More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Self-Help Books for Depression Recommended by Experts
By Jeremy (PsyBlog)
Mon, Jan 21 2008

There are many, many self-help books for depression around these days, but which ones do experts recommend and which ones work? Liz Anderson from the University of Bristol and colleagues examined the use of self-help books for treating depression (Anderson et al., 2005). They found six books that were recommended by experts, although only one book had evidence for its effectiveness.

1. Feeling Good
This self-help book for depression has been evaluated in a number of randomised controlled trials, although small ones (Anderson et al., 2005). The book itself is rooted in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), currently one of the most successful methods psychologists have for treating depression. Broadly speaking, CBT tries to identify problematic thought processes, then uses mental activities designed to modify them.

Six studies have evaluated the use of this book in treating mild depression and overall they have showed it can be an effective treatment.

2. Control Your Depression
Like Feeling Good, this book is also based on cognitive-behavioural therapy. It has been evaluated in two studies, but neither of these found strong evidence for its effectiveness. This doesn't necessarily mean the book isn't useful, just that these studies failed to find an effect. The fact that it has been used in these two studies, however, underlines the fact that experienced clinicians believe it can be beneficial.

3. Mind Over Mood
While this book hasn't been evaluated in any randomised controlled trials, it is frequently recommended by experienced clinicians. Like the two previous books it is also based on cognitive-behavioural therapy and contains a large number of exercises and worksheets (cognitive-behavioural therapists love to dole out homework!)

4. Overcoming Depression and Low Mood: A Five Areas Approach
Again, this one also uses a cognitive-behavioural approach and is also frequently recommended by clinicians, although studies have yet to be carried out into its effectiveness.

5. Climbing out of Depression
Unlike the previous four books, this one isn't based around CBT. Instead it uses a psychodynamic approach. This focuses on understanding, reflection and contemplation. Again there's currently no evidence from randomised controlled trials, but this book is recommended by organisations like the Mental Health Foundation, MIND, and the Depression Alliance.

6. Depression: The Way Out of Your Prison
This book falls into the same category as Climbing out of Depression, it is based on a psychodynamic approach, hasn't been formally evaluated but is recommended by depression organisations.

CBT or psychodynamic?
One of the main questions when choosing a self-help book is the psychological theory on which it is based. The six books recommended here fall into two categories: CBT and psychodynamic. Some people prefer the hands-on practical activities used in CBT, others prefer the more reflective techniques used in the psychodynamic approach.

Of course, there are books using many other types of approaches to depression, but CBT and the psychodynamic approach are two theories which have a large evidence base for their effectiveness in conventional face-to-face psychotherapy.

Bear in mind that studies on bibliotherapy are at an early stage. The ones that exist have only examined a few of the books available, and generally these books are only for mild depression.

References: Anderson, L., Lewis, G., Araya, R., Elgie, R., Harrison, G., Proudfoot, J., et al. (2005). Self-help books for depression: how can practitioners and patients make the right choice. British Journal of General Practice, 55, 387-392.
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