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Books to Avoid

There are so many pop psychology, clinical, and self-books written nowadays, that I can’t keep up. Most of the time I’m amazed at what, after 30 years in the field, I still can learn. However, occasionally I’m appalled by some of these books which can be detrimental to certain kinds of clients and reinforce their problems, not only with food and weight, but in other areas as well.

Most self-help books are written for the general population—people who are having trouble changing their thinking and behavior in various settings—not for trauma survivors. Yet, more and more, the people I treat come from childhoods that are traumatic, at worst, and seriously dysfunctional, at best. Most already compare themselves intensely unfavorably with others, have major issues with self-esteem, self-worth and self-image, and have spent decades trying to improve their emotional health. considering their backgrounds, nearly all have made incredible strides, but too many remain stuck in old wounds and destructive patterns. Although they generally come to me to treat their eating problems, our work takes us into every aspect of their lives.

Unfortunately, some pop psych books focus only on the present and future, eschew delving into the past, and insist that readers can transform themselves if they simply try harder or hard enough. They blame the reader for lack of progress, implying that she or he is deficient or defective when transformation fails to occur. Diet books do this more than others, but so do some cognitive-behavioral books and other simplistic approaches that assert that change is nothing but mind over matter. While this may be true for folks who’ve had a relatively stable, functional childhood, this perspective may be damaging to individuals who’ve grown up in families in which they suffered abuse or neglect.

Because of how brain circuitry gets established, for trauma survivors, part of creating a new future includes healing from the past. Adaptive responses of fear, anxiety, helplessness, and hopelessness are set down through neural impulses and are not merely stinkin’ thinkin’. Their neurological existence must be recognized, understood, and dealt with. Traumatic childhood survivors cannot simply will themselves upbeat, fearless, hopeful, proactive and well. They must thoroughly explore, work through and change the brain circuitry that their dysfunctional history has set down for them.

Beware of books whose one-size-fits-all approach makes you feel inadequate and less than or insists that the past doesn’t matter. Everything matters: past, present and future.