Review: Escaping Emotional Abuse by Beverly Engel, LMFT

Beverly Engel has written a plethora of books, mostly about anger and abuse. This book focuses mostly on shame, which she says is the root of all emotional abuse. First the abuser has shame and takes that out on others in the form of abuse, and then the victim is consistently shamed until that is their primary emotion as well. Engel sets out in this book to give a shamed victim some tools to identify their shame and determine what they should do about the relationship.

Engel begins by helping the reader identify whether, in fact, they are in an emotionally abusive relationship, and if so, how shame interfaces with that. She gives the reader some specific tools to stop believing what the abuser is saying, use anger productively, and start to begin offering yourself self-compassion and self-kindness.

Engel then moves on to determining whether you should stay or go. This depends on several factors, the first being whether or not you think you can safely confront your partner. If so, she offers specific suggestions on how to do that. She also outlines what makes abuse intentional vs. unintentional, and how to determine whether or not your partner has a personality disorder that would make change difficult.

I love that she confronts how you might feel if you do leave, that you will probably be tempted to go back. And she offers some really good guidelines and exercises to do so that you can get some perspective on whether or not that is just loneliness or emotion, or whether it really is a good idea to return. Throughout, she offers no judgment whatsoever if you decide you want to stay or go.

Having never been in an abusive relationship, I can’t tell you with 100% accuracy if this book would be soundly helpful. But I would certainly offer it to a client in this situation, or do the exercises together. Like all self-help books, this one will work best if you take it slow and actually do each exercise with a lot of thoughtfulness.

I received this book free from Kensington Publishing for my review, and it will be on sale January 1, 2021.

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 the book, but simply to save you time reading.

Review: Feel by E. Trent Thompson & Arielle Estoria

This is a little bit different of a review. E. Trent Thompson is a friend of mine, and this little book would be such a fantastic Christmas gift for your therapist, your therapist friends, your colleagues — or really anyone! This book is a list of emotions, and Arielle writes a beautiful poem that describes the emotion. Then Trent compliments that with an artistic depiction of the emotion. Here’s an example:

We keep this on our coffee table in our lobby for clients to peruse. One of my colleagues used it for a support group, opening with each person choosing a page for check-in. And it can be used in so many ways with clients who find it hard to identify emotion, or it would be appropriate for anyone who loves art or poetry.

You can still get this as a Christmas gift, and in the month of December, you can 10% off your purchase with the code FEEL234 at!

Review: Your Brain is Always Listening by Dr. Daniel Amen

First of all, I love Dr. Amen. Although he has been a controversial figure for some, I have found his books, clinics and information to be consistently solid. On four separate occasions, I have referred clients to his clinics after multiple treatment options for mental health issues have failed. On every occasion, they have been able to get a handle on the issues after visiting the Amen Clinic. The Amen Clinics use SPECT scans of the brain in order to diagnose and treat. Dr. Amen’s books outline how to have good “brain health” and he asserts that what we call “mental health” issues are really “brain health” issues. Personally, I don’t like a lot of his advice (I have to give up bread??? waaah), but I can see that his advice is based on research and solid.

My only complaint about this book is that it has so much information! It literally could be four or five books. Some of my angst about it is probably due to reading an advance reader copy on the Kindle; I suggest buying this book in hard copy, because 1. it would be great to just have handy as a reference and 2. I think it would be easier to manage the information.

This book reminds me of one of my favorite books, called “Taming Your Gremlin” by Rick Carson. Basically, it’s an externalizing technique where Dr. Amen outlines all of the “Dragons” that we might have running around in our heads, either from the past, from our experiences, or from other people. For example, you might have a “should” dragon, or an “angry” dragon. The first two sections of the book outline multiple “Dragons” you might suffer with, along with some suggestions about how you might know if you have this dragon and what you can do about it.

Next he addresses the thoughts that fuel the Dragons, and outlines them as “ANTs” – automatic negative thoughts. These are similar to the cognitive distortions we would find with CBT. It’s nice because he will say you can have an “All or Nothing” ANT, and then he will say which of the Dragons are fueled by this kind of thinking.

Next he discusses “Bad Habit Dragons”, like saying yes too much, or being disorganized. And he warns about forces outside of us that really try to get us into bad habits, like the food industry, or the internet/social media and how to cope with these “pushers”.

Lastly, he gives us a new, modified 12-step program that can help us combat all of these issues – and in this section he gives us lots of specific nutritional and supplement information based on your individual dragons and your brain type. (You can take a quiz about your brain type at I have always loved Dr. Amen’s books, but he’s really outdone himself this time.

I received this book free from Net Galley. It won’t be out until March 2. 2021, but you can pre-order now at the link below!

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 the book, but simply to save you time reading.

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.

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.