Stephen Crippen Therapy

A blog about you (and me) by Stephen Crippen.

Archive for the ‘Bookshelf’ Category

A word about self-help books

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Has anyone ever recommended that you read a self-help book? Sometimes counselors do this–sometimes I do this–and often enough it’s a good idea. But most of the time clients will come back to me and apologize for not buying the book, or buying it but not reading it, or not finding it helpful. They think that I will be upset with them, or offended. But what I’m really doing is slapping my own hand for not explaining well enough my attitude and beliefs about self-help books. If I had done that, they would not be apologizing for the way they took (or didn’t take) my advice.

Here’s my take on self-help books: they are reference works, not novels. You might not need large sections of some of them. You may only be helped by chapter six, or a story in chapter nine, or a reference to a completely different book that fits you better. So if I recommend a book to you, don’t buy it right away. You could even just ignore me entirely! But if you’re really curious, then browse through the first few pages of the book on Amazon and see what you think. If the chapter titles and first few pages of text interest you, then by all means jump in. But if you get the book and start reading it, I encourage you to follow this method:

1. Start by opening the book to any page. This is not magical thinking: I do not believe that you will mysteriously turn to the page that is just right for you. I just mean that you would do well to resist the impulse to read the book from start to finish. If you open the book to any page and find yourself drawn into the ideas and insights, then follow those instincts and delve more deeply into the book. If not, then try another page, another chapter, or go back to the table of contents and see if there’s something that grabs you. I suggest this because it’s all too easy to think you have to start at the beginning, and then you get bogged down, frustrated, and tired–you end up only reading the first 20-30 pages, and you’re discouraged. Don’t take the book that seriously.

2. Fight with the book! It’s not Gospel. If you disagree, reflect on that, use it, learn from it. Self-help books are meant to encourage and motivate you, but if instead they just irritate or upset you, there’s learning in that, too. Bring it back to our next session and tell me the book is crap! I would love that discussion. Believe me, I am not married to the books I recommend. My very favorite books about relationships contain lots of things that bother me. That’s part of what makes them useful.

3. If you like what you’re reading but find yourself resisting it nonetheless–you love the book, but somehow never find time to sit with it–consider the possibility that the book is raising up something important within you, something that is upsetting…and well worth exploring. Your resistance makes sense, and is something you might want to reflect on. A few years ago, it took me a long time to read a certain book on relationships because the book hit so close to home. Notice your resistance and wrestle with it.

4. It’s worth saying again: feel free to ignore the book (and my advice) entirely. It’s always, always optional. Your counseling work is just that, yours. It helps you to challenge me when you feel a certain book–or a certain idea I’ve fallen in love with–is not helping you. When we talk about that, we’re almost certain to move on to something that really motivates you to change and grow.

New Year’s Eve

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Last New Year’s I posted on New Year’s resolutions–why I like them, and how to make them work for you.

This year, I’ve been thinking about the New Year’s celebrations themselves–not what we think or do once the new year is underway, but how we celebrate on New Year’s Eve. If you’re like most people, you’ll wind up at a New Year’s party where the champagne is flowing, for good and ill, and the celebration extends into the wee hours. You might be more interested in a quiet evening at home, and if so that’s probably a much safer and healthier choice! (Me? I’m hoping to ring in the new year by playing cards with my brother and nephews.) Whatever you decide to do, I want to introduce you to a great new blog on the New York Times Web site. It’s called Proof, and it’s all about the ups and downs of alcohol.

Many of the writers for Proof are recovering alcoholics, and all of them are well aware of the major downside to alcohol consumption. But their tone is sober but not judging, clear but not condemning. And some of the writers still drink moderately. Today several of them posted about New Year’s, recalling wonderful–and horrible–New Year’s parties of years past. In previous posts they discuss not only how to drink alcoholic beverages the way they were meant to be drunk–carefully prepared, socially shared, moderately enjoyed–but they also talk about ways to have a “dry” party and still have fun, and things to do when you want to be sober but it seems like the whole world is drinking.

Whether or not you struggle with alcohol (or other poisons), this is a good blog to read as you get ready to ring in the new year.

My annual holiday movie recommendation

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

It’s that time of year again. Time for my favorite holiday movie. Time for “Love Actually.”

It’s a movie filled with love stories. Love between newlyweds, unrequited love, betrayed love, employer/employee love, father/son love, ecstatic love, lost love. And it’s a lot of fun.

I usually laugh with Bill Nighy and cry with Emma Thompson. For some reason, this year I got worked up in the scene where one of the characters reveals his love to another, love that can’t be fulfilled because she’s married, and he’s a gentleman.

And it was just as hard this year to watch Laura Linney’s character face the choice between sibling love and thrilling romantic love. I had to cover my eyes!

Yes, “Love Actually” is a ‘chick movie.’ But it takes on a lot of serious issues, and even while there’s a lot of humor and silliness, there’s a lot to think about. Some of the stories are left unresolved, giving you a chance to put yourself in a character’s shoes and wonder what you would do differently, if anything, or what you would do next.

Happy movie watching, and happy holidays!

I’ve been published

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

It’s immodest to say this, but hey, it doesn’t happen that often–I’ve been included in a book about kids called “Transforming the Difficult Child: True Stories of Triumph” (link below). I studied with one of the authors, Howard Glasser, who has a wonderful approach to working with kids in classrooms and at home.

I submitted a story about a young client I had a few years ago who helped his mom figure out how to give him timeouts in an effective way. She’d see him break a rule and say, “Pause!” and he would freeze. Then, after a few seconds, she’d say, “Play!” and the timeout was over. That’s right–timeouts can last a few seconds. They don’t have to be “one year for every year of your age,” as the old rule goes. (Who thought of that rule? No one seems to know.) The “pause/play” wording that was the five-year-old child’s idea, so not only did it work, it rewarded him for being creative.

I worked with young children–and not-so-young children–for many years, and I’ve found that many of the ideas that work for them are also useful for couples. It’s not that adults in relationships are acting just like little kids–okay, sometimes it’s like that. But the true similarity is this: most of the time, when kids are acting out, they are just not getting what they need, and it’s not “attention.” It’s love, nurturing, boundaries, clear rules, a world that makes sense and has a lot of strength and companionship and kindness in it.

These sound like the basic needs of adult couples! Here’s the book:

Shed your stuff

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Recently I posted a pretty good rationale for not cleaning my basement on my day off. It was a light way to describe the concept of “Radical Acceptance.” Well, let’s say that today is the day to clean that basement, that you can’t stand it anymore, it has to get done, and you’ve decided to do it now. Good for you! I found a book (click icon below to purchase) that describes a four-step way to make this project something more, something that helps you grow and change in your life.

(True confession: I found it while reading O Magazine at the health club. A guilty pleasure!)

The “SHED” process involves four steps:
1. Separate the treasures. Look through your stuff and keep things you truly want and need, or things that have deep meaning for you.
2. Heave the trash. The rest of it is out of here! Personal note: my dad is really good at this step. I remember him saying things like, “Does it work? No? Throw it out!” or “Do we use it? No? Throw it out!” This was a good thing, because my dad had a lot of kids.
3. Embrace your identity. In this step, the author, Julie Morgenstern, encourages you to discern your present and future goals, dreams, hopes, and so forth, and to look at your “shedding” process as part of a larger effort to be your best self, and live your daily life by drawing upon the best in yourself.
4. Drive yourself forward. In this step, you become more active and directive in your re-engagement with life. You pursue the goals and dreams you discerned while shedding not just the old stuff in your basement, but also the old habits, ways of scheduling your time, and other default assumptions and behaviors you have about yourself and your life.

So if you’re looking for a step-by-step way to change your life, not just your basement, you might want to give Morgenstern’s book a try!

“He cheated, not me. What’s wrong with me?”

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

In the film “Primary Colors,” Kathy Bates plays Libby, a character who finds out some dark (and disappointing) truths about her friends, a married couple based on Bill and Hillary Clinton. One of the many memorable lines in the film is Libby’s comment about couples and cheating: “It’s never the one who cheats who goes to hell,” she said. “It’s the one he cheated on.”

I think of this line sometimes when I’m working with people who just found out that their partner has had an affair. Sometimes the affair brings out the worst in a person: rage, despair, more rage, and a deep desire for revenge. But more often it’s a lot more complicated than that. There’s usually a lot of anger, but there’s also (in no particular order) self-doubt, sadness, confusion, shock, more sadness, and anger at one’s self for “being so clueless” or “not reading the signs.” How do you sort it all out?

First, take a breath. Just take a moment and get back in touch with the most simple things–the most simple gifts–in your life, like your breath, your heart, your health, your own basic self. Your partner did this, yes. But you still have yourself. Try to “return to the center” or practice a form of spiritual centering that works for you. (And repeat when necessary!)

Then, try to see your partner’s behavior as just that: your partner’s behavior. It’s not about your attractiveness (or lack thereof). It’s not about mistakes you made, or things you did, even if your partner says it is–or even if you think so yourself! “You drove me away!” your partner might say. But that’s not true. Your partner freely chose to have the affair. If you “drove your partner away,” that only means your partner gave you the power to do so.

As you continue to work through your pain, think about following a step-by-step process of acceptance and healing. I often recommend the book, “How Can I Forgive You?” by Janis Abrahms Spring (see the link below). This book offers more than one way to recover from an affair, whether or not you stay together as a couple, and whether or not your partner wants to cooperate with your recovery.

It can be easy for you, if your partner had an affair, to “go to hell”–by which I mean you create your own hellish existence as you struggle with your confusion, outrage, and hurt feelings. Take time to soothe yourself and work on your own “stuff” during this difficult time. Eventually you may find that the affair is a way for you to learn about yourself and do the hard but rewarding work of self-development.

“He cheated, not me. What’s wrong with me?” Nothing. Nothing at all. And you won’t always feel this upset. I can’t promise you’ll still be a couple when all of this is over, but I can promise that there is a lot you can learn–about yourself–during this difficult time.

Here’s the link to the Abrahms Spring book:

“You only lost your mind twice.”

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

These days I’m reading books by Mary Roach, a journalist and author who has appeared in several magazines and likes to write about odd topics like what happens to the human body after death, or what happens to the human soul after death…and is there such thing as a human soul? She works hard on her books, traveling the world to fill them with interesting perspectives and insights. And she’s really funny.

Right now I’m reading her book called, “Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife” (see below for a link) and in one chapter she finds herself in India, apologizing to her host, who escorted her into remote Indian villages to investigate stories of reincarnation. Mary Roach is apologizing because she wasn’t exactly the easiest or most patient guest. She said to her host, “I’m sorry about…I don’t know. I’m not very submissive.” He replied, “It’s okay. You only lost your mind twice.”

I love this expression! I actually think the same way when someone is apologizing to me for being “crazy.” Or I think this way when a client says, “I’m mentally ill.” I think, No, you’re mostly fine. You just freaked out for a minute there. Or if I know the client well and we have a strong therapy relationship, I’ll say, “Yeah, you’re a little crazy, but only sometimes. So am I!”

I mention all this because so many people think that “crazy”—which is a slippery, hard-to-define word—is a permanent state. Usually all it means is that you are temporarily having a hard time. Even if you’ve been diagnosed with a serious and chronic “mental illness,” such as bipolar disorder, you can enjoy a life fairly free of “crazy” experiences. (I’ve worked with clients who have a bipolar diagnosis, and let me tell you, they are sometimes a lot more calm and stable than some therapists I know!)

So, if you just lost it with your partner, or discovered that you’re freaking out at work, or feel like you’re going “crazy,” remember this kind Indian man’s reassurance of his guest: “It’s okay. You only lost your mind twice.”

And if you’re interested in Mary Roach’s books, click below.

“How Can I Forgive You?”

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

This book, by Janis Abrahms Spring, is great for people who have a hard time forgiving someone close to them. She offers a healthy way to deal with the person without forgiving them, either because they are unwilling to reconcile with you, or they have died, or simply because forgiveness is just not something you’re ready to offer at this time. She also walks readers through the process of genuine forgiveness, which is a process that involves both you and the person who harmed you. Bottom line: forgiveness is not the only path. But if you choose forgiveness, you should know that it always takes two.


“Do One Thing Different”

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Bill O’Hanlon has lots of ideas for people who want to live better and feel better, one little step at a time. He starts his book by talking about his own dark period of depression and how he overcame it. He has lots of practical suggestions and creative ways of looking at the problems of life. Follow the link below to learn more about it and purchase his book. Recommended!

Elizabeth Edwards on grief

Friday, September 7th, 2007

I’m currently reading the book, “Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers,” by Elizabeth Edwards. This is a good book for those who want to hear another person’s story about unbelievable grief (Edwards’s son Wade was killed in an automobile accident in 1996) and how she and her family found their way through the darkest time of their life. Writing about her daughter Cate, Edwards wonders what it must have been like for Cate to have a mother in 1996 “who seemed to be made of ashes.” It’s also a good book for those who are living with cancer, whether it’s their own diagnosis or one of their friends or family members battling the disease. Edwards writes well and candidly about her struggles, and how she makes sense of such challenging personal crises. Recommended!

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