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: Nervous Energy by Dr. Chloe Carmichael, Ph.d.

Overall, I really like this book. Dr. Carmichael is a New York City based therapist who specializes in “high functioning people”. This is actually my only real complaint about the book. Low functioning people she defines as people who struggle to meet their most basic needs (food, shelter, employment), who have mental health diagnoses that prevent them from doing these things, or who have big social challenges. High functioning people, on the other hand, are people who are successfully employed, were successful in school, pay their bills and have some savings, have satisfying relationships, and so forth. She says that while lower functioning people need weekly therapy to learn skills and be in the presence of a higher functioning person, higher functioning people may not need weekly therapy and tend to need more goal-oriented and practical approaches. Maybe I don’t really think this designation is necessary because I do work with more high functioning clients and not at an inpatient or county mental health facility? But I feel like most of us therapists (in fee for service private practice anyway) are seeing higher functioning clients, and it’s such a huge category that I think making any really large sweeping statements about the whole group is insufficient. But be that as it may, this book is for “high functioning” clients who need practical tools for their particular issues.

While anxiety is typically categorized as “bad”, Carmichael explains that some level of healthy anxiety – or “nervous energy” – is what makes a lot of high functioning clients successful. And while this energy/anxiety is great to get through school or be successful at a high paced job, sometimes it is not helpful in their personal lives or inside their heads. So she gives 9 tools that she has found helpful in teaching high functioning or driven clients to cope with excess anxiety or energy. Many of these tools are common mindfulness or CBT tools that many therapists use, with both high and low functioning clients. There were a few things I found here that I thought were new, but most of the information can be found elsewhere. Still, I did really like the organized way that she laid out the information and the examples and step-by-step instructions that she portrayed.

The 9 tools are: 1) a three part breath (a mindfulness technique that is grounding); 2) Zone of Control (making lists of what you can and can’t control); 3) Mental shortlist (a list of things you’d rather be thinking about besides the thing you are ruminating about); 4) a To-Do List with Emotions (adding emotions can help clarify why you’re having trouble getting your to-do list done); 5) Mind Mapping (a visual map of all the thoughts and feelings you have about a certain issue); 6) Worry Time (scheduling worry time so you don’t worry all the time!); 7) Response Prevention (finding alternatives to a behavior you want to stop doing); 8) Thought Replacement (finding a replacement thought for a problematic one); and 9) Anchoring Statements (simple statements to ground you when you are panicky).

I have used almost all of these techniques with clients, but I like the idea of keeping this menu “handy” with certain clients so that I can more easily remember them and decide when they are appropriate. I also think that a lot of clients would really like this book, as it explains very simply and clearly how to do each technique and when/why you would. I’ll definitely buy a copy for my shelves!

This book won’t be out until March 23, 2021, but you can purchase my summary below in order to access some of the information now; or it can also be pre-ordered from the link below. I received my copy through Net Galley for my review.

Disclaimer: The link above is an Amazon affiliate link and I receive a small compensation from purchases made through this link. Summaries are NOT intended to replace purchase of the book, but simply 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: Stop Avoiding Stuff by Matthew Boone,

This is a recent book based on ACT theory (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).  While I still like the gold standard ACT book “The Happiness Trap” by Russ Harris, this book has some really nice features that might be worth the purchase.  I will say that I do not particularly like the title of this book – I can see people thinking “well I’m not really an avoider” and therefore not thinking this book is for them.  But it’s not really about avoiding per se; it’s about not living a vibrant life because of fear (which is avoiding I guess, but I still don’t love the choice of words). What I’m saying is that I can’t think of anyone this book wouldn’t apply to and I think they have unnecessarily narrowed their audience. 

One thing I love about this book is that it breaks all the concepts down into “microskills”, which means that if you are too busy to sit and read this book cover to cover, no problem! You can simply open up, read “microskill 1” (or whatever skill you think you need) and then get to work putting it into practice.  

The skills are bunched together in categories, like working with thoughts, working with emotions, figuring out your values, working on willingness and so on.  The last three skills are kind of a summary, so if all you have is a little time, start there.

This would be a great copy to own if you are a therapist and a good suggestion for just about any client.  As a client or regular person it’s a good book if you ever feel you are not living your best life. Link for purchase is below.  Also, if you do not have time to read this book but want the information, try my new summary download for $3 in the shop!