Review: This is Your Brain on Joy by Dr. Earl Henslin

First let me say that this is a Christian book, which is not completely obvious from the cover (one of my pet peeves). BUT, I also think it’s an extremely useful book that most therapists would benefit from reading.

Also, let me say a few words about the Amen Clinics. Dr. Amen is somewhat of a controversial figure and his SPECT scans are considered not good science in some circles. I personally have referred some very difficult cases to the Amen Clinic, and in every circumstance, the results have been pretty miraculous, so I’m a firm believer in what Dr. Amen does. The basic idea is that when you go to a psychiatrist and you say “I’m depressed”, you’ll get the average antidepressant. But with Dr. Amen, they are looking at WHERE your brain is not functioning well, and dysfunction in the prefrontal cortex would require a completely different strategy than dysfunction in the basal ganglia.

In this book, there is a “Amen Brain System Checklist”. Because the SPECT scans at the Amen Clinic are super expensive, not everyone can do it. But if you use this checklist, you may be able to discern, just from the symptoms your client checks, which part of the brain is not functioning well.

Next, Henslin has a chapter on each section of the brain once your client has completed the checklist and you know what you’re working with. He suggests regular psychotropic medications that differ for each area; but also, he talks about supplements that might help each area and food/exercise tips. Because it’s a Christian book, he also suggests Scriptures and prayers for each type as well.

I personally am going to buy a copy of this book and start using this checklist with my clients. I think it will be a fantastic reference book to keep on hand.

The link above is an Amazon link and I receive a small compensation for purchases made through this link.

Review: Unwind: 7 Principles for a Stress Free Life by Dr. Michael Olpin & Sam Bracken

Lately it seems like all I’m doing is checking in with clients about what their stress management strategy is. There is still all of the mental health issues we used to have but these days the world is just … a lot. So I went looking for a stress management book to review and this one was on my list to read.

This book has two parts, the first part defining stress, and the concept that between stimulus and response there is a gap where we can choose our response. The authors explain mindfulness and how it can help us choose a helpful response in that gap. Then they discuss “paradigm” shifts and how helpful they can be. Their main thrust is that stress is good when we need to move our body out of physical danger, but most of the things that stress us in the modern world are not dangerous at all – just interpreted by us as something to be stressed about. They then spend the 2nd half of the book discussing paradigm shifts that can help with stress management.

The 7 paradigm shifts that these authors discuss align with Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” – so honestly you could just read that book, or read it in companion with this one. For example, the first paradigm “From Reactive to Proactive” goes along with Covey’s first habit, “Be Proactive”. The other paradigm shifts are: From Unmotivated to Inspired; From Pressures to Priorities; From Hassle to Harmony; From Anxiety to Empathy; From Defensive to Diverse; From Tense to Tranquil.

I agree that if you followed the principles in this book, you’d have a LOT less stress, and it is different than Covey’s book in that it is specifically designed to discuss stress. But I guess personally, I would just re-read Covey’s book and apply the habits in order to relieve stress. This is a small, concise, easy-to-read book, though, so if you have a client who might not get through Covey’s larger, denser book, this might be a good choice.

The link above is an Amazon affiliate link and I receive a small compensation for purchases made through this link.

Review: The Courage to be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga

I must confess that I was drawn to this book by the title – I mean, isn’t this something almost everyone needs, the courage to be disliked? Just the title is somewhat misleading, though. This is really a primer on the psychology of Alfred Adler, written in a dialogue style between the two authors. The dialogue style wasn’t my favorite, and I found myself not being able to relate on many occasions to the conversations they were having.

I also am not a huge fan of Adlerian psychology, although I understand that I probably don’t fully grasp the concepts. For example, Adler believed that there is no such thing as trauma. If I say “I’m traumatized by my dad because he beat me growing up”, Adler would say “no, you don’t want to have a relationship with your dad, so you are creating trauma”. I don’t think he’s saying suffering isn’t real – I think it’s more about taking responsibility for the here and now – but still, I don’t like how it’s framed.

Overall, then, I did not like this book. But the weird thing is that there are several quotes and concepts that really DID resonate with me. For example, he asks the question “whose task is this?” to delineate boundaries. Not really a new concept, but a new way to ask the question “who does this belong to?”. Also, he says that the courage to be free includes the courage to be disliked – meaning that if you don’t have the courage to be disliked, you’ll always be living someone else’s life.

Anyway, if you are a philosophical type who likes really complex discussion and arguments, you might like this book and its format. It’s not one that I’ll be keeping on my shelf, but I’m not sorry I read it!

The link above is an Amazon affiliate link and I receive a small compensation from books purchased from this link.

Review: The Way Out by Alan Gordon, LCSW

Alan Gordon is the Director of the Pain Psychology Center in Los Angeles, and I’ve been waiting with bated breath for his book to come out. The fact is that we have a chronic pain epidemic in this country, and many of us as therapists will see clients with chronic pain, whether that is their primary presenting symptom or not.

It’s a bit of a dicey topic with clients to suggest that their thinking/brain/mind may have something to do with their pain – it’s often insulting like “do you think my pain is just in my head?” As Gordon says “do you feel your pain? Then it’s real.” But he’s correct in saying that physical pain is a conversation between the mind/brain and the body – every time we feel pain, it’s our brain that is sending the signal to initiate pain. With chronic pain, Gordon says that those neurons have fired together so much that the brain becomes “stuck on” with pain signals, sometimes after the physical injury should have run its course. He calls this neuroplastic pain.

Because a person in pain gets in a cycle of fear about their pain, the main thrust of Pain Reprocessing Therapy is to understand that it’s just your brain misfiring and to send yourself messages of safety. After determining the pain may be neuroplastic, clients do “somatic tracking”, which is to just observe their bodies with curiosity instead of the fear-based laser focus they usually use. Clients also send themselves messages of safety instead of fear.

While I’m dubious that this is a 100% ironclad treatment for pain, I have found many of the things he’s saying to be true with my chronic pain clients. I will absolutely keep this book handy and use these techniques with willing chronic pain clients. Since chronic pain is such a common issue, I suggest having this book on hand for clinicians, even if chronic pain is not your specialty.

Disclaimer: The link above is an Amazon affiliate link and I receive a small compensation from purchases made from this link.

Comparative Review: No Bad Parts by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D compared to Self-Therapy by Jay Earley, Ph.D

I have often heard about Internal Family Systems (IFS), and I’ve also heard about “parts work”, but I have never really investigated either one. This new book by Richard Schwartz (the founder of IFS) is getting a lot of press, so I bought it. But subsequent to that purchase, another therapist said she liked “Self-Therapy” a lot better. So that gave me an idea to read both books and do a comparative review for those people, like me, who want to know more about IFS but have limited time to read.

Here’s the basic premise of IFS. If you know anything about family systems in general, you know that each family member is a component of the whole, and often one family member is the “identified patient”, being blamed for the failure of the entire system. Different units of the family might align with each other against the others, and so forth. The idea behind Internal Family Systems is quite similar. Basically, we are all made up of multiple facets or parts. These parts are not metaphors but actual beings inside of us that take on different roles (think Pixar’s Inside Out). The issues or problems that we have are often just parts that are trying to protect us from something or manage things for us. Therefore, this type of therapy is just like practicing Family Systems on our internal family of parts.

No Bad Parts

I chose to read “No Bad Parts” first, and it was a quick and engaging read. The book is fine for clinicians but is kind of geared towards people being able to do some of the concepts on their own. To this end, there are a couple of exercises in each chapter that help you “map” your parts, communicate with them and get to know them. One of the main concepts is that most of us “go to war” against our parts, which doesn’t work. If we understand that there are parts of us that might be maladaptive, but only because they are trying to protect us, then we can be more compassionate and curious about them. The idea is to reassure them that our Self is not a little kid any more, and that the Self can handle things and no longer needs to be protected in the same way.

I do like that this theory (or at least this book) brings in a spiritual aspect that when we can love all of our parts, we can love everyone, and that doing this parts work connects us to one another and into larger purposes. I also like the idea of befriending parts of us we might normally criticize and seeing them as trying to help and assist.

I do not completely like all of the verbiage. Even after reading the book, I find myself saying “what is an exile again? How is that different from a Protector, a Manager, or a Firefighter?” On the one hand, these are kind of self descriptive terms, but they all operate differently, and it seems like it’s important to know the distinction, but the distinctions are super confusing to me. Also, I’m totally on board with saying theres a “part of you” that does this or that – I’m not sure I can completely buy into the idea that these parts are independent beings that have their own lives and personalities. It’s just a stretch for me.

There are lots of exercises in the book, and several session transcripts so you can see what a sample session might be like. Again, I was a little uncomfortable with these transcripts; it felt a little to me like people might just be saying they were in touch with these “little people” inside to please the therapist? Or maybe that is just my failure to buy into these parts being separate personalities. I’m not sure. I found this book interesting, but I don’t see a client being able to fully find any kind of self relief from this particular book. And as a therapist, I wanted a clearer understanding of the concepts.


I did actually like this book much better than No Bad Parts, although I might have liked No Bad Parts better had I read it second, after this book, which is what I would recommend if you are just starting out in IFS. Earley also has a lot of exercises in each chapter, but he also provides “Help Sheets”, which is basically an explanation of the order of doing things if you are trying this on your own. He also gives you a complete road map of how to do IFS and when to do each step. His verbiage is much more clear as well – referring mainly just to exiles and protectors.

I think this book (of the two) is the far better book for both clinicians and clients who want to find out what IFS is about and perhaps try to do some of it on their own. It is easy to take it step by step throughout the book and experiment in a pretty safe way. There are also transcripts here, and Earley follows the same clients throughout the book, showing how they worked through each stage of the process.

Final Thoughts

I have to confess that I find myself uneasy about IFS as a whole; and I think it has to do with my experience with cults. I know that sounds harsh, but there is a lot of “thought stopping” present here, and at the very least, IFS is an unprovable hypothesis. For example, if I say “I’m not sure I really buy into parts being actual separate beings with their own personalities”, then IFS would say “that’s just your Skeptic Part, and what you really need to do is work with the skeptic to see what’s going on”. Or if I say “this is interesting but I don’t actually want to do the exercises”, IFS would say “that’s your Avoidant Part, and you need to work with your avoidant part because it’s getting in the way”. In this way, the answer to every legitimate concern or question circles back into the theory itself, so there is no plausible way to question it. As a scientist friend said “this is a faith based system; not a fact based system.” I’m not saying IFS is no good – if you like the ideas, I suggest you start with Self-Therapy and then read No Bad Parts if you want more. But it is worth noting that there is no possible way to disagree with these authors assumptions.

The links above are Amazon affiliate links and I do receive a small compensation for books purchased through this link.

Review: Baby Bomb by Kara Hoppe, MFT & Stan Tatkin, PsyD

Baby Bomb is the latest book on keeping your relationship healthy after you have a baby. Although Hoppe says there really aren’t books on this topic, I often suggest John Gottman’s “And Baby Makes Three” or Stacie Cockrell’s “Babyproofing Your Marriage” (my favorite). However, I was compelled to read this book because I really do love Stan Tatkin’s theory that combines attachment theory with neuroscience. This book is not significantly different than the other two, but does originate with Tatkin’s PACT approach, so if your client is already familiar with that, this might be the preference.

Hoppe organizes the book around ten guiding principles, the first of which is “the couple comes first.” This is something those familiar with Tatkin will recognize, the idea that no matter what happens, when you commit to someone, your “couple bubble” comes first – before anything, and that includes your baby. Hoppe reviews the attachment styles and also encourages partners to know their partner’s “tells” – the small ways your partner reveals their feelings (such as tensing up, a frown, etc).

The remainder of the agreements talk about learning how to co-regulate or take care of each other; how to make and honor agreements; making decisions as a team; valuing your own and each others needs; keeping family and work life balanced; redefining and reconnecting to romance; fighting fair and treating each other with sensitivity and respect. Hoppe does a good job of giving examples of couples not doing each principle well, and then turning it around to show how they would do it well.

I think we all know that the title of this book is true; having a baby is kind of like having a bomb go off in your relationship and most couples don’t plan for it, and are surprised by it. I’m happy to see another book on the topic. It’s been awhile since I read the other two that I recommend, so I can’t say definitively which one is my absolute favorite. But I do love Stan Tatkin and his philosophy and this is a solid contribution to this genre.

The link above is an Amazon affiliate link and I receive a small compensation for purchases made with this link.

Review: Atomic Habits by James Clear

I seem to have had several clients lately really struggling to find motivation. One day, looking for resources, I came across James Clear’s blog and website and found some really great info ( I’ve seen this book but hadn’t read it, so I decided it was time. This book kind of reminded me of the book “Mini Habits” by Steven Guise, which I love. But, it did have some different info, so I guess I would say I recommend them both!

First Clear makes his case that “atomic” habits, or very small habits, can add up to big changes (same point Guise makes). He breaks down habits into 4 discernable steps – first there is some kind of cue, which gives us a craving. We respond, and then there is a reward. For example, I see a bag of chips and want to eat them. I do eat them, and it tastes good. Next Clear gives us his “Four Laws” of creating good habits and breaking bad ones.

The first Law, make it obvious, is about making the new habit you want to engage in as obvious as possible. First you need awareness, so you write down all of your current habits and all of the things that happen to you on a regular, daily basis. Next, get really specific about your plan to create a new habit. Don’t just say “I’m going to get organized”, but say something like “Everytime I get up from my desk, I’m going to put one thing away”. You can also use what he calls “habit stacking” – which is to link something you’re already doing regularly with something you want to start doing, like “before every meal, I’m going to drink a glass of water”. Also, it helps if you work on your environment, making the things you want to do obvious and front-and-center, and the things you don’t want to do more hidden.

The second Law, make it attractive, is about trying to make your new habit more desirable. You already do a lot of things you want to do, so pair a new habit next to something enjoyable. Find ways to motivate yourself by doing something you enjoy right before you do something you want to start doing. Here, it also helps if you surround yourself with people who are also doing this new habit, or living like you want to live.

The third Law, make it easy, is about making your new habit as easy as possible to up the likelihood that you’ll do it. Make the initial habit pretty small, so it’s easy to do. Automate it if possible. Decrease the number of steps between you and the good habit, or increase the amount of steps you need to do to engage in the bad habit.

The fourth Law, make it satisfying, is about trying to make this new habit tasty. Try finding something that reinforces the habit or rewards you immediately. Use habit trackers or accountability partners. You can even write up a contract and have consequences if you don’t follow through.

These ideas can be found on a printable cheatsheet at Overall, I think this book has a lot of GREAT ideas for forming new habits and decreasing bad habits. Of course there is not magical solution but this book could benefit everyone. I definitely want it on my office shelves so I can reference it quickly when I need this information!

Disclaimer: The link above is an Amazon affiliate link, for which I receive a small compensation for purchases. Summaries are NOT intended to replace purchase of the book, but simply to save you time reading.

Review: Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope by Johann Hari

Johann Hari is a British-Swiss writer and journalist who has written a very important book here, or at least extremely thought provoking. Hari himself has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety since his teenage years.

First let me say that you may not agree with the conclusions Hari comes to in this book, particularly if you are of a conservative leaning. However, you can disagree with the conclusions, but you can’t disagree with the research he quotes. Research doesn’t have a political slant, it just is what it is. So I would actually love to have a conservative type person read the actual research and then come up with some other, different conclusions so that we might have a variety of ideas.

Ok, on to the book itself. Hari starts the book by talking about how we think about depression itself. I think we have all heard (and maybe said?) the story about how if you are depressed, something has gone wrong with the neurotransmitters in your brain and you just need more seratonin. The problem is, this isn’t really proven. Many honorable experts Hari interviewed said this just isn’t true for the most part. That’s not to say that SSRI’s don’t help some people, but the numbers are frustratingly low. Remember that pharmaceutical companies have spent $100 billion dollars making sure we all believe this.

In addition, even in the DSM, we’ve seen in the past exceptions for the depression diagnosis for things like bereavement. And if you’re a therapist, I think we all agree that there’s no timeline for grief, and that it’s ridiculous that it’s not depression up to a point, and then it suddenly is! And Hari’s point is, why is grief an exception, but – say – your spouse of 20 years cheating on you and leaving isn’t? Isn’t that a form of grief too? Why do we then label it depression? So, some very interesting thoughts to start.

Hari’s main point is that for the most part, when people are depressed, it kind of makes sense based on what is happening in their lives. In other words, it’s a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances. Hari talks about the 9 causes of depression that he has come across in the hundreds of interviews he has done (he acknowledges that there may be more; these are just what he has come across). Two of those are about genetics and biology, but seven of them are forms of disconnection. Disconnection from: meaningful work, other people, meaningful values, childhood trauma, status and respect, the natural world, and a hopeful and secure future. Increasingly, our world is actually designed to force these connections, and that is why Hari’s solutions are about changing society and the world to provide more of these connections for people.

Therefore, his solutions are forms of reconnection. Reconnection to: other people, social prescribing, meaningful work, meaningful values, sympathetic joy, addiction to the self, overcoming childhood trauma and restoring the future. Again, his solutions are just his solutions. I think we can all agree that the disconnections are there; we might disagree on his solutions, which is fine.

I still think this is an eye-opening book for both therapists AND clients, because there is so much depression out there and the information is not always accurate. I think that it is quite affirming to tell clients that their reactions are somewhat normal – that anyone would be depressed in their situation. I also still think antidepressants can sometimes be helpful, but we can all probably agree that they are problematic. I really, really liked this book and think anyone could benefit from reading it. I look forward to more from Johann Hari!

Disclaimer: The link above is an Amazon Affiliate link and I receive a small compensation for purchases made through this link.

Review: Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell

I work a fair amount with cult survivors, or those exiting cults and one of my clients recommended this book to me, after hearing Montell interviewed on a podcast. You may be thinking this isn’t really a self-help book, or a book a therapist might need. But nowadays, fanatacism is a real problem, and therapists might need some help to identify it.

Montell starts out talking about the dangerous cults that we are all familiar with, like Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate. She then shifts to talking about today’s mainstream religions that are considered cults, like Scientology. But then she shifts into things that some of us may not realize are “cultish”, like multilevel marketing companies, fitness groups, or Internet “influencers”. She does note that not all “cultish” groups are harmful or dangerous; but it is still a good idea to be aware of the linguistics that “cultish” groups use to manipulate followers, so that you can assess if a particular group is a good idea for you.

Cultish language begins by making people feel that they are special and understood. Then it works to create reliance on the group or leader so that people can’t imagine life outside the group anymore. Finally it can convince you to act in new ways, that previously you may have never acted. Several linguistic tools are used to do this, but it generally starts with us-versus-them talk.

Some other tools are loaded language and thought terminating cliches. Loaded language is when commonly used words or phrases are used in ways that give them a new or special meaning – an innocent example might be how CrossFit uses the word “box” to describe the workout space instead of gym. Thought terminating cliches are phrases that discourage critical thinking, that stop conversations in their tracks. Another innocent example might be how “no pain, no gain” is used in CrossFit to discourage people from critiquing the workouts as too harsh.

I’m going to quote directly from the book here, because Montell has some really great questions you can ask if you think a group might be “cultish”:

  • Is this group genuinely welcoming to all different people?
  • Do you feel excessive pressure to dress and talk like everyone else?
  • Are you allowed to participate casually, to dabble in this?
  • Do you find yourself putting all your time and faith in this group alone, basing all your decisions on theirs?
  • What is the exit cost? Is it a price you’d be willing to pay?

I feel like this book is a valuable resource for clinicians because in today’s America, fanatical groups are thriving – not just politically but on social media. In order to educate our clients about groups where they feel a sense of belonging, it would be good if we know what kind of linguistics to watch for, so we can ask good questions.

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Review: The Lady’s Handbook for her Mysterious Illness by Sarah Ramey

I’ve been waiting to read this book for a long time. This is an important book – SO important. If you do not have a mysterious illness or know someone who does, then you are in the minority. What I mean by mysterious illnesses are things like fibromyalgia, lupus, Lyme disease – but also the lesser known ones like Ehlers-Danlos, dysautonomia, POTS, gastroparesis and so on. Most of them are autoimmune but not all. Also, these diseases have a huge percentage of female sufferers. The hallmark of this experience is that these diseases are women’s diseases, and when women try to figure out what is wrong with them, they are not believed by the medical establishment and it takes YEARS to get a diagnosis, almost always. And then when they do get a diagnosis, there is often not very good treatment at all.

I work with chronic illness so this book was not a huge surprise to me. This is Ramey’s memoir of her own journey with unexplained chronic illness, but the story is a familiar one to me. The level of disrespect from doctors, the insistence that it is a psychological condition, the fight to get treatment, and even the medical malpractice. I wish I could say I’ve never heard these stories, but I hear them all the time. If you are a therapist, you ARE going to have these clients, and you must read this book, because we therapists can do a LOT of damage if we go the “think positive” or “your thoughts are creating your reality” route. You need to understand that these are real experiences, and that being believed and validated is the best medicine there is.

Not only does Ramey give us the blow by blow of her own health journey, but she also gives a lot of science, philosophy and treatment ideas for these issues. There are things that most Western doctors do not believe in that really might help for these issues, and there is a lot of solid science behind it, despite their disbelief. Things like adrenal fatigue and cortisol issues, the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) and so on. Not that we would give medical advice as therapists, but if our clients are talking about these things, it would be good if we don’t have to suppress and eye roll because we think they are “googling” their illness (something they get accused of a LOT).

Ramey also talks about some philosophical issues, like how our society really values the masculine and undervalues feminine qualities (like rest, self-care and so on). Also, many of these chronic illness sufferers are HSPs (highly sensitive people), or are too nice and do not know how to say no or fight for themselves – or they’re afraid to, as then they are labeled “hysterical” or too emotional and — you guessed it, told once again that it’s all psychological.

Ultimately, Ramey gives advice that won’t seem super over the top or unusual, but bears repeating in this context. Eat real food, get gentle movement going, reduce stress in any way you can, learn to speak up for yourself, believe women and build community. But she also gives some other more specific advice, like telling us how useful low-dose naltrexone can be, for one. (I take low-dose naltrexone for my mild case of Ehlers-Danlos, and I also really believe that it works).

Ultimately, I do think that every therapist and mental health professional should read this book. I wish that everyone would read this book, because I think our society would be better off. As I said at the beginning, if you do not know a woman with one of these mysterious illnesses, you would be in a small minority. They may not talk to you about it, because they may not view you as supportive. But you would be if you read this book, which is why you should!

Disclaimer: The link above is an Amazon Affiliate link and I receive a small compensation from purchases made through this link.