Episode 311: How to Feel Great and Overcome Negative Emotions with Dr. David Burns

Episode Summary

After over 40 years of research and working with tens of thousands of patients, Dr. Burns developed revolutionary and effective tools to deal with anxiety and depression. He is moved by a genuine desire to help people feel better, and for the last 25 years, he hadn’t prescribed a single medication to any of them. 

Rob Shallenberger: Welcome back to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners and friends, wherever you are in the world. Today, we have a treat for you. And what I mean by that is we have one of the foremost leading authorities on the topics of anxiety, depression, and other things that relate to the mind, in the entire world. And so we have on with us today, Dr. David Burns, and I’m so grateful that he’s chosen to come on and share some of his research, his insights, and things that have a big impact in so many of our lives. And I’ll just give you the nutshell version. We’ll talk more about this. But how this came about? I read his book, Feeling Great, looked more into it, I shared it with several family members who have experienced different forms of anxiety, depression. And he’s a world-renowned psychiatrist. He’s taught at Stanford. He’s authored numerous books to include Feeling Good, and then his newer book, Feeling Great, both of which have sold huge numbers of copies throughout the world because of his unique approach. So, I’m really excited to have him on today. I know this is going to be a powerful podcast. And I invite you to share this with anyone who you know of who’s experienced any of those types of things because you can be the catalyst to make a difference in their lives. You never know where this ripple effect may end. And so with that being said, first of all, David, welcome and glad to have you here, and maybe share a little of your background. 

Dr. David Burns: Glad to be here. My background, I’m a clinical psychiatrist but I probably should not have been. I went to college at Amherst. I was a Philosophy major. My father was a minister. And I thought I’d end up going to philosophy graduate school. But my senior year, I read a book, one of my really brilliant friends recommended, by Ludwig Wittgenstein called Philosophical Investigations. And he said that it was rumored that it contained the solution to all the problems of philosophy. And I thought, “Well, man, that sounds pretty amazing.” And I read this book and I couldn’t understand it. He said only seven people in the world could understand it. And it was about like a piece of string or someone building a wall, a bricklayer, with his apprentice. He says the bricklayer shouts out, “Brick!” And then the younger fellow hands him a brick or a stone and he puts it in the wall. He says, “That’s really all it’s going on here. Now, do you understand why Aristotle was screwed up?” And I was like, “No, not really. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And then he’d say, “Well, think about a piece of string. There’s no strand that goes from one end to the other, just all these strands woven together. There’s no essence of the string. Now, are you ready to give up the free will problem?” And I would say, “Not really. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I just couldn’t understand it. I saw why no one in the world could understand it. I didn’t understand why he was so great.  

Dr. David Burns: And then spring of my senior year, I was walking across the Amherst campus and it hit me like a lightning bolt what it meant. And I suddenly saw the solution to all the problems of philosophy. I said, “I don’t need to go to graduate school. I’m going to do something more practical. I think I’ll be a psychologist. Now, I can counsel people and do something worthwhile.” And so I told that to my counselor, and he says, “Oh, no, you’ve got to go to medical school, not psychology graduate school.” I said, “Well, why not?” And he says, “Because psychiatrists prescribe medications and they’re going to be big now, and psychologists can’t do that.” And I said, “But I’m not a pre-medical student, I couldn’t possibly go to medical school.” He says, “Don’t worry about that.” He said, “You can talk your way into anything like that.” So, I got into Stanford Medical School, but it was the worst decision I ever made. I just had nothing in common with them. I had no aptitude for it whatsoever. But I finally plowed through and became a psychiatrist. And now I’m doing what I always wanted to do. I don’t prescribe drugs ever anymore. I just like to talk to people and help them transform their lives from despair and suffering into joy. And that’s been the most exciting part of my life. 

Rob Shallenberger: There’s a lot of humility that just came through in that story because from that, I don’t think people would just realize how incredible your influence has been throughout the world. But it is interesting how we end up in different places, isn’t it?  

Dr. David Burns: Yeah. 

Rob Shallenberger: Let’s jump into this area you know, you’re as well versus anyone in the world in anxiety, depression, things like that. And what I love about your approach is, like you mentioned in psychiatry, a lot of people are just so quick to prescribe medication and think that that’s the solution. And you, while acknowledging there may be a time and a scenario for something like that, in most cases, you’re suggesting that there are other approaches. So, let’s just talk about post-pandemic first of all. What are we seeing in the world around anxiety, depression? I think a lot of people have felt emotions that maybe they haven’t felt up to this point in their life. I know, amongst the people I’ve talked with, that’s been the case with many people. So, from your perspective, what are you seeing in the world right now? Anxiety, depression? 

Dr. David Burns: Well, I don’t think of anxiety and depression as brain disorders, the way the psychiatric profession sees them. There are some brain disorders like schizophrenia. But for the most part, depression and anxiety, that’s just like feeling down and worrying and feeling frightened. And those things have always been incredibly common. I would say, going back 10,000 years or more, human beings have struggled with feeling like “We’re not good enough,” and worrying constantly about survival, and this and that, and the other thing. But since the pandemic, those things have doubled. I’ve done surveys of how people felt with really brief, accurate measures of depression, anger, anxiety, hopelessness, inadequacy, things like that. And they’ve all at least doubled since the start of the depression. There’s just, I would say, on any given day, probably half of the people in the United States are feeling down. The people listening right now, most of them have had times, maybe right at this moment, feeling “I’m not good enough.” “Why am I so screwed up?” “Why am I so shy?” “When I give my talk, I’m gonna blow up.” “The other people seem to be so much smarter than I am; they’ve accomplished so much. I’m just ordinary, there’s nothing special about me.” Or some people get ticked off, constantly getting angry at the people on the other side of the political divide or people they perceive as enemies, people who drive recklessly in heavy traffic. A very few people are immune from bad moods. But the really good news is we’ve developed some incredibly powerful techniques now to help people break out of bad moods quickly.  

Dr. David Burns: When I was a psychiatric resident, the treatment, it just went on endlessly. We just talked in this nonspecific way to people, and I dished out antidepressants by the bucketful. And I saw very few patients who got better. I didn’t want to involve in long relationships with people talking endlessly about things. I wanted my patients to go from despair to joy, so they could wake up in the morning and say, “It’s great to be alive. I have a lot to look forward to.” That’s the purpose of life; to have joy, to have intimacy, to be productive, to connect with people. And now I have developed techniques over the past, I would say, 40 years of research and clinical work with tens of thousands of hours, seeing people with severe depression in my work – and with my students, I’m teaching them how to do the same thing. I can usually see, not always but 90% of the time, when I see someone for the first time with severe chronic depression or years of anxiety and worrying, pretty much bring them to complete recovery in a single therapy session, lasting two hours. I need two hours to do it. But I can generally complete a course of therapy in one session. And it’s so much fun to see people come in crying and they’re laughing at the end. And that’s why I wrote the book, Feeling Great, to share these new techniques with other therapists and with the world.  

Dr. David Burns: I’ve always dreamed when I was young, I just wish there was some quicker way to help people. And the tools I’ve been taught in my residency, they just suck, they’re not any good. And over time, there’s been breakthrough after breakthrough. And now I’m actually working on an app because I think therapists are gonna have trouble learning these new techniques because they’re so… sounds insulting, but they’re kind of set in their ways. You get trained to do things in ways that aren’t effective, but they kind of get committed to what they’ve been trained. So, I’m developing a computer program, an app. It looks very promising. I think the app will be substantially more effective than human therapists. And it’s something that can be available to people all over the world for very little money or for free if they don’t have any money. So, we’re beta testing it now but the initial results look pretty fantastic. We’re seeing more change in people in one day than therapists have ever been able to get in outcome studies even for six months or 12 months. 

Rob Shallenberger: That’s powerful, David. And one of the things that you just said really resonated with me. And it’s one of the reasons why I wanted to have this interview because the traditional approach if someone’s feeling anxious, worried, angry, depressed, whatever, and it’s: Go get the medicine, and then the medicine is the end-all, be-all. But that’s not really the case. And you take this totally different approach that actually, rarely, does a person need that kind of stuff. We all experience things to different degrees. Everyone has a level of worry or anxiousness. And the other thing that I love is – you are very clear about this in your book – it’s not an anxiety disorder. Who arbitrarily came up with this threshold of normal, abnormal?  

Dr. David Burns: Yeah, that’s right. When you start telling people, “Oh, you have anxiety. You have generalized anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder,” or whatever it is. And there are hundreds of these things described. I have the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, hundreds of CODA diagnoses you’re supposed to assign to people. And it’s kind of like putting people down. And what we’ve discovered is that your depression and anxiety, and your shame, your hopelessness, your anger, your feelings of inadequacy, your feelings of loneliness, whatever they are, are not the result of what’s wrong with you, like a chemical imbalance in the brain. We just proved them. In the 1970s, we proved that that theory wasn’t correct. And now it’s finally being accepted that that’s not the cause of depression or anxiety. Or you’re told you have a personality disorder or a troubled childhood or something like that, that’s going to take years of talking to work it through. But your depression and anxiety are actually the result of not what’s wrong with you but what’s right with you. I can give some examples of that if you like but once a person sees “It’s not my defect. It’s the beautiful things about me, that’s why I’m feeling down.” And once they see that, they relax, and the shame disappears, and then recovery becomes just like a stone’s throw away at that point. 

Rob Shallenberger: Please do, David. If you could give an example because this is such an aha moment. I don’t really care if the person’s experiencing debilitating anxiety or depression, or it’s just kind of this general worry or things like that, which we’ve all experienced. I read that in your book, that was a huge aha for me. In other words: It’s not what’s wrong, it’s what’s right with you. 

Dr. David Burns: I’ll give you an example. A woman I treated live in front of an audience had been suffering for nine years with incredible feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy. She said she was a bad mother. She’d just been depressed. And she had prayed and done everything but she couldn’t get over this. And the event that had triggered this was her 12-year-old daughter had said, this was nine years earlier, “Mommy, can I go out and play?” It was after dinner. And she’d always let her go out and play with the other kids. So, she said, “Yeah, make sure you put your jacket on.” This may be a little disturbing to some of the listeners, but when she went outside, two neighborhood boys snuck up on her. And they had a high-powered pellet rifle. And I don’t know what was going through their heads but they aimed at her face and pulled the trigger. And this high-powered pellet came out and hit her mouth and one of her teeth kind of exploded and there’s all this blood and tissue damage. And she ran in screaming, and her mom was just shocked and devastated and rushed her to the emergency room. And the daughter had to have multiple dental surgeries to correct the damage to her mouth and had post-traumatic stress disorder. And we’re sending her to a psychiatrist for nine years and nothing was helping.  

Dr. David Burns: And then the woman who volunteered to be the patient in the Worksop, said that she’s been feeling like it was her fault and that she’s a bad mother and she’s ruined her daughter’s childhood. She felt hopeless and overwhelmed and had intense levels of shame. And she also thought, “I’m sure the people here in the audience are judging me, and they probably think I’m a bad mother.” And I said, “I have the tools to cure your problem probably. And if we had a magic button, and you pressed it, you’d go into a state of euphoria. Would you press it?” And she says, “Oh, absolutely.” I say, “Well, I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. Maybe we’d better see what all these negative thoughts and feelings show about you that’s beautiful and awesome first.” And she says, “Well, what do you mean?” I said, “Well, when you’re telling yourself ‘I’m a bad mother,’ what does that show about you that’s beautiful? What does your guilt show about you that’s beautiful? What does your sadness show about you that’s beautiful.” And she says, “I can’t think of anything.” I said, “So, you’ll press the magic button to feel happy if we had a magic button?” She says, “Oh, yeah, right now.” So, I say, “So, you want to feel happy about the fact that your daughter’s been suffering for nine years? Are you sure that’s what you want?” And she says like, “Oh, no! I don’t want to feel happy.”  

Dr. David Burns: And I said, “Well, what does your depression and sadness show?” And she says, “Oh, it shows my love for my daughter.” I said, “Absolutely. What a beautiful thing is that. Let’s write that down on a piece of paper. And then you’re saying you’re a bad mother. What does that show about you that’s positive and awesome?” And she said, “Well, maybe it shows that I really care about being a good mother, and that I’m honest about my flaws, and that I’m accountable rather than blaming others.” I said, “There’s three or four more, let’s write them down. And then you’re anxious all the time. You press the magic button, your anxiety will disappear. You’ll be euphoric. Now, the last time you let down your guard, your daughter got shot in the face. Are you sure you want your anxiety to disappear?” She says, “Oh, no! My anxiety motivates me to bring her to the best doctors, and I’m doing everything I possibly can do for her.”  

Dr. David Burns: And before you know it, we had a list of over 20 beautiful things about her that were revealed by her symptoms, as well as benefits of her negative feelings. And then I said, “Well, gosh, maybe we don’t want to press that magic button if we had a magic dial here. How sad would you want to feel by the end of the session? How anxious would you want to feel? How guilty and ashamed do you want to feel? Let’s dial them down to some lower level, but not make them disappear entirely. Because then if they disappear entirely, all these beautiful things about you will go down the toilet right with your negative feelings.” So, she said, “Oh, I’ll be 30% on this one and 15% on that one. And the hopelessness, let’s get that down to 10%.” And stuff like that. And the anger, you know, the anger was a good thing, too. She had a right to be angry. All of these parents letting their boys go out and play with other children with a loaded weapon like that makes no sense.  

Dr. David Burns: And so then she just started to relax. And then we used all of these techniques I’ve developed to change those negative thinking patterns that cause your symptoms, or distortions – get rid of the distortions in them. And by the end of the session, she had just one negative thought left that she hadn’t entirely blown out of the water, and that’s the people here in the audience probably are judging me. And I said, “Well, we can’t disprove that thought with our arm-shelled chair techniques. You’d have to do a survey and find out. You’d have to ask them.” And she got all scared. And she didn’t want to do that. And I said, “Well, that’s the reason to do it. Why don’t you ask the audience if they’re judging you? How do they feel? Do they feel you’re a bad mother?” She was very scared but said, “Maybe some of you could come up and take the microphone and tell me.” And then people rushed to the microphone. And one by one in tears, they said to her, “You’re my hero. I think you’re a beautiful person and a wonderful mother. And I can’t thank you enough for courageously sharing this with all of us tonight.” And person after person said that. And she just started sobbing uncontrollably. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. And she was just flooded with joy. It was like being born again. And all of her feelings went to zero. And she said, “I don’t know what the hell just hit me. But it was a miracle.”  

Dr. David Burns: And that’s how it works. And it’s such a great thing to be able to do because then I feel the same joy that my patients feel. There’s a spiritual idea that we’re all one in the universe and with each other, and you certainly feel that at that moment. And then people say, “Oh, well, that was a flash in the pan. Anyone can do that. But does it last?” They can’t believe that this rapid recovery can really happen. So, I called her just recently, I mean, that was at least five or six years ago when I had that session, and she said, “I’m still on a high. That night transformed my life. And she said, “The odd thing, I had a video of it.” A friend had this iPhone and made an amateur video of the thing with her permission while it was going on. And she showed it to her daughter. And her daughter hadn’t known that her mom was also depressed. And her daughter’s depression then disappeared at the same time. And then her daughter went on, got married, went to graduate school. Now her daughter’s studying to be a marriage and family therapist.  

Dr. David Burns: But that’s kind of how it works. It’s this idea that there’s beauty in your negative symptoms. We still want to get rid of them, and the techniques are very powerful. I’ve developed over 100 techniques to smash those distorted thoughts that trigger depression, like, “I’m not good enough,” and “People are gonna judge me,” and “I shouldn’t be like this,” and “I shouldn’t have made that mistake.” And all of those shoulds and self-blaming thoughts. But it’s just great to be able to give this to people. And so my career is just filled with blessings, and it’s just really fun to be able to do this. It’s just incredibly rewarding. 

Rob Shallenberger: Well, it’s huge, David. What a great illustration. It’s so easy sometimes when we get into our own minds. We’re so deep in the woods. It’s like, “Wait a second.” We lost the perspective, and we can be very hard on ourselves and beat ourselves up around “Here’s what’s wrong with us.” But I love the fact that you can flip that on its head. I’ve experienced this – as soon as a person can see why that is illustrating all of these positive, loving qualities about them, it’s a totally different outlook and mindset. And it really flips the whole script, doesn’t it?  

Dr. David Burns: Oh, yeah. But it’s not an automatic type of thing. It’s not a formula. I make it sound really easy. But it’s something people have to see. And each person’s situation is a little bit unique. But once you see it, it’s really mind-blowing. And the techniques I’ve developed are really all about mind-blowing techniques. I’ve never wanted people to get a bit better. Because if you become less depressed, there’s a 100% likelihood you’re just going to relapse back into depression again. I want people to go all the way to a state of joy. And after you’ve recovered, the negative thoughts will come back, so I have to prepare the patient for that. But the neat thing is the technique that worked for you the first time will always work for you in the future. 

Rob Shallenberger: Here’s a question for you, David. So, a lot of the people listening right now either have experienced different emotions that they’re like, “Hey, I want to deal with this.” Or they have someone in their family or friend, or a group, or a coworker, whoever. We all know someone if we’re not experiencing it to a degree ourselves. So, the question for a lot of people on their minds is probably, “This sounds awesome. Where do I start?” What would you say is the starting point for someone right now who’s listening to this? 

Dr. David Burns: Well, there are several first steps you can take. If you want to read a book, either my first book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, which you can get on Amazon; or my latest book, Feeling Great. Either of those is a tremendous starting point. The Feeling Great is on some ridiculous sale on Amazon. So, the hardbound, you can get about for the price of a trade paperback. And also my first book, Feeling Good, if you’re short on funds, you can buy used copies of them on Amazon for just a few dollars. And I know a lot of people don’t have a ton of money. So, either of those two-thirds of the people who you give a copy of Feeling Good – my first book – to, two-thirds will recover within four weeks with no other treatment. There have been 10 published research studies that have confirmed that. It’s worked for teenagers or older people or anyone. Another thing you can do is you can go to my website, And I have tons of free things there. There’s the Feeling Good podcast and a lot of people have recovered just by listening to the podcast. We’re going to get our five millionth download this year. And that’s an easy tool. There are free classes on my website. There’s a free depression class that you can sign up for. There’s a free anxiety class you can sign up for. Also, I’m developing a Feeling Good app, where you can get a lot of change even in one day by using the app. We’re beta testing it now. And if you want to be a beta tester, you could go to And then you can sign up and get in one of the upcoming beta tests. So, those are a few starting points. 

Rob Shallenberger: Love it. That’s one of the things that I’m also just so in awe of, David, is at this point in your life, it’s a genuine desire to help people throughout the world. So many things are available for free, anyone can access them: the book, Feeling Good; the book, Feeling Great, which I’ve read; the website,; your podcast; your email lists. And I love the app idea. I’m so excited to share that. 

Dr. David Burns: Thank you. I give also free training for therapists at Stanford. If they’re in California, they can come to the Tuesday group. It’s virtual. And so we give unlimited free training and unlimited free psychotherapy to mental health professionals in California and in my Tuesday group at Stanford. And then we also have a Wednesday group for therapists from all around the world; you can go to that one, and again, get unlimited free training and these new techniques and unlimited free personal therapy. But one of my students came on my Feeling Good podcast, and we recorded it just yesterday. And she talked on a really weird topic. That’s why we had her on. I couldn’t imagine what she was going to say. Buddhist marketing strategies. Just sounds so ridiculous. How Buddhists become successful business people. And she’s a mental health professional. And then what she said is, it’s based on a spiritual principle that what you give comes back to you. It’s called karma. And she said that it’s a practical practice. It’s not some mystical idea. And she said she was trying to start her practice. So, her Buddhist teacher said, “Then help others with your practice. Give to them what you want the universe to give to you.” So, she started helping her colleagues build their practices. And she said, all of a sudden, she was flooded with referrals. It comes back to her.  

Dr. David Burns: And I thought that was so neat because that’s kind of what I’ve been doing a little bit, too, is trying to give everything away for free. I haven’t charged anyone for a therapy session for 25 years, and I haven’t prescribed medication for 25 years. Everything on my website except for my books is free. And there are hundreds of hours of training and classes and things. But it’s been true for me because I just feel incredibly blessed. And that’s a spiritual concept as well as a practical business concept. And I guess it takes an act of trust but it has certainly been helpful for me. 

Rob Shallenberger: David, this is such a powerful statement. And I hope people didn’t miss that when you mentioned it, which is, in 25 years, you have not prescribed a single medication. There are so many people I know that are out there still that think that that’s the only solution. That’s why this brings so much hope and joy to people is because it says, “Wait a second, there actually is a solution. And you don’t have to do that.” So, we’re approaching the end of the podcast, which I can’t believe – this could easily go for an hour. I’m actually happy to go over here by a few minutes. So, let’s just take however long we need for you to answer this question, maybe one of my final questions. You have so much experience that you’ve built up over the years. You mentioned tens of thousands of people and hours working in this. What are some of your biggest observations or lessons learned through all of these years of doing this? 

Dr. David Burns: Well, there’s a couple of them but they are controversial really. But one of them is early in my career, I asked Aaron Beck, who was one of my early mentors and kind of the creator of what’s called cognitive therapy, “What do you do when you got someone, maybe they really are hopeless and worthless human being?” Because patients are so good at persuading you, when you first meet them, that “I’m really a hopeless case.” And he said, “I’ve never believed that any patient was a hopeless case. I’ve never given up on a patient.” And he said, “You have to do your own policy from that point of view.” So, I adopted that policy. And it’s been so helpful for me. I’ve never had a patient – no matter how difficult or how ornery or resistant or oppositional or challenging – who I gave up on. And I’ve never had one who didn’t eventually not only make progress but recover completely if we just stuck with it. And in the old days, it sometimes took weeks or months to bring that result about. Now, not always, but I can usually bring it about in a day, in a single session, really. And so that’s one thing because hopelessness invades anger, anxiety, depression; you start thinking, “Oh, this is the true me. This is the way it’s always going to be. I really am not as good as other people. There’s really no way that I could ever have happiness and joy.” And it’s been just mega huge for me not to give into that.  

Dr. David Burns: And the second thing, and some people hate me when I say this, and that’s why I publish so much live therapy on my podcast so they can hear and see before their very eyes, see people recover live in real-time, is that in most cases, you can overcome depression and anxiety really quickly in my experience, really, within a two-hour therapy session, in a way that leaves nothing to be desired. I demonstrate that on my podcast. I had a woman, who I treated, who had the same disease Howard Hughes had, kind of hopelessly severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, germophobia, constantly washing. And she actually recovered completely in three minutes in one of my Tuesday groups. We have a video of that. And it’s a hilarious video too because she trusted me and I said, “Well, now we’re going to go into the women’s bathroom, and we’re going to start touching the toilet seats, and we’re going to touch all these door handles you’re afraid to touch.” And then we went out and all the students were following us around. We went out in front of the Stanford Outpatient Psychiatry building, and there was this gross barrel just filled with muck. It had been emptied, trash barrel, but it had like a quarter of an inch of horrendous goo. And I said, “Now, I want you to stick your hands in here and just rub your fingers in all this goo. And she said, “No, I’ll start vomiting.” And I said, “That’s okay. You can just vomit on your hands, too. Just go ahead and do it.” And she says, “No, I can’t.” She said, “You do it.” So, I did it. I started rubbing it on my face. And then she did it. All the students, there were 30 of them, started cheering. And then we went back to the seminar room. She’d rubbed it all over her face. And I said, “How anxious are you?” And she started crying. She said, “Zero.” She says, “I’m cured.”  

Dr. David Burns: So, I had her on a podcast just so she could report that to the world that it happened quick and it lasted. And then someone sent me an email, I got tons of positive emails, and I’m sure you do too. But I got one, this fella just said, “FU.” And he was enraged that I was implying that people could recover from severe anxiety or depression so quickly. And I understand a little where he was coming from. I guess, he thought I was trivializing his suffering or saying it’s not really serious. And I know these diseases are serious. It’s the worst form of human suffering. But I’m just so happy to have found and discovered the idea that recovery can happen really, really fast. And if I had a daughter who was depressed and she went to a therapist who was able to cure her in one session, I would kiss that person’s feet. I don’t want my children or my loved ones to have to go through months or years of endless talking and pill-taking. Now, for some things, as you’ve pointed out, like for schizophrenia, medications can be invaluable and necessary in some stages. So, some people have a bipolar illness where they get real high and psychotic. A medication like lithium can sometimes be a hugely important part of the treatment. But I think the talking, therapies, the powerful new psychotherapies have a tremendous amount to offer people. And most people don’t know that because all you hear is TV advertising “Take this pill for whatever you’ve got.” But there are really tremendous new techniques. And I think this app is going to be a game-changer because then it can be multiplied and can treat millions of people, not dozens of people. 

Rob Shallenberger: Can you share again, David, the beta test where that’s at? 

Dr. David Burns: Just go to my website, You put that into the URL where you type in the website. And then you can sign up there. You have to have an iPhone. Eventually, we’ll have it for all kinds of cell phones and for computers, but we haven’t done fundraising yet. So, we have a very small team, there’s just five of us working together kind of on a volunteer basis, really. It’s more volunteer work for me. But it is effective already. And we’re just fine-tuning before we release it to the world. We want to make it as powerful as possible. 

Rob Shallenberger: So, can I just highlight something you said, David? So, if you’re listening to this podcast, whether it’s you who’s experienced different emotions, whether it’s the anxiety, depression, anger, whatever it is, whether it’s a family member, a coworker, whoever it is; I love what you said in that there’s nobody who is not curable. It’s a total myth that I know exists in so many minds because people think, “Well, that may work for everyone else, but not for me.” 

Dr. David Burns: That’s what everyone says, “I’m the one. I’m the one who can’t recover.” We had a woman who came from England, I thought she was really a hopeless case. I used to have my intensive program in Philadelphia, so people would come from all over the world. And this woman came from England, and she had had severe OCD and depression for, I guess, decades. And she had had, you know, electroconvulsive therapy is generally the last-ditch effort when drugs fail and psychotherapy fails. And you know, she’d taken every known medication and hadn’t helped and psychotherapy hadn’t helped. So, they finally started giving her electroconvulsive treatments. And generally, they’ll give like a dose. I think she’d had over 90 of them. And it hadn’t helped. And it’s horrible because it causes brain damage. And then they gave her a lobotomy. It’s a horrible thing, where they poke into your brain and try to sever some nerves. And that hadn’t helped. And then they gave her a second lobotomy, and that didn’t help. And then she finally flew to Philadelphia. And I did the intake evaluation, and then I referred her to one of my students, Tony Bates. I thought, “This woman is too difficult.” But I did the history and I said, “You’re gonna see one of our very fine students, therapist Tony Bates.” He’s now a psychologist in Ireland. But then I saw Tony, a few days later, I said, “How are you doing with that woman? She’s probably impossible.” And he said, “Oh, no, she’s the easiest patient I ever treated. She recovered in a couple of hours.” I said, “What are you talking about? What did you do?” He said, “I just did what you taught me to do. I had her write down her negative thoughts, identified the distortions, and talked back to them, and she’s doing great now.” It’s such a mind-blowing story. 

Rob Shallenberger: It is. So, that’s one of the takeaways is nobody’s beyond healing. 

Dr. David Burns: And another thing about it is the techniques are pretty easy. They’re hard to learn, really, but they’re actually so easy and straightforward. No one had ever asked this woman, “Well, what are you thinking? What are you telling yourself?” You see, your thoughts create all of your moods in the here and now. It’s those thoughts, like, “I’m no good. I’m a loser. I’m a failure. I’m a hopeless case.” You can write them down on a piece of paper. And then I have my list of 10 distortions like “all or nothing” thinking, and self-blame, and “should” statements, and emotional reasoning, and all of that. And you identify the distortions in them, and then you talk back to them using a variety of techniques to crush those negative thoughts. And the moment, the very moment you stop believing those negative thoughts, in that moment, your feelings will change. 

Rob Shallenberger: It’s true. It’s 100% true. I mean, I’ve experienced that to a degree in what I’ve read. It is like a switch. David, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Such awesome content. This, in many cases, can save people’s lives.  

Dr. David Burns: Maybe people listening right now, depending on the size of your audience, but if it’s a big audience, there are people right now who are struggling at this moment with suicidal thoughts; “Is my life worth living?” Yes, your life is worth living. And your feelings, you can change the way you feel. 

Rob Shallenberger: Yeah, I love it. Well, thank you, David, this is exactly why I wanted to do this podcast. I knew how impactful it would be. How life-changing it could be for so many. And so for those listening, I said this at the beginning, I’ll say it one more time, is if you know someone in your family, coworker, whoever, who you know has been struggling with some form of emotion, whether it’s the anger, the depression, the anxiety, whatever, please, forward them this podcast in an email or text them a link to it because, otherwise, what’s gonna change? It’s just this continuous cycle that is so easy to stay in for decades. You can be the catalysts in sharing something that they’re not currently aware of. And David, I think, has shared some marvelous ways that we can start. They’re free. They’re easy. Anybody can do them. So, this has been a real podcast of hope and excitement for the people who are experiencing these things. So, any final comments, David? 

Dr. David Burns: No. It’s just been an honor seeing you again, and a joy. Thank you so much. Maybe one last thing, it just popped into my brain. I’m also doing free workshops now for the general public, as well as for therapists. And I’m doing a free two-hour workshop on January 26th, which is a Wednesday, and it’ll be from 11 to 1 pm, West Coast time. And I haven’t posted it yet on my website, but it’s being sponsored by PESI, who published my new book, Feeling Great. You could probably just go to PESI and get the link for that, or go and get on my mailing list at, and then I’ll send the link as soon as I get it from PESI. This will be my third free workshop. I did two this year. And we had 6,000 people came to the first, and 7,000 came to the second. And then this one will be on habits and addiction. So, if you’re overeating or drinking or having some nail-biting or some internet type of habit or addiction, it’ll be an actual interactive workshop for you, showing you some new techniques. And also, if you go to my website,, at the bottom of the homepage, you can click and get two free chapters that I’ll be featuring in that workshop on habits and addictions. And there are new innovative techniques. And so once again, there’s no upsell, everything is for free. 

Rob Shallenberger: I just love it. All right. Thank you so much, David. I know you’re a hero to so many people because of the way that you’ve impacted their lives and freed them from the cycle that they didn’t think they would ever be freed from. So, thank you. And to all of our listeners, thank you so much for tuning in. Please share this with someone that you feel would benefit from it. And we hope you’re going to have a great rest of your day and a wonderful week. 

Rob Shallenberger

CEO, Becoming Your Best

Leading authority on leadership and execution, F-16 Fighter Pilot, and father

Dr. David Burns

Founder of Feeling Good

World-Renowned Psychiatrist, Standford Professor & Graduate, leading authority in overcoming anxiety & depression

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