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Fascinating for the detached observer, unhelpful format for many who are seeking help
on 19 January 2012
I bought this to try to understand if CBT could be appropriate to a friend battling various issues, and having skim read it focusing on the parts that seemed most relevant, it seemed obvious that CBT could be really valuable. I actually passed them the book so they could have a look themselves, and they tried to get somewhere with it, but explained that it was exactly the wrong format for their needs (and to be honest I found the format distractingly fragmented too) and probably for most other people in their position.
If you're dealing with anxiety, de-motivation, depression or anger, and your judgement and perception are clouded by all of these and more, what you need is a genuinely 'for dummies' introduction. You need something cleanly and simply formatted (fail), engaging - probably thanks to real life examples and use of every day language (fail), written conversationally with a genuine sense of the authors personality, expertise and empathy coming through(fail), that ideally starts by reflecting back at the user the frustrations and pain points they're experiencing in a sympathetic, positive way; and only then, step by step, explains the underlying dynamics and mechanics that CBT identifies and addresses.
What it actually does is use an information dense, distractingly 'mix-and-match' format (which, in all fairness, is the series' USP, so they couldn't really do anything else); introduces CBT as a concept and science in a way that borderline mystifies it (surely a book for dummies should demystify?) instead of talking about needs and solutions that users can immediately identify with; and, although written informally, isn't written conversationally or engagingly.
If you're anxious, distracted, depressed or bitter, you probably need a book on the topic that makes it easy to engage with the topic and reels you in in spite of yourself, not a book that reads/looks like a really long text-book or reference book, that's been given a frenetic edge by it's formatting. It's also worth bearing in mind that a lot of people who are engaged in destructive thought patterns are probably in the habit of simplistic or lazy analysis (hell, that's one of the premises of CBT) and may be generally weak on analytical and critical thinking and objectivity. Given that possibility/probability, a useful 'everyman's' take on the topic needs to be simple and intuitive, which this book's isn't.
I don't know what this book purports to be (text book? accessible self-help manual? filler material for the dummies series?) so it's unfair to criticise it from the perspective of self-help manual, but if that's the angle you are coming from, even if, like me you have enjoyed other titles in the dummies series, I would say steer clear unless you are very comfortable with the series' style and don't mind a sensitive topic being handled in a dry, disjointed, dip-in-and-out way.