Review: Why Couples Fight by Mira Kirshenbaum

Mira Kirshenbaum has written a wealth of books (mostly about couples) and the reviews on Amazon and elsewhere are consistently 4.5-5 stars. This book is specific to fighting and working out conflicts. There was only one thing I didn’t like about this book and that was what I considered the unprofessional kind of language that she uses. I know I’m not reading a textbook, but saying things like “Look, I ain’t gonna hype you”, makes me think of something my teenager would write. I get that she is trying to be relatable, but I don’t think you have to do it that way. It’s really a small complaint, but it was bugging me throughout.

There wasn’t anything I read in this book that I didn’t already know as a couples therapist. However, if you are a therapist who doesn’t specifically specialize in couples therapy, or if you are just a person who is part of a couple trying to work out conflicts, I think the information is super useful.

I feel like there is kind of two parts to this book. The first part is where she claims that “power moves” are the main (only?) culprit in couples being unable to resolve conflict. And because she knows that many people will not resonate with that, she goes to great length to define power moves, giving a lot of examples and stories. The bottom line is that anything I say or do that makes my partner feel disempowered is a power move, even if that was totally not my intention.

Then she moves on to her solution, which she calls the “1, 2, 3, Method”. For any conflict there are three steps: 1. fully understand and hear each other, 2. explore a ton of options, and 3. brainstorm solutions and decide. This sounds crazy simple, but obviously it’s not or we would all be doing it! In my experience, couples go into conversations like this knowing already what they want and therefore they don’t hear each other, they only have one option idea (theirs) and therefore they never get to step 3. This is the kind of process that any couples therapist will lead you through but the book is intended to help couples do it on their own.

She also talks about some topics that are specifically problematic, like money and sex, because they have inherent power issues attached. All in all, I think the book could be useful to laypeople or therapists who only see couples occasionally and don’t have a ton of skill in resolving difficult arguments. This book comes out January 2021 and is available for pre-order now at the link below.

Disclaimer: the link above is an Amazon affiliate link, for which I receive a small compensation. My summaries are NOT intended to replace purchasing the book; they are simply intended to save you time if you do not currently have time to read the whole book, or in this case, to access the main points while you wait for the book to become available.

Review: Conquering Comparisons by Robert Prior-Wandesforde

I was taken by the topic of this book, because I do believe comparisons can be harmful, like the old quote says “Comparison is the thief of joy”. But, I did not love this book. The book begins with several chapters of normalizing comparisons, talking about how it’s our own perceptions and thinking that make comparisons negative, and distinguishing between upward comparisons (comparing ourselves to people we perceive are better) and downward comparisons (comparing ourselves to people we perceive as worse). He goes into great depth about the research on comparisons, and how social media impacts the comparisons we make. All of this is interesting, but not really practical help.

The practical help comes later in the book and is basically a CBT (cognitive behavioral) approach to working with our own thinking in terms of comparisons. The tools are that when we make upward comparisons, we need to pause and figure out if we can be motivated to be better by this comparison or if it’s just hurtful. And then we either make a plan to be better, or let it go. Similarly, if we’re making a downward comparison, we figure out if this comparison can help us be more empathetic or if it’s just to stoke our ego, and then either become more empathetic, or let it go. He suggests that it’s most helpful to compare ourselves with ourselves – our past self being the downward comparison and our ideal self being the upward comparison. Lastly, he discusses what to do if the comparison we are making is valid – if we really are worse or better than someone, with the techniques being largely the same.

This book might be useful if you have no idea how CBT therapy works and have never worked with automatic thoughts and replacing those thoughts with more constructive ones, or if you really, really struggle with comparisons. But I feel like the tools here are pretty basic and really don’t address any of the underlying issues with comparison (although he does talk a bit about self-esteem). It’s a quick read and interesting, but there aren’t in-depth exercises like some of the other self-help books that I’ve reviewed and unless this topic is of extreme interest, I’d skip it.

The Amazon link above is an affiliate link, for which I get a small compensation. Summaries are intended to save you time reading, not necessarily to replace the purchase of the book.

Review: Thriving with Adult ADHD by Phil Boissiere

First let me say that I do not have Adult ADHD, so I cannot absolutely confirm that this book and the exercises therein will be 100% helpful. But I do have two friends with ADHD, and I thought of them multiple times reading this book and thought that the things I was reading would likely be helpful to them. This book, like many other self-help books, will be most useful if you take your time and slowly do each and every exercise. And if you are a therapist, this book will give you several really good exercises to try with your clients depending on what they are struggling with.

Boissiere starts by defining what he means by executive functions or core skills and why each of these is different for people with ADHD. He also supplies a very readable description of what is going on in the brain for people with ADHD. The first chapter, then, has descriptions and a quiz so you can readily figure out what core skills you really need the most help with, since no two people with ADHD have exactly the same issues.

Then there is a chapter on each core skill: Memory & Attention; Organizing & Planning; Mental Flexibility; Emotion Regulation and Impulse Control. One of the things that I really like is that he does also show how people with ADHD are unique in good ways, not just the ways they struggle. A common theme throughout the book is awareness and the ability to take a pause. Which, in a way, is the core issue of ADHD and gee, if you could already do that, you wouldn’t need this book! But, I think he does a good job with the exercises of helping you learn and cultivate this important ability.

Because I haven’t read an inordinate amount of books on adult ADHD (I’ve only read “You Mean I’m not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy”, which I liked), I can’t tell you how this stacks up with all of the other books on the topic. But I liked the simple layout, the positivity and the many exercises that I think are really good for practice.

Disclaimer: the link above is an Amazon affiliate link, for which I receive a small compensation. My summaries are NOT intended to replace purchasing the book; they are only intended to save you time if you do not currently have time to read the whole book.

Review: A Love That Laughs by Ted Cunningham

First, a disclaimer: This is a Christian book by a Christian pastor. While I normally try to review books that have a larger, more general swath, but I do not actually know a secular author who has this same mission, introducing fun into the couple relationship. So although this book is pretty Christian, if you can overlook the Bible verses and such, I think you will get a lot of good information here. I think I liked his earlier book, “Fun Loving You” just a little bit better, and I had a lot of non-Christian clients read that one and love it.

This book is a blend of serious and silly, which is really nice. Cunningham starts with a discussion about humor and how important it is to relationships- couples that laugh together stay together! And he makes good points about how it’s hard to really be mad or bitter at people that we laugh with often. He suggests having a laughter goal or a laughter to conflict ratio goal. He also sets up the book with a “points” system, where you and your partner can get points for doing the suggested exercises and getting a laugh – kind of gimmicky but if you’re a competitive couple, it might be fun!

He discusses the benefits of laughter: Mental, Emotional, Physical, Relational and Spiritual. But he does caution against inappropriate humor and goes to some lengths to define humor that is used as avoidance or harmful to relationships. He talks about humor being a skill that can be learned, not just something that you either have or not. Humor requires paying attention – there are funny things going on all around you. Each chapter ends with activities you would do to try to get a laugh from your partner, and also some conversation starter type questions that might encourage laughter.

Next he goes into some more serious couples topics but brings it back to how humor can help these more serious issues. He discusses communication and the art of listening; conflict and how appropriate humor can assist; differences that every couple struggles with and how to use humor to defuse these; making it a priority to have other couples around you as friends and mentors that can encourage a healthy and humorful marriage; and healthy habits that happy couples have.

There are a few cautions for non-Christians here. He discusses the NFL “take a knee” movement in a way that might trigger some, but it’s in the context of the larger discussion about how it’s important to listen to each other. He talks about gender differences and although it’s useful to talk about these stereotypes, he does reference the “marriage is between a man and a woman” stance, which isn’t surprising considering that he is a conservative pastor. Lastly, there’s a chapter on divorce which references it not being God’s plan – which you may not agree with, but if you’re reading a book on happy marriage, you presumably can agree that any ideas about making marriage work are helpful. If you can, try to take these sections in the spirit in which they are given, taking the parts you agree with and leaving the rest.

All in all, I’m a big fan of strategies that make marriage more fun and funny, and de-emphasize the “marriage is work” perspective. I’d love to see a secular book on this topic, but since I don’t know of one, see if you can make this book work for you!

Disclaimer: The link above is an Amazon Affiliate link – I receive a small compensation from purchases made through this link. Also, the summary above is NOT intended to replace purchasing of this book; it is simply to save you time if you currently do not have time to read the entire book.

Review: Positive Psychology in Practice by Gina Delucca Psy.D and Jamie Goldstein, Psy.D

I have always loved Martin Seligman, who is considered the “Father of Positive Psychology”. His books are pretty meaty and intense, though, so I’d thought I’d try this new book on the topic. (Seligman’s website has a LOT of questionnaires and interesting info, which is more accessible though!).

I read this book from cover to cover fairly quickly for this review, so first I want to say that this is not really how the book is intended to be used. You won’t get much out of it if you just read the book quickly. This book is set up into four parts, and each part has very short chapters on a specific topic. After each chapter blurb, there is an activity or exercise, and these are probably the most useful thing about the book. For therapists, it reminds me of the books of interventions and treatment planners that I had when I was in school. For example, if a client wanted to work on forgiveness, you could turn to that chapter and have a handy intervention to use in your session ten minutes from now. This is the real value of this book, I think.

The book is broken into four parts as I said – A New Approach to Happiness, Cultivating Positive Feelings, Who You Are and Where you are Going, and Talk, Listen, Love. A New Approach to Happiness explains positive psychology and then has short chapters on mind-sets, defining happiness, self-acceptance, skill mastery, resilience (Seligman has a great book on this topic), optimism vs. pessimism and aging well. As I said, each of these short chapters has an exercise to help you absorb and practice the information.

Cultivating Positive Feelings has chapters on relaxing, the state of flow, mindfulness, savoring life, gratitude, forgiveness and your inner critic. This section has a couple of my favorite of the activities – designing a beautiful day for yourself, and mentally subtracting something great that happened in your life to get clear on what your life would be like if that wonderful thing had never happened.

Who You are and Where You’re Going talks about clarifying your values (and gives a great list), setting goals, making decisions, motivation, success vs. failure and how to make work meaningful. Lastly, Talk, Listen, Love talks about philanthrophy and altruism; empathy and compassion; listening and responding; honesty and trust; friendships, couples relationships and parenting.

If you are looking for an in-depth dive into positive psychology, go elsewhere. I found the book to be unsatisfyingly light on each topic – other books go into much better detail on any of the specific topics. But, if you already know quite a bit about positive psychology and use it in your practice, this book could be handy to have on your shelf for intervention ideas on the fly.

Disclaimer: The link above is an Amazon Affiliate link – I receive a small compensation from purchases made through this link. Also, the summary above is NOT intended to replace purchasing of this book; it is simply to save you time if you currently do not have the time to read the entire book.

Review: Never Binge Again by Glenn Livingston

I have customarily used books about mindful eating to work with clients who have compulsive eating issues – books like “Savor” by Thich Nhat Hanh or “Eating Mindfully” by Susan Albers. After reading this book, I will probably still primarily use those sources.  But there were some things that I did like about this book, so I’ll try to give a good overview.

The author, Glenn Livingston, apparently used to be a compulsive eater and overweight, so this method has worked for him, and many of the clients he coaches. The book reminded me a little bit of Bob Harper’s book “Skinny Rules”, which espouses just having a simple set of rules to follow so that dieting or eating isn’t as complicated as we make it, although it has some key differences too.

First, it’s important to understand the metaphor this book is built around.  Basically, you imagine that you have an inner “Pig” who is the cause of all of your eating problems, and you imagine that this “Pig” is someone who does not want the best for you, will always try to trick you into overeating and make arguments against your best interests.  Livingston suggests that it’s important you pretend the “Pig” is real.  This is known in the psychology field as “externalizing”, and reminds me of a book I love called “Taming Your Gremlin”. Same basic idea – except the topic is self-talk – that there is a gremlin running around in all of our heads and we just have to basically tell it to sit down.  Livingston makes it clear that calling it a “Pig” might not be useful for everyone, and if it isn’t, you can really call it anything as long as you realize that this is the source of your problems.

I did really like some things about this book.  Livingston suggests making a Food Plan, with sections titled “Always”, “Never”, “Conditional” and “Unrestricted”.  So in other words, veggies might be unrestricted, meaning I can eat them anytime, anywhere.  But chocolate might be conditional – I can have it, but I can’t keep it in the house.  Then there are the always an nevers, like “I will never eat fast food” or “I will always start my day with green tea”.  He makes no real suggestions, since you have to completely own your Food Plan in order for this to work – so you can just start with one rule, or several. You can have something in every category, or maybe just one.  While my work with eating disorders has made me a bit wary of rules, I can see how that really only applies to unrealistic rules, or rules that you don’t really want to follow.  I mean, we all know kale is good for you, but if I make a rule to eat kale every day, that is not gonna work for me! So I think as long as each person really makes some realistic and simple rules, this could really work.  In fact, I’ve made a couple of simple rules for myself to try this out. He makes it crystal clear that you should only make rules that you can 100% commit to forever.

There were some things I didn’t particularly like, though. He says a few times in the book things like “the only thing you have to do to not binge is to not binge!” I get what he is saying – he’s trying to help us understand that no one is making us do this; it is well within our control to not eat. But I can just say on behalf of myself and my many compulsive eating clients that if it were indeed just this easy, we’d all be thin – and we certainly wouldn’t need this book! There is a lot of this kind of talk in the book.  If you aren’t confident, just declare yourself confident! If you want to eat, just don’t! Simple, right?

For all of his talk about NEVER binging again, and one bite off your Food Plan being a binge, he then talks about what happens if you DO binge – and basically you adjust your sails and move on. How is that really different from what we are all doing all the time? It’s paradoxical – you have to commit to 100% never binge and never go off your Food Plan – but oh by the way when you do, you can be nice to yourself, evaluate your plan, make changes if you need to and then move on.  This might be helpful for some people who are in the “I ate one chip, might as well eat the whole bag” crowd, but for most of us who are really trying, we’re already doing this.

Lastly, he talks about the whole idea of the addiction model and the idea of “powerlessness” as a tool to surrender and heal. He thinks it’s B.S., basically – mainly with food, but you get the feeling that he kinda feels that way about alcohol and drugs too.  My best friend who was an alcoholic for 29 years and is now clean and sober for 12 might powerfully argue that she wasn’t powerless over alcohol.  But in Livingston’s mind, you just make up your mind not to do something and then you don’t do it anymore.

This book kind of feels like a long infomercial, lots of caps lock and exclamation points.  Plus the idea of “mind over matter” and an inner “Pig” might really turn some people off.  But I overrode my distaste of these things and persevered, and I actually have a couple of new Food Rules that I think will be really helpful.  So if you can ignore what you don’t like and take the helpful nuggets, you might find a few in the book.

The above link is an Amazon Affiliate link. I receive a small compensation from purchases made through this link.
Also, the summary above is NOT intended to replace purchasing the book. It is simply intended to save you the time reading, if you can’t carve out time to read the book right now.

Review: When Crisis Strikes by Jennifer Ford & Kjell Hovik

This book is written by Jennifer Love, an M.D. psychiatrist, and Kjell Hovik, a Psy.D/Ph.d in neuropsychology.  The forward is written by Dr. Amen, who founded the Amen Clinics. All that to say, these are trustworthy authors who know this topic well.

The book explains in a very easily understood way how your body and brain react to a crisis or chronic stress. This is important because it’s the foundation of all that follows.

Then the authors lay out their 5 point plan – defining the problem, figuring out what you can/can’t control, making a list of easy/hard tasks that need to be done – and then assessing your values and figuring out ways to take care of yourself.  Even though these sound like no-brainer type steps, it’s great because they really delve into them fully – the questions to ask, the things to consider.

Then the authors have a lengthy segment where they give example after example of how these steps would look in different folks with different crises. Although this section could get a little long, I felt like the repetition of the steps in various circumstances really helped me to see how these steps are workable no matter what the scenario is.

Lastly, they give some general advice about some common responses to crises and stress – like cravings, sleep issues, exercise, etc. And finally, each author transparently shows their own five step process when covid-19 hit the world. Quite authentic and vulnerable, this section proves that these authors practice what they preach.

Can you think of anyone who won’t go through stress or some kind of crisis? I can’t.  This book will release on December 29, 2020, and I think you need a copy! You can preorder through the Amazon link below. I think this book is so calming, because it really gives a step by step process in situations where chaos would otherwise reign.

The summaries above are NOT meant to replace buying the book. We therapists have a lot of books to read! These summaries are meant to provide you with an immediate way to access the information generally, but I recommend purchasing a copy of books that you think will be useful and having them on hand in your office!

Review: Your Grief, Your Way by Shelby Forsythia

There are a lot of books on grief. And trust me, the last thing you want to do when you are grieving is find the right book! My go-to book for grief has historically been Megan Devine’s “It’s OK that you’re not OK”, and I still do recommend it often.  However, Devine has a pretty dark and irreverent take on grief – which to some people can be a relief an some people find it quite off-putting.  So I’ve been looking for an alternative, and I think I’ve found it.

This book is written “calendar” style, from January 1 to December 31 with a short passage each day.  I have not written a summary of this book, because it is too hard to encapsulate the message of this book without plagiarizing the book itself, which I don’t do.  There is not a “theme” for each month (it would be easier to summarize if there was), but I appreciate that about the book – if your loved one dies in May, you don’t have to wait until the following January to start.  You could start this book at any time and find it very useful.  

Another thing people often don’t realize is that grieving people often find it hard to read.  I’ve given Megan Devine’s book to grieving folks who said there was no way they could read a book cover to cover. Indeed, after my own brother died,  I couldn’t read for over a year. It’s one of the reasons I really like this book – I don’t think it took me more than 5 minutes to read any particular day – which is just about the concentration level a lot of grieving people have.

I think there are three basic things you will get from this book. The first is a lot of just basic educational information and validation about what the grieving process looks like, what is normal (spoiler: just about anything!) and what you can expect.  If you know about grief, some of these passages might seem basic, but I think you can’t be reminded enough what is normal, and that you are normal when you are in the middle of grieving. Even as a therapist, I knew this stuff but I didn’t know it until I found myself in it.

Secondly, there are tons of little ideas.  Simple exercises that anyone could do to explore grief, soften it or understand what it means to you. Again, these suggestions are simple; it’s not that anyone else would never think of them. It’s that when you are grieving, you lose some of your creative thinking – and even stuff you know is hard to remember. So interspersed in the book at good intervals are little activities that you can do to see if they help.

Lastly, Forsythe shares specific resources.  I love this so much, because so many authors only want to only “advertise” their own brand or build their own following.  Not so with Forsythe.  Whatever she thinks would be helpful, she is willing to share.  She suggests things you can google for more information (I think because she knows these things change over time, like local grief groups), and she also shares specific organizations or information that might be helpful.

Bonus: on many of the pages, there are quotes about grief from various famous people, some of whom I never knew dealt with grief.  I found these quotes to be very encouraging and helpful, and also gave me some ideas about who I might “follow” or “read” outside of just this book.

All in all, I think it’s a must to have this book on hand to give or share with grieving clients, or if you are grieving yourself (and let’s face it, we all will, won’t we?).  Link to purchase is below.

Review: How To Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness by Toni Bernhard

This book is a MUST READ for anyone with chronic pain/illness and those that love them and treat them in any capacity.  Although it is written from a Buddhist perspective, this book is accessible to anyone of any faith or no faith practice. Toni Bernhard herself has a chronic illness, so she knows of what she speaks; which is nice because those of us with chronic illness have been talked at enough by people who don’t know how it feels!

So completely practical, this book talks about skills to help with daily life; mindfulness and how it can help; working with thoughts and feelings, and isolation and loneliness.  In addition, she covers a number of unique and special challenges that people who fall in these categories face and gives advice and practical practices for living well.

Finally, there are chapters for family/friends/caregivers and also some advice to those who are lucky enough to still be healthy.

I do have a summary for purchase for $3 if you don’t have time to immediately read this book; but I do recommend you purchase a copy from the link below if you have any clients or loved ones that fall in this category.  Even if they won’t read it, you should.