Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks by Seth J. Gillihan [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive book summary of the book Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks: A Workbook for Managing Depression and Anxiety by Seth J. Gillihan. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get full access and a downloadable/printable version of the summary.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

Your mind continues to be plagued by constant worry regardless of what you do? What Seth J. Gillihan offers in Retrain Your Brain is a 7 weeks program absent from academic jargon that will help you become your own psychotherapist. The book starts with an overview of what cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is. Why it’s the most-used treatment for those who suffer from anxiety and depression, and how it can assist you in regaining confidence in yourself. All in all, this is a how-to guide full of nudges to participate by writing things down. The text aims to teach you how to replace your damaging thoughts and behaviors with such that are healthy and motivating.

The Core Idea:

Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are closely related – each element affects the rest. The crippling thought of being late for work because of your demanding boss can generate feelings of worry and thus make you tremble in panic. The primary insight about CBT is that by modifying the initial thoughts that bring us to a state of unease, we can positively influence the way we feel and behave.

Reason To Read:

Anxiety and depression are conditions that are self-generated. Yes, surely outside circumstances are often a prerequisite for our depressive mood. But the prime source of angst comes mainly from the stories we tell ourselves. Understanding CBT will assist you in escaping the prison you self-created and start living with less fear.


  • CBT is not laying down on a comfortable sofa kind of treatment. It’s about setting goals and facing your fears.
  • Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are tightly related. A thought can generate a feeling of anxiety and force a damaging action.
  • The most effective way to overcome your fears is to face your fears. Get closer to what you’re afraid to see is not that frightening.

5 Key Lessons from Retrain Your Brain:

Lesson #1: Before Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

It all started with behavior therapy.

In 1906, Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist. Carried out an experiment to understand how animals make associations.

In the experiment, he would ring a bell and then give food to a dog. After a couple of ring > food; ring > food; ring > food rounds. The dog in the experiment would start to drool just from hearing the bell sound.

In the later years. Another famous scientist, B. F. Skinner. Discovered how behavior is shaped. In short, we punish an action to try to stop it or give a reward to encourage it.

Add a couple of more years, and psychiatrist Joseph Wolpe enters the scene with his anxiety treatment method called systematic desensitization.

The above three discoveries were the foundation of behavior therapy. The primary focus of this treatment is on understanding the fears/troubles of a person and assisting him in facing them. The goal was to create a list of things that resemble the uncomfortable situation. Then, tackle the things from the list starting from the easiest to the hardest.

After behavior therapy comes cognitive therapy.

The premise of this treatment is that our thoughts are what generate depression and anxiety.

In other words, your feelings are determined by your thoughts. And your thoughts are generated by what you experience in your day-to-day life.

If you are afraid of bridges, for example. Seeing one will generate a thought that will be something like: “I’m going to lose control and something bad is going to happen”. The thought itself will transform into fear and frantic behavior. Also, it will force you to avoid bridges and find alternative routes.

In these situations, cognitive therapy aims to help you understand your thoughts. Closely examining your thinking will make it easier for you to spot what instills fear.

“When we’re depressed, our thoughts are often hopeless and self-defeating. Again, in cognitive therapy, it’s important to figure out how our thoughts contribute to our low mood.” Seth J. Gillihan

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