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by Dr. John A. Snyder
with Dr. Nancy Steffen Fluhr

Over the last 30 years, the pharmaceutical industry has made billions of dollars by persuading us that feeling sad or anxious means that we have a "chemical imbalance of the brain" and need to take antidepressant medication. Drawing on my 40 years of clinical experience as a psychotherapist, I offer a fresh perspective on the nature of emotional life, joy and sadness, challenging what most people have been persuaded by the pharmaceutical industry to believe about "negative feelings" and depression.  Emotional ebb and flow is intrinsic to being alive, "the continuous musical line of our minds."

Overcoming Depression is a fugue on that theme, weaving together the art of listening to music with the art of listening to feelings. Throughout the book, and especially in the second half, I explore the special relationship between music and emotion by radically re-reading the life of composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). Often wrongly portrayed as neurotic or depressed, Mahler was actually quite resilient, despite the many tragedies of his short life,  Mahler knew how listen to his darkest feelings, which is why his music is so powerful. In this book, I show my readers how to listen to their own feelings as well, a process that is liberating and ultimately joyful.

Recent Reviews

John was recently the guest on The Dr. Peter Breggin Hour. Per Dr. Breggin, "Maybe the best discussion ever about overcoming depression without resort to drugs. My guest Dr. John Snyder is a therapist and author with a marvelous approach to depression." Click here to listen to the audio.  

Kirkus Reviews. ".... ultimately, he suggests, feeling the emotions attendant to significant life events and processing them in ways that allow their expression can resolve depression over time. Part criticism of modern medial practices, part music apprecation, Snyder's title makes a reasonable case for looking inward before popping the next pill." Click here to read the full review.  

Readers can begin to transform their lives

Although sophisticated conceptually, Overcoming Depression is written in engaging conversational language, free from jargon, and will be easily understood by any adult reader. Short and to the point, filled with illustrative personal stories from my life and practice, the book is designed to be a bedside companion to which readers can return again and again for insight and validation. It arrives just as long-simmering concerns about the pharmaceutical industry in general and antidepressants in particular have surfaced dramatically in the mass media. These concerns, and broader questions about the medicalization of normal mood shifts, are likely to go viral in the next two years as the American Psychiatric Association prepares the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) for publication in 2013. With over 800 diagnostic categories, the DSM-V threatens to obliterate the very notion of normality--a prospect that has already attracted considerable attention on the internet and in the media.

Although Overcoming Depression is not a paint-by-numbers self-help book, it is designed to be helpful in the deepest sense. Grounded in existential philosophy and a spirituality stripped of dogma, it offers a new understanding of the most troubling of human emotions, sadness and anxiety--and of anger, which is not really an emotion at all. Equipped with this new understanding, readers can begin to transform their lives, moving away from depression and toward excitement--as hundreds of my own clients have been able to do over the years.

What People Are Saying

Dr. John Snyder, a gifted existential psychotherapist, gives us a beautifully crafted narrative of the emotional life of the charismatic conductor/composer Gustav Mahler. Interweaved with Mahler's riveting life story is another agenda: a sweeping analysis of how sadness which in Dr. Snyder's opinion should be viewed as normal part of the life experience has instead been hijacked and given a new identity as a "Disease" or a "DSM Psychiatric Disorder" requiring "Treatment" with a drug courtesy of the pharmaceutical industry.

Mahler, who died in Vienna a century ago, experienced "an almost unending sequence of immense emotional losses." Dr. Snyder shows us in vivid writing how Mahler not only accepted his emotional pain but transformed it into creativity and artistic achievement. After Dr. Snyder's convincing argument, one wonders what would become of the emotional highs and lows of "Polka with Introductory Funeral March" if Mahler was "listening to Prozac."

Donald Kushon, MD, psychiatrist

planeEmotional Storms of Life

Being alive means that we have to go with the flow of our feelings, just as a plane sometimes has to go through rough weather to reach its destination. I illustrate this crucial point with a true story about an experience I had flying into a dark storm cloud in my small airplane.  Buffeted by winds, hail, and lightening, I desperately wanted to turn around and go back where I had been; but my training told me that the best thing to do was to do nothing.  ("Let the plane go. You will come through on the other side!") I didn't really believe that I would come through; but then, as suddenly as it all began, it ended.  The emotional storms of life are like this, I stress.  When we are in a dark and dreadful place, hurting and afraid, we need to remind ourselves that we will come through on the other side as long as we don't try to control what we can't control. In emotional life, as in flying, control inputs are not only ineffectual; they are dangerous. (Taking an antidepressant can put us in a grave-yard spiral from which we cannot recover.)  Paradoxically, surrendering control is necessary for survival.  The most important thing to do is to do nothing.  Simply ride the storm.  Here, I segue again to Gustav Mahler, stressing that the originality and power of his music flows from his unusual ability to ride out the emotional storms within himself, trusting that feelings come and feelings go. For Mahler, emotional surrender into the dark depths of feeling was the pathway to an experience of oneness with the universe, a soul-satisfying sense of peace and contentment.

And I lament the success of the pharmaceutical industry in convincing both patients and doctors alike that that anxiety is a mental illness that drugs can cure. Anxiety cannot be eliminated, I stress. It is a fundamental part of what makes us human beings. Moreover, embraced anxiety is indistinguishable from excitement. The more we allow ourselves to move toward anxiety, the more choices we have and the more vital and alive we feel.

What People Are Saying

In Overcoming Depression Without Drugs: Your vast experience shows well. Wow! Your discussion of the drug industry's lack of sufficient testing and misleading advertising. Wow again! Your explanations of the evolution of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Illness. Your brief history of the treatments for emotional issues is excellent; as is your treatment of the relationship of Mahler's troubled life and his emotional music. Also excellent is your way of showing the relationship of Mahler's introverted personality and his genius in composing music. Most all of these concepts and ideas are easily understood by a non professional. In all a great work. Let me know when you will be interviewed on various TV programs so we can tune in.

Thomas A. Downey, Structural Engineer

Mahler's Polka: With Introductory Funeral March

Feelings are the background music of our lives; feelings in the key of joy, feelings in the key or pain. - Antonio Damasio

mahlerI sketch in the story of Mahler's life, from his birth in 1860 though his marriage to Alma Schindler, enumerating the many stresses and tragedies he experienced. (By the time Mahler was thirty-five, thirteen out of the sixteen members of his natal family were gone. By the time he was forty-seven, he had lost his first-born child as well.) Mahler responded to these repeated blows with extraordinary resilience. The source of his strength was his introversion, I argue. He did not move toward depression, even in overwhelmingly depressing circumstances, because he was able to withdraw from the world and move inward toward the places where his deepest feelings lay. I describe several examples of this process, including a series of vignettes from Mahler's childhood in which he "gets lost" in order to lose the world. I make a case for the positive nature of introversion, a source of emotional strength that is often obscured because the extroverts tend to define the norms in our world. 

“Mahler, Music and the Eternal Feminine goes to the heart of Mahler's life experience, and mine, exploring how the ability to accept our vulnerability and the finite nature of our lives liberates us. If we move away from our feelings, we move toward depression. It is only when we move toward our feelings, honoring authenticity in our relationships with each other and with ourselves, that we become fully alive and able, finally, to hear the music of the universe in the key of joy. Overcoming Depression is primarily positive in tone, outlining the methods people can use to listen more attentively to their feelings even in a world buzzing with data noise. For Mahler, the Eternal Feminine was an incommensurate, incomprehensible power to which one must surrender oneself in order to find oneself. If we want to experience joy, we need to do less and feel more, I stress, explaining how listening to music can help us find stillness and feeling space within our own busy lives. ("Find a Japanese garden, if not in your town then in your heart. And sit there until you stop behaving and begin to be.")

   Click here to download the music files referenced in the book.                                                                                                         

Profound, Moving, Inspiring

I wish this book had been available when I started as a psychotherapist more than 35 years ago. Over the years psychiatry has pushed the medical model, adding more and more diagnoses to designate as pathology normal human emotions, and the pharmaceutical industry has expanded enormously. This book is unique in its focus on how important it is for therapists to understand the complexities of the troubling emotions of their clients/patients, and encourage the expression of feelings. It is lucid, respectful and human in approach and an essential and valuable resource for the beginner as well as the experienced practitioner.

Dorothy Ohrenstein, LCSW., psychotherapist.

This book challenges assumptions of the pharmaceutical industry

that certain emotional experiences constitute a mental illness which can be cured by an antidepressant medication, and with heavy marketing has one out of every ten men, women and children in the United States taking antidepressants. That the drugs does not work as advertised, and can in fact be quite harmful, even addictive, is being supported by an increasing body of evidence from many reputable sources.

Overcoming Depression without Drugs supports these studies, but from the 40 years of clinical experience of a psychotherapist, adds a fresh perspective on the nature of emotional life, joy and sadness, challenging what most people have been persuaded by the pharmaceutical industry to believe about "negative feelings" and depression. Depression, properly understood, is the absence of feeling when we have exhausted our life energy in the pushing away of feelings we wish not to feel. Because emotional ebb and flow is intrinsic to being alive, this book offers a practical answer to depression: You will be given ways to support experiencing the feelings you are entitled to feel when the fateful blows of life leave you on the dark side of the emotional spectrum.

About The Author

john a snyderWith degrees in philosophy, theology and psychology, Dr. Snyder left academia for a full time clinical practice in individual and relational psychotherapy.  He has touched the lives of thousands of individuals and couples with fresh insights about how to live exciting and rewarding lives, overcome the despair and pain of estrangement in relationships and experience the satisfactions and delights of emotional closeness.                      

Dr. Snyder’s creative approach has been rewarded with grants from the National Institute of Mental Health.  He has been selected by the United States Air Force to train Air Force psychologists and chaplains in Europe and North Africa.  He was for a time a frequent guest on KWY-TV’s “People are Talking.”  His belief in the importance of anxiety in intimate relating was popularized in Self magazine by Peggy Easton in an article entitled “Refresher Course for Ho-hum Lovers” (Nov. 1981).  He has been recognized in Today’s Health and other journals.                                                                       

Dr. Snyder has led workshops in Canada and the United States within his own professional associations and at various universities.  Some workshops have been outside these circles, examples being the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association or the Fox Chase Cancer Center.flyinglessons

John A. Snyder | Email: | Connect with John on LinkedIn

Also check out Flying Lessons The Psychology of Intimacy and Anxiety available from and AuthorHouse.

Table of Contents
List of Music
List of Illustrations
Forward by Dr. William Imbrie Packard
Forward by Dr. Judith D. Fisher

Part I: Objecting To Feelings (The Funeral March)
Chapter One. A Short History of Depression: Hippocrates to the DSM
Chapter Two. “Bad” Feelings
Become a Disease
Chapter Three. Objecting to Feelings:
The Antidepressant Fix
Chapter Four. Objecting to Feelings: Agitated Depression

Part II: Moving Toward Feelings And Mahler
(The Polka)
Chapter Five. Listening to Feelings, Listening to Mahler
Chapter Six. Introversion and
the Feeling Life
Chapter Seven. Joy and Angst
Chapter Eight. Regression in the Service of the Ego
Chapter Nine. Death and the Preciousness of Life
Chapter Ten. Mahler, Music and the Eternal Feminine

Note on Collaboration: The central themes in this book flow from my 40 years of experience as a clinical psychologist and from my life-long interest in the music Gustav Mahler. In weaving these themes together into a unified fugue on the art of listening, I have benefited immensely from an ongoing collaboration with writer Nancy Steffen-Fluhr, who approaches her work in film studies with an understanding of emotional life very similar to my own.

Nancy Steffen-Fluhr is a faculty member in the Humanities Department at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Her research and critical writing cover a wide range of subjects, including actor Raymond Burr; science fiction writers H.G. Wells and Alice Sheldon (“James Tiptree”); and filmmakers Alfred Hitchcock, Don Siegal, Terry Gilliam, Billy Wilder, and Ernst Lubitsch. Legendary Swedish tenor Jussi Bjorling is the subject of her 2007 play Heartbreaker, a dark comedy featuring a sinister psychopharmacologist called Doctor Doktor.                                                                                                             
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