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In this book, four professionals from different backgrounds come together to present a unique approach for depression self-help. Williams is a psychologist who has authored previous works on cognitive-behaviors approaches to depression and who, along with his co-authors Teasdale and Segal, published a more recent book on mindfulness-based cognitive therapy designed for professionals. Segal has similarly published prior books on cognitive therapy but who has eventually moved more towards an integration of cognitive therapy and mindfulness. Finally, Kabat-Zin is best known for his efforts to bring mindfulness meditation to a wider audience through simple, straight-forward books such as Wherever You Go, There You Are. The varying expertise of this group has produced a practical, thoughtful approach to the treatment of depression, combining classic cognitive techniques with the use of mindfulness, or a sense of non-judgmental awareness of and attention to the present moment.
To begin, the authors present a realistic and empathetic portrait of what it is like to suffer from depression. They suggest that the depressed person’s effort to problem-solve--usually in the form of critical thinking and rumination--is the very thing which serves to keep one stuck in a negative cycle. On the other hand, Williams et al. argue that cultivating mindfulness allows one to become more open to possibilities, to more easily disregard negative judgments, to stop worrying about the future, to solve problems more effectively, and to prevent future slides into depression by becoming more aware of the early warning signs.
So, how do the authors teach their readers to become more mindful? They start by presenting convincing examples which illustrate the potential power of mindfulness; following this, they move on to simple exercises which allow readers to discover this for themselves. These initial exercises encourage the reader to increase mindfulness during everyday activities such as driving or taking a shower. Moving on from here, the authors review the importance of giving up on attempts to control the mind, incorporating breathing into the practice, and gathering feedback directly through the senses rather than via thought. The remainder of the book then flows from these basic techniques, focusing more specifically on transforming unhappiness. Through use of additional exercises (including mindful yoga), the reader is shown how to reconnect with feelings and to move towards greater acceptance of unwanted emotions. This leads to being able to distinguish negative emotions from negative thoughts and eventually understanding how the latter tend to impact depressive states.
The last part of the book offers two detailed case examples which illustrate how mindfulness practices might be woven into everyday life. Finally, the book offers guidelines for an 8-week mindfulness program; this program incorporates chapters of the book as well tracks from the accompanying CD. The CD offers a total of six guided meditation practices narrated by Jon Kabat-Zin: Body Scan, Mindful Standing Yoga, Mindfulness of the Breath, Mindfulness of the Breath and Body, Mindfulness of Sounds and Thoughts, and The Breathing Space.
Overall, this book provides an effective approach for dealing with depressive symptoms. The efficacy of cognitive treatment for depression has been well-established, and the authors strengthen the mind-body connection of this method with their addition of a mindfulness component. Although the book offers plenty of practical suggestions and an array of helpful exercises, the concepts presented here may be perceived as being too abstract by some members of the intended self-help audience. However, I would definitely recommend The Mindful Way Through Depression to therapists wanting to incorporate the use of mindfulness techniques with their clients, and I also believe that it would be appropriate self-help reading for depression sufferers who have an interest in meditation techniques and/or who are looking for a fresh perspective to assist with managing their depression.
© 2008 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students at SUNY Geneseo. She is also a Top 100 Reviewer at Amazon.com and the official yoga media reviewer for iHanuman.com.