Book Recommendation: When Panic Attacks
by David Burns

Book & Product Recommendations

Please ignore the title of this book and read on. David Burns, a well-known cognitive psychologist, has created an insightful guide to help people deal with a wide range of disruptive emotional issues: depression, anxiety, unearned guilt, phobias. In fact, his techniques help when your thinking is disturbed by any emotional baggage.

Burns explains that these emotional issues arise from distorted “self- defeating beliefs” such as “I can’t feel happy without love” or “I should always feel in control.” Whenever an everyday situation triggers an intense emotional upset, you can bet that a self-defeating belief is at work.

If you are tossed around emotionally by such a belief, a key part of the solution is to convince yourself that it is false. Burns explains that you need to counter it with a positive belief which is undeniably true and which puts the lie to the negative one.

This is easier said than done. When you believe something deep down, it’s hard to change that belief, despite the fact it’s false. But now David Burns has created a systematic process to help.

In his book, he presents 40 different techniques. Some help you identify non-obvious issues. For example, suppose you hit the roof when your spouse is five minutes late getting home. His “downward arrow technique” can help you identify the self- defeating belief that is the real problem. Other techniques such as the “pleasure-predicting sheet” and “rejection practice” help you make new observations and test your beliefs in action.

It is not always obvious which technique will work best in a given case. No problem, says Burns. “The more techniques you try, the faster you’ll find one that works for you!” For each one, he presents a clear explanation, a detailed example, and step-by-step instructions. Taken as a system, you are sure to find the approach that successfully challenges any false premise that creates emotional havoc for you.

There is only one thing I don’t like about the book. The title: When Panic Attacks: The New Drug-Free Anxiety Therapy that Can Change Your Life. This book is of much wider value than this title suggests. I think anyone in any kind of emotional distress (temporary or longstanding, mild or severe) would find this book extremely valuable. It is must-read material for anyone who wants to understand and manage his own negative emotions.


The book integrates with two other books I recommend on the site. The book’s opening subject, “Mood Logs,” is covered in a different way in Mind Over Mood. And the book’s closing subject, habit change, is covered in more depth in Changing for Good.

This book’s unique value is the middle: it has 230 pages on 40 ways to challenge self-defeating beliefs that are barely touched upon in the other books.

My thanks to Catherine Dickerson, MSW, for recommending this book to me.

Book Information: David Burns, When Panic Attacks: The New Drug-Free Anxiety Therapy that Can Change Your Life, Broadway, 2007.


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