Resource of the Month–September, 2012

The Confidence Gap by Russ Harris

I have recommended this book to clients more than any other.  In it, Russ Harris addresses the question of what to do with our thoughts. And since so many folks who come to therapy are plagued with worrisome, negative, or self-condemning thoughts, I wind up talking about the principles from this book all the time!

Russ Harris, a therapist and practitioner of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, tackles this important topic through the subject of confidence. He suggests that most people want to feel confident so that they can do all the things they wish. He turns this desire on its ear by suggesting that the feeling of confidence is not found by having a conversation in a therapist?s office. Confidence only comes as people do the things they wish they could, succeed and fail, interpret and learn. Confidence will develop only after that. So, Harris tackles the notion of doing stuff while feeling a clear lack of confidence. That?s where thought work comes in.

Even if your starting point is not the issue of confidence, this book is helpful to anyone who is sick and tired of the story playing in his or her heads. Those fretful, judgmental, or defeatist thoughts are very difficult, if not impossible, to abolish. So, what does one do with them? Harris teaches a concept I bring to session regularly– thought defusion. Every person could use teaching about how to treat thoughts.

Here is a selection of my favorite of his main teaching points:

  • The action of confidence comes first; the feelings of confidence come later.
  • Genuine confidence is not the absence of fear; it is a transformed relationship with fear.
  • Negative thoughts are normal. Don?t fight them; defuse them.
  • Don?t obsess about the outcome. Get passionate about the process.
  • Don?t fight your fear; allow it, befriend it, and channel it.
  • Failure hurts?but if we?re willing to learn, it?s a wonderful teacher.

(All of these points are found on p. 246 of Harris? book.)

Harris? book has several exercises along the way and his writing style is clear and practical. He could be accused of being a little peppy, in the spirit of self-help authors, but the wisdom of his message comes through clearly. His practical style challenges the reader to actually engage the material, so the possibility of a true-life change is greater.

You can find the book at the library, or purchase a copy by clicking HERE 

Resource of the Month–May

Journaling As A Spiritual Practice: Encountering God Through Attentive Writing by Helen Cepero

I have written in a journal for nearly as long as I can remember. I have gone through several iterations of what that writing has meant to me. At times, I?m simply ranting and, at others, I?m processing important discoveries. I have also used journaling as a spiritual discipline and, like all disciplines, I benefit from fresh direction from time to time. Cepero?s book does just this. She writes to serious believers and offers dozens of ideas about how to use journaling as a tool for spiritual growth.

Cepero brings anecdotes and personal examples to her book and she writes them well, so the book is very accessible. Her ideas for using a journal range from active imagination exercises, to drawing pictures, and even her version of a bucket list. She offers exercises that build self-compassion and exercises that encourage self-examination. Some of her practices utilize Christian imagery in a clear and accessible way.

One of the gems of the book I found in the last chapter. She offers a list of questions to help the reader take a deeper step into contemplation. Here are the questions that Cepero fills out in greater detail in the book.

  • Is this a distraction or the heart of the matter?
  • Is this a critic, or a mentor?
  • Is this being rooted or being stuck?
  • Is the foolish, or is this faith?s risk?
  • Is this a block to my growth or a challenge to grow further?
  • Is this a detour or the way home? 

Good questions, are they not?

I think this book is well worth the investment for anyone who either already does journal or who wants to begin journaling. I have encouraged journaling practices for counseling clients and spiritual directees because I so firmly believe in the power of intentional reflection. God delights as we press to know ourselves more honestly. And, after all, wasn?t Jesus himself journaling when he wrote in the ground that time?

We all need a jump start in our spiritual practices every once in a while and Cepero gives us a great gift in putting together so many ideas for those of us who are eager to learn.

CLICK HERE to purchase a copy from IVP.

To read my blog about the great questions from this book, click here.

Hold On To Your Kids–April

Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté

This book has been the most important book in my parenting life.

Neufeld and Maté raise a challenge that parents be the people that their children are primarily attached to even through the adolescent years. They dismantle the idea that kids naturally shift their attachment to peers and that we should let them. Rather, they soundly argue that we should do everything in our power to keep the focus of kids? attachment.

Neufeld and Maté make a strong case for the idea that our children?s peers are not mature enough to be a focal point for their primary attachment. If our children become peer-focused, then their primary attachment is inherently insecure. This leads to a state of chronic psychological fatigue as the child or adolescent seeks an unconditional connection from a source that cannot provide it. In such a context, a child cannot safely navigate the developmental challenges of establishing his or her own sense of self.

If there is one parenting book that I wish my clients who are parents and the parents of my clients would read, it is this one. Critical developmental steps are being missed in a huge percentage of an entire generation because they are growing up without a sufficient stable attachment. Psychotherapists are seeing it in their offices all the time and are trying to teach psychological flexibility and maturity in clients who were very likely peer-oriented and missed out on the stable attachment. So do your kids this favor. Buy this book. Read this book. Allow yourself to be challenged by this book. And heed its title; hold on to your kids. Don?t let their attachment slip away from you. This will be the best gift you can ever give them.

Now, I would be remiss if I did not warn you that Neufeld and Maté are presenting far more than a parenting strategy. Their book challenges our entire economic and educational systems alongside attitudes about childcare. Their hope is to call into question all the factors that contribute to us, as a society, entrusting the care of our children to people other than parents and primary guardians. Reading their critique of and vision for a new way of conceptualizing raising children is challenging and overwhelming. I can get a little depressed in discussions like this because the vision is so broad that I loose hope. But as Neufeld and Mate unfold their case, they bring it back to the relationship in a deeply stirring way. My blog this month is a way I have attempted to give an accessible application to Neufeld and Mate?s concepts. (CLICK HERE to read ?The Best Parenting Advice I Ever Got?.?)


Buy it used here:

Resource of the Month — March

Parables and the Enneagram by Clarence Thomson

Several of you have asked me for a recommendation for a book about the Enneagram Personality Typing System from a Christian perspective. Parables and the Enneagram is my favorite; clear, grounded, and has practical suggestions for each type. The book is great for anyone whatever their spiritual background because Thomson does such a good job describing each of they personality types and fills out his descriptions with Biblical illustrations that deepen the readers? learning.

The Enneagram is a personality typing system that describes nine ways we tend to live our lives in a waking trance, as Thomson puts it. This language connects well with me because I believe that the power of the Enneagram in anyone?s life is to wake us up from the automatic patterns we develop as strategies for survival. Thompson offers these provocative thoughts on page 6 of his introduction.

?The contribution of the Enneagram is to describe the inner geography of each other?s minds. The contribution of the Scripture is to offer alternatives to that geography?..Our Enneagram vision of the world, regardless of which of the nine it is, is in direct conflict with the vision of Jesus.? Thomson says that parables work by capturing your imagination (p.21) and that our Enneagram awareness allows us to be awake to the new possibility embedded in the parable.

I have read many wonderful books on the Enneagram, but I always reference Thomson?s book for the way he describes what each type wants and what they settle for:

ONEs:  Want peace and settle for order.

TWOs:  Want to be loved for their true inner selves and settle for appreciation.
THREEs:  Want to be loved as they are and settle for having a good image.

FOURs:  Want love in the form of a perfect relationship and settle for a vacuum of longing.

FIVEs:   Want richness and abundant life and settle for whatever they can get in their heads.

SIXes:  Want faith and settle for security.

SEVENs:  Want the satisfaction of having enough and settle for more.

EIGHTs:  Want justice and settle for revenge.

NINEs:  Want harmony or unity and they settle for sleep.

I hope this functions as a teaser and not a spoiler. The book will fill out the reader?s understanding of themselves and the Enneagram. Clarence Thomson has a unique perspective that is, in my opinion, underutilized in Enneagram circles.

Resource of the Month – February 2012

How To Be An Adult by David Richo

The title might make this a touchy book to recommend personally, but as a resource of the month, this one is a gem. Richo begins with a simple premise; that we can look at our lives and behaviors and see evidence that tells us whether our needs were mostly met or mostly not met when we were growing up. He then goes on to explain the process of how to go about mourning our unmet needs and is extremely practical about how to live as an adult.

This book brings the reality that we are shaped by our past together with our responsibility to address our behaviors in the present. While taking seriously the wounds of our childhoods, this book keeps the reader in the challenge of living life with good boundaries and with true intimacy. Richo?s ultimate challenge is for each person to live life out of their true natures rather than out of the hurts they endured as kids.

Richo has an updated version of this book that I checked out, but in his expanded version, Richo loses some of the simplicity that I think readers will most appreciate in this original version. He gives relatively brief explanations, and then plunks down his wisdom in lists and bullet points. Here are just a few of his lists: assertiveness skills, the basic rights of the assertive person, how to work on neurotic fears, guilt tricks, declarations of a healthy adulthood, boundaries in relationships, elements of true intimacy, and practical skills for intimacy. Richo also makes stark and challenging comparisons in a similar manner. To name a few: passiveness versus aggressiveness, fear versus integration, drama versus true anger, and fear of abandonment versus fear of engulfment. The lists and comparisons are truly thought provoking.

Some people might be put off by the psychological language in the book that, I have to admit, I?m somewhat inoculated to in my line of work. Richo uses words like, ?integration?, ?self-actualization?, ?projection?, and ?individuation? liberally. For the reader who is ruffled by such language, I give you this warning and encourage you to stay with the book for all the wisdom that it lends. Even with this kind of language, the book is refreshingly clear. Part III of the book, called ?Integration? addresses spiritual integration from a framework that was a bit vague for me, but even there he makes some strong points. I think that readers grounded in a faith tradition would not have a problem integrating his concepts into their own conceptions of spiritual development.

The book has the potential to be a handbook for personal growth and a ready means to evaluate one?s posture in relationships. The scrutiny that the book affords is not for the faint of heart, however. Richo gives an invitation to real change with the backdrop of a very high view of healthy adulthood and unconditional love. As a resource to challenge yourself around this all-too-little talked about subject of being an adult, this book has the potential to help the reader notice how much they try to get other people to fulfill their unmet childhood needs and then explains what the opposing adult response might look like.

Resource of the Month – December 2011

If there is one thing I hoard, it is books on the Enneagram. I have read a lot of books on the topic. The Enneagram is a personality typing system that suggests 9 different programs that individuals adopt. I use the Enneagram in treatment with many clients and find it to be an extremely useful tool for personal development.

I?m recommending David Daniels? and Virginia Price?s book, The Essential Enneagram: The Definitive Personality Test and Self-Discovery Guide for anyone who wants an introduction to the Enneagram. This 90-something page book is very accessible and has a pretty good tool at the beginning to help readers begin to discern their type. I have used this book for a couple of training events and I have been pleased with the introduction it has given participants. The descriptions are short enough not to overwhelm and varied enough to be accessible to someone looking at the Enneagram system for the first time. I particularly like the category Price and Daniels developed for each type called ?I put my energy into??As I read this small section for each personality type, I can clearly see myself in my own type and see others in theirs. Check it out and see what you think!

In addition to having descriptions of each type, in section 2 of the book, called ?What to do when you have discovered your type?, Daniels and Price give practical ideas for growth and integration for each type. This is great because I am all about moving towards integration once the discovery of type is made. Every person has room to grow and has something to learn. Section 2 gives structure to how you might reflect each day on your type?s emotional snares and then offers a healthy framework for considering a different path.