Review: The Essential Companion to Talking Therapy by Karin Blak

I was so excited when I saw this book on Net Galley and immediately requested a copy. There is so much misinformation out there about therapy, finding a therapist, what to expect from therapy and so forth. Indeed, I’ve often wanted to write just this book. Unfortunately, this is not the book I wanted to read, and that I think is needed. Some of this may have to do with the fact that Blak is from the UK, and it’s possible that things are just done vastly different there than here in the US. So if you’re from the UK, you might find more value in this book, but in the US you will find some inaccuracies.

For example, Blak says that any good therapist should have regular supervision and that you should ask about it to make sure. Apparently that continues to be a requirement for licensed therapists in the UK, but here in the US this is not so. In the US, most states have a requirement for supervision throughout the training period to become a therapist, but not once you are licensed. Now, I DO agree that every good therapist should have peer support and a supervisory type therapist that they could consult with; and I personally think every therapist should have their own therapy. But these are not requirements here.

There are also some weird little quirky pieces of advice, like a therapist should not shake your hand at the first session, and they shouldn’t offer you a warm drink. I think it’s fine to say “some therapists may not shake your hand or offer you a drink” in the service of warning clients that these common cultural practices might not exist in the therapy world. But I have often shaken my clients hands when first meeting them, and I have a tea cart in my waiting room as many therapists do. I believe these to be personal decisions that therapists make based on their theoretical leanings and personalities – but I certainly do not believe that these are boundary violations and you should steer clear of therapists that do this. And I think that it’s a disservice to advise people to avoid these therapists. She also says that therapists will have you make a list of your support circle and advise you to have conversations with them. Again, this may be something your therapist does, based on your issues and the therapist’s style, but Blak presents this is an expectation you should have from any therapist you see, and that’s just not true.

In addition to these things (which I think are just purely wrong), she says some other things that I just personally disagree with. She says that therapists have a “shelf life” of about 15 years. I disagree. Some therapists may burnout after a number of years, but I feel this is due to a gap in training, and we need more education on how to achieve longevity. I also know some very good therapists who have been in the field for many, many years and show no signs of wear and tear. And she makes some pretty firm claims about things that I disagree with – for example, at one point she says: “Depression is frequently the cause of suppressed anger”. Okay, she does say “frequently” and not “always”, but still. There are so many potential causes of suppressed anger – abuse, trauma, self-hate – to name just a few. I just do not think that therapists should make these kinds of blanket statements, especially in a book geared towards people who know nothing about psychotherapy and could easily take this as gospel truth.

For those who may be still interested in reading this book, here is a list of topics covered: Debunking myths about therapy; supervision; choosing a type of therapy and therapist; diagnoses; first session tips; the therapeutic relationship; how to spot unethical therapy; challenges in therapy; how therapy might affect us and our relationships; and ending therapy.

Again, I wish with all my heart I was giving this book a 5 star review. We do need a book like this that a layperson could read to give them a look at what they can expect. But this book is just not it.

Disclaimer: The link above is an Amazon affiliate link and I receive a small compensation from orders placed through this link.

Review: Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.

This is a book about sex, specifically female sexuality, although most men I know would get a lot out of it, too. Emily Nagoski is a sex educator and has given us probably the most useful book I’ve read on sex. (Caveat: if you are recovering from sexual abuse, there are some others that are more specific, but I just mean books on general sex, desire and pleasure).

Nagoski sets out to dispel a LOT of myths about sex and female sexuality. She starts with a discussion of the anatomy itself, complete with charts and pictures! Her main point here and in the rest of the book is “everyone is normal and everyone has all the same parts, but we might just be organized in different ways”. If you’ve ever asked “am I normal?”, Nagoski thinks you are!

The most revolutionary discussion of the book is her “dual controls” analogy – basically, we are like a car; we have an accelerator and we have a brake. We have things that turn us on and get us going, and we have things that pump the brakes. Therefore, if you are having any kind of sexual issue, you can just look at these two components to find the answers. Maybe you have trouble getting going, a slow accelerator, and this is a problem if your partner has a revving engine. So, brainstorm ways that you can get yourself revved up. Or, maybe the problem is that you love your partner and want sex, but something is pumping the brakes. Maybe kids, exhaustion, a history of abuse, lack of trust between partners, etc. So if you can resolve the issues that are pumping your brakes, then your natural desires can take back over.

Nagoski covers some things that aren’t specific to sex but are notorious “brake pumpers” – things like stress, being stuck in a “freeze” cycle, and attachment issues. Also, self-confidence and self-compassion are helpful because self-criticism pumps the brakes. And media messages and “urban legend” type information about sex can also be harmful.

She talks quite a bit about desire, since desire is the #1 reason people seek help for sex. Some people do experience a spontaneous desire for sex (usually: men), but many women experience more what she calls “responsive” desire. They have desire, but only in response to something that happens, not just on its own. This would be helpful information for partners, understanding that they have to set the stage and “advance the plot” as Nagoski says. She also discusses orgasms themselves and the myths surrounding them, especially for women.

Each chapter has helpful exercises at the end to figure out how to maximize the information, and there is also a workbook available. I do wish there was a little more information about how sexual abuse/assault affects women’s sexuality, since this is a fairly common issue for women. But when she mentions it, she does give reference to the other books that explore this topic in depth, like The Sexual Healing Journey by Wendy Maltz. All in all, this book kind of blew my mind, and helped me look at this issue with new eyes. I’ve worked a lot with sexual issues as a couples counselor, and I now feel like I have even better resources to do that. This book is not new, but there is a recent updated version and it is available now.

Disclaimer: The link above is an Amazon affiliate link and I receive a small compensation from orders placed with this link. Summaries are not intended to replace the purchase of this book, but simply to save you time reading.

Review: Better Boys, Better Men by Andrew Reiner

I’ve always suggested the book “Raising Cain” when asked about the psychology of boys and men, so I was excited to see a new book on the subject. There is a ton of super interesting information here, but no real concrete suggestions about what we should do about it. I see this book not so much as “self-help” in that regard, but just informational. Still, it’s good information!

The book starts with some research about boy babies. Contrary to the assumption that they are born with different brains, or less capacity for emotion, Reiner says that research shows now that boy babies are actually more emotional than girl babies, but that our socialization of boys starts so young that we think they are born that way! Even from a super young age, we value stoicism in boys and the repression of emotions.

Some of this is due to education, some to sports, and some to parental training. Boys learn very young in school that they must not be vulnerable, even if they have parents who encourage it. And then we introduce them to sports, which encourage toughness and competition, and “wimps” need not apply. Even among teammates, hazing can be universally accepted, even when it crosses the line into violence.

Reiner talks about vulnerability and shame quite a bit. Some men have been trained to “be a man” from such a young age they don’t even have the vocabulary to describe their feelings even if they wanted to. But other boys and men, who do understand what they are feeling inside, won’t be vulnerable because of how they are shamed when they do. Even women who beg their partners to be more emotional admit to being turned off when they actually do. And in extreme circumstances, men who are shamed become violent. The sense of being shamed underlies almost all school shootings and domestic violence.

Men also tend to be quite lonely, because of the above factors and because there are very few relationships where they can admit to their feelings and have them received well. Reiner suggests that we really need to help men and boys be authentic, embrace vulnerability, and be willing to have friendships that delve into deeper feelings and topics than sports and politics. But again, he doesn’t have any real concrete suggestions for how we do this. He highlights in the book several programs in schools and prisons around the country where boys have an opportunity to talk about their deeper feelings, but stops short of addressing how these could be utilized on a larger scale.

Overall, this is a great informational book about boys and men for anyone who wants to understand the research and the biology behind men and their feelings. Parents, teachers and coaches will find a lot of great information here. I just think maybe we need a second book with some point-by-point plans on how we achieve systemic change. This title will be released on December 1, 2020 and I received a free copy from Net Galley for my review.

Disclaimer: The link above is an Amazon affiliate link and I receive a small compensation when books are ordered from this link. Summaries are not intended to replace purchasing the book, but only to save you time reading.

Review: The Anxiety Reset by Gregory Jantz, Ph.D.

Let’s start with my major complaint about this book. Nowhere on the blurbs, book jacket or pre-sale info sheets does it say that this is a Christian book, but it is. Unlike a lot of the Christian books I have read, it’s pretty mild – it’s not woven into every chapter and so forth. But still, I feel like it’s something that should be disclosed, as I have some clients that would really not be a good fit for any book that is Christian-based. I get why he would address spirituality – his philosophy after all is a whole-person approach. And if it was just a general “having faith in something larger than yourself is important”, I think I could hand the book to any of my clients. He does an ok job of being inclusive, but any quotes are strictly from Jesus and the Bible, nothing from other traditions.

Jantz takes a “whole person” approach to conquering anxiety, which means that he addresses all kinds of issues – what you eat, if you exercise, negative self-talk, toxic relationships and trauma. Each chapter ends with a “Personal Reset Plan” with suggestions for things you can do based on the chapter.

The first half of the book is a discussion about anxiety in general. Jantz goes through the different diagnoses in the DSM, explaining the difference between Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and all the others. He talks about what is happening in the brain with anxiety, and whether or not medication is helpful as a treatment option.

The second half of the book is the treatment approach. He talks about “mind over mood”, covering things like the basics of CBT and cognitive defusion; and why mindfulness can be helpful. He discusses the practical issues of nutrition, exercise and sleep and why it’s important to have a healthy approach to each. He also suggests several different vitamins and supplements and what the research says about their effect on anxiety.

Negativity is a big topic, whether it be from our own self-talk, other people around us, or social media and news. He has ways to navigate and lessen these effects throughout the book. “Soul care” is mentioned, mostly in the context of Christianity, but savvy readers can translate into their own philosophy if needed.

As a therapist, there wasn’t really anything new here, but having the book on my shelf will be a nice reference point if, say, a client asks what I know about 5-HTP or what foods might help or what all the components of good sleep hygiene are. I normally give my clients with anxiety “The Happiness Trap” and probably still will – but for those who need more than working with their minds, this book covers the larger swath of body and soul as well. This book is available for pre-order and arrives March 2021.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from Net Galley. The link above is an Amazon affiliate link, for which I receive a small compensation. My summary is NOT intended to replace purchasing the book; it is simply intended to save you time reading or, in this case, to give you a preview of the information.