How to Befriend, Tame, Manage, and Teach Your Black Dog Called Depression Using CBT by Dr. James Manning is a thorough overview of the causes and solutions of depression. Both a sufferer from depression at a very young age, and now a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, with a number of books tackling depression and anxiety, Dr. Manning takes on this difficult problem from a number of angles in a way that should be helpful both to those suffering from depression and those who want to help.
The conceit of the book at least in the title is like a faux dog training manual, though the book doesn’t take this parallel very far, as it’s a straightforward, yet deeply comprehensive look at depression. For American readers, this motif perhaps wouldn’t work as well regardless, given that “Black Dog” is not as common parlance in the US as it is in the UK (popularized by Winston Churchill).
What does fall within these pages is a step by step guide to uncovering all facets of depression. Though the book is aimed at sufferers who are looking for a way out of depression, it could just as easily be used by family members or friends. Indeed, an argument could be made that the book would be more useful to a more impartial observer, as some of the information may be superfluous to a sufferer. While learning about brain chemistry and anatomy is no doubt useful, those looking for a “cure” may want to cut to the chase.
Of course, there are those who will specifically want this type of information, as breaking down depression to its basic components can make it seem less like a punishment, and more of a physical imbalance. So Manning was wise to cover this issue from all angles. Where the book most excels is in providing actionable information – including worksheets and instructions for measuring daily mood changes. Though this is something of a tall order for someone in the throws of depression, Manning’s tone is helpful and encouraging, which should help those even at their darkest moments – though the book is probably best read with a clearer eye, i.e. before it gets to that point.
As with Manning’s other books on depression, his emphasis is on CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, so there are exercises and helpful diagrams throughout the book – not just about how depression works, but how specifically to overcome it. Additionally, like his other CBT texts, Manning is unafraid to reveal his own history of depression and eventual recovery, using the tactics he now writes about. His brazen honesty is both refreshing and instructive. He comes off less like a coldly objective doctor and more like a fellow traveler, yet with the knowledge and training to give the book an air of authority.
If anything, these moments of self-analysis could have been moved earlier on in the book, as they are a deeply sympathetic portrait of someone reluctantly, and not always successfully, trying to overcome the Black Dog. It’s this perspective that makes the book truly unique, and is potentially more persuasive than the emphasis on anatomy, which could have come later. As such, the book does suffer from a bit of disorganization, but nothing that overwhelmingly affects the overall message.
The book works well overall because it is a compelling mixture of the personal and scientific. There are many books about depression from the perspective of psychologist or patient, but Manning’s book stands out for being both authoritative and heartfelt. It’s obvious he wants to help people, and for that reason there is a good chance that this book will be effective.