7 Self-Help Books for Depression

How to find the self-help book for depression that suits you and your needs.

How to find the self-help book for depression that suits you and your needs.

There are many, many self-help books for depression around these days.

My own book is called Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do.

It is based on Behavioural Activation Therapy, which is often used by mental health professionals.

Many studies have found that it helps alleviate depression in cases of mild through moderate and even severe depression.

It is easier to grasp and quicker to implement than its close cousin, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

This type of therapy is all about action.

It is all about how to tweak your daily activities to improve how you feel.

By the end, you should have a list of relatively small everyday changes to your routines that will help you feel a little better about life.

It is particularly good for people who do not get on with cognitive therapy and find it difficult to analyse thoughts.

This book will:

  • Introduce the latest depression therapy used by therapists and backed by science.
  • Help you find a way past inactivity and avoidance.
  • Give you a path back to enjoyment and meaning in life.
  • Teach you to act the opposite of how depression makes you feel.

Find out more about Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do.

More bibliotherapy

If you would like to try an older and more complex approach to depression, then one study has 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.

The study was published in the British Journal of General Practice (Anderson et al., 2005)

Image credit: jillhudgins

Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.