ideas in great depth and with many examples and cross references to build your understanding, the author offers a compassionate voice to guide you through some of these more difficult ideas and as you explore ideas about yourself, life and others you can refer to a multiplicity of exercises and examples to support yourself.
Every chapter and section ends with bullet points, summaries and clear explanations of how things link together, open ended exercises and questions to think about and nice segways into further chapters. The book also includes a full appendices of worksheets and charts, ideas for creating your own flashcards and an extensive further reading list (which I hope to sink my teeth into next!)
Underlying all of this is Compassion, compassionate thoughts, feelings, behaviors etc. The author shows a great deal of wisdom when exploring uncomfortable and emotionally charged concepts, balancing them with perfectly timed, warm notes of love and reason.
I honestly cannot stress enough the difference this book has made, I am going to read it again, even slower and with a highlighter, I think I will probably keep this book close for the rest of my life. It is worth the read for anyone who would like to get a better understanding of why we feel the way we do and how we can work with ourselves towards a more compassionate and "in-control," state of mind.