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: A Cure for Darkness by Alex Riley

When I saw this book by Alex Riley, it looked like something that would be super interesting; and it was! I’m not sure exactly who the intended audience is for this book – it isn’t really solution based, but it is filled with a ton of very interesting information.

Riley begins the book by giving a lengthy history of depression treatments, mental health and psychotherapy (Freud, anyone?). I’m not sure if everyone will be as fascinated by this as me, but I’m a therapist so maybe not!

Riley talks about his own struggle with depression and the things that he has tried, but also goes into the myriad treatments that are out there for this disease. He talks about the differences between anti-depresssants (MAO inhibitors, SSRIs and tricyclics) and why some might work better for different people. He gives a history of ECT, which has gotten a bad name, but has been very effective historically for depression.

The most fascinating part of the book to me (and something that I really didn’t know, but should have!) is the connection between inflammation and depression. There is a clear connection between inflammation in the body and depression, so lowering your inflammation might help you more than anti-depressants will. Following a Mediterranean diet (which lowers inflammation) and not drinking alcohol (which raises inflammation) are places you can start. Also, intense exercise can raise inflammation, whereas moderate exercise 3 days a week might help.

Lastly, he talks about psychedelics and ketamine, and the new research about how it might be helpful. This is a really fascinating book and a must-read for anyone who wants to know more in general about depression.

Disclaimer: The Amazon link above is an affiliate link and I receive a small compensation for purchases made through this link. I received this book free from Net Galley for my review.

Review: How to Heal Yourself from Depression by Amy Scher

Amy Scher calls herself an “energy therapist”, although as far as I can tell this doesn’t come with any particular credentials. This book is a variation on Emotional Freedom Technique, or “tapping”, as it is sometimes called. Scher explains EFT and also adds several energy techniques that she has created specifically for working with depression.

First a couple of general observations. If you’ve read my reviews before, you know that I am not a super big fan of this new trend to drop f-bombs and other swear words in what should be a therapeutic book. Not that I am any kind of prude when it comes to language, but 1) it seems inappropriate for this genre of book and 2) it feels affected, like the author is trying too hard to be super cool. In my view, it may make the book inaccessible to certain audiences, and why would you want to do that? However, I get that this may be my own personal pet peeve. Also, I had to laugh at a certain point in this book when she said something was too “woo-woo” for her, because I’m thinking “I don’t know, lady, energy healing is about as “woo-woo” as it gets!” That said, she quotes some people I really admire like Candace Pert (author of “Molecules of Emotion”) and some of the available research on epi-genetics and so forth. And let’s face it, depression is such a pervasive problem that if you haven’t been able to find relief in traditional methods, why would you not try anything that might work?

The book is broken into parts, with Scher first explaining the different techniques, and then going on to apply them to all kinds of different situations. Besides the traditional EFT techniques, she gives us a daily practice, temple and thymus gland tapping, chakra tapping, and a script she calls “The Sweep”, intended to “sweep away” old beliefs and challenges. All of these techniques are explicitly explained in the book, and several can be found in videos on her website,

She goes into detail on our beliefs and how we acquire and retain them; our emotions and how they drive our unhelpful thoughts; trauma, both in our lives and “generationally”. For each of these she explains how to use the techniques and which should be used for what. Then in the “keeping the changes” part of the book, she talks about how to interpret your body’s signals, how to set good boundaries and say no, and some commitments you can make to yourself to keep yourself healthy going forward. So there is a lot of information in this book that is fairly “mainstream” as well as the instructions on energy healing.

Lastly, she talks about “muscle testing” – which is a technique you can use to determine what to work on if you don’t remember the trauma for example; or if you can’t determine which emotion you need to clear. It can also be used to decide which technique to use and how long to use it for. While this seems a little “out there”, I will self-disclose that a local acupuncturist used “muscle testing” to determine what my son was allergic to, and he was spot on. I tried her technique because it seemed a little more vague; and was shocked to find that it totally worked!!

So while this book will not be for everyone, it might be worth checking out; especially if you or your clients have had no luck with traditional depression treatment – what’s the harm? While I would never offer this as a replacement for the more traditional treatments, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest someone try it if they are at their wit’s end. Hey, it might even really work for them, and even if it doesn’t, I bet they will still glean some useful information. This book will be out in February and can be pre-ordered now. I received my copy from Net Galley for my review.

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

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!


Review: Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson

I can just imagine giving this book to my clients; it seems too simple to be true. People want to think it’s more complicated than this. But it really is this simple. The way you allow yourself to think really does change your life. Think differently and your life will change. We have an incredible lack of discipline over our thoughts. This book will teach you some really simple ways to think differently and change your brain structure. Over time, this will create more happiness, more peace, more contentment. It really does work. But it really IS work; it is so easy to be lazy with our thoughts.

Rick Hanson is the guy who came up with the phrase I love, “the brain is Teflon for the good and Velcro for the bad”.  This book, similar to his other books, helps us come up with strategies to increase the good so our brain doesn’t just “Teflon” it away.  Specifically in this book, he works through an acronym, HEAL. H stands for “have a positive experience”; E is “enrich it”; A is “absorb it” and L is “link it to a negative experience”.  Again, you can just dismiss this as positive nonsense.  BUT, I believe if you actually practice it, you’ll see the results.  Neuroscience is behind this, not just wishful thinking.