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Helen Rowland (Skipton, Yorkshire)

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How To Stay Sane: The School of Life
How To Stay Sane: The School of Life
by Philippa Perry
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

110 of 116 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smart, pithy, readable, 4 Jun. 2012
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It's a heart sink moment for most psychotherapists when your client asks if you can recommend a good self-help book. How to say 'not likely!' without sounding like you take yourself way too seriously?

It's not that I disagree with the the self-help book in principle: I am not the hairdresser who gets cross when you cut your own fringe. It's just that the vast majority are too prescriptive, reductionist and fail to interrogate the fundamental philosophical presuppositions of our peculiarly Western obsession with self-gratification. Promises of snake-oil and change-your-life moments are seductive but the net result when the quick-fix stalls is that the individual feels even more of a failure.

Philippa Perry has come to our rescue with a smart, pithy, readable book that everyone with even a passing interest in their psychological health will find useful. It has a wealth of useful advice based on sound, psychological theories without making the mistake of assuming a one-size-fits-all road map.

The book treads a path towards self-knowledge and self-growth over the pursuit of happiness per se and so places itself firmly at the philosophical end of the the self-help market. She avoids the pitfall of most self-help books by acknowledging that absolute control over our conscious mind is a fallacy and uses the neuroscience of the unconscious to explain this. Nor are we a slave to our unconscious and the final section provides a range of brilliantly simple and easily do-able exercise to help us work mindfully with our unconscious aspects.

But the part that gives me most joy is that she fully embraces what Beisser called 'the paradoxical theory of change': Beisser tells us that 'change occurs when one becomes what he [sic] is, not when he tries to become what he is not'. Perry weaves this through the book as a fundamental assumption about the nature of the self, and it is precisely this, in my opinion, that sets her work head and shoulders above any other self-help book on the market. Most self-help books focus primarily on change so we can be 'more' something: more confident, more assertive, more likeable, more courageous. Perry holds firm to the principle that the most meaningful changes only occur when we stop trying and simply become more mindful of who we are.

I loved this book. It fills an important gap in the self-help market and is set to become a firm favourite in my practice library.
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