Jul 082010

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There Is Nothing Wrong With You for Teens – I picked this one up at the library thinking it looked like interesting reading for my teenagers. Apparently it is a teen version of an earlier adult book Cheri wrote. I immediately loved the book, and so did my kids.

Cheri comes from a Zen perspective. She’s the founder and primary teacher at several Zen centers, and her many books are full of Zen techniques and teachings. This, to my mind, is all to the good, as Zen is full of excellent practical psychology.

The book is typeset in a friendly, informal typeface that makes it look like someone’s personal journal. I found this immediately engaging. Using her experience with hundreds of teens in workshops and retreats, Cheri dives right into their problems with penetrating insight.

In particular, this book is about teens liberating themselves from the self-hatred that all of us struggle with at times, but with which teens have particular difficulty. Cheri’s writing radiates total compassion and acceptance. I wish every troubled teen could have Cheri right by their side helping them see their true nature. With this book, they can.

I would highly recommend this book as a gift for any teen, particularly one with self-worth issues (which includes many of them). I intend to look into some of Cheri’s other books based on the wonderful job she did on this one.

Jan 172010

Happy At Last – The Thinking Persons Guide to Finding Joy, by Richard O’Connor. I found this one in the “New” section of the library, but I was busy so I brought it home for my daughter to pre-review for me (the entry in the encyclopedia for “thinking person” has my daughter’s picture next to it). Well, now I’ll have to buy a copy, because three more people in the family are anxious to read it.  The book is, in a nutshell, a scientific explanation for why we are so often unhappy – and a detailed program to BECOME happy.

O’Connor is a psychotherapist, so he gets to see a lot of unhappy people. The book is extremely practical, down to earth, and well-researched. It begins with a history and explanation of how our brains, working with evolutionary goals in mind, trick us into making choices that can leave us unhappy. The research and the “tips” that O’Connor extracts from them are worth the price of the book. For example, your impression of an experience is largely governed by the LAST part of that experience. A wonderful dessert outweighs a mediocre dinner, to the brain.  Or the fact that we regret inaction more than action. We will think better for ourselves for a bad choice (at least I TRIED). But we will forever regret not taking a chance that we were too afraid to take. O’Connor also gives a blistering analysis of our modern culture of consumerism, advertising, competition and stress, and catalogs the damage that being raised in such a dysfunctional culture does to our brain.

Then we come to the part of the book that tells us how to fix ourselves. The good news is that by using relatively simple techniques, we can rewire our brain. The bad news is that it takes some time. But over the course of a few months, we can literally GROW our brains into a happier configuration. We can undo the damaged mental state we find ourselves in.

The rest of the book is crammed with techniques and exercises to make every aspect of your life happier. There is a meaty section on mindfulness meditation. There are cognitive techniques, inner dialogues, writing exercises. It’s like having a therapist coaching you into a happier life . Actually, that’s EXACTLY what it is. O’Connor, although an agnostic, does not fail to acknowledge the role of both formal religion and informal spirituality in mental well-being, and does an excellent job of directing the reader to finding your values and direction for life.

I particularly appreciated that the book is intelligently written and doesn’t patronize the reader. The last thing we need if we are having happiness issues is a shallow pep-talk or questionable methods. Pick this book up. If your  family is anything like mine, you’ll be reading it to each other and standing in line for your chance to read it yourself.

Nov 162009

herbs The book is Herbs for the Mind: What Science Tells Us about Nature’s Remedies for Depression, Stress, Memory Loss, and Insomnia by Jonathan Davidson and Kathryn Connor, both MD’s. I happened across this book in the library while doing some research to help a friend with depression and anxiety. I checked this book out for them, and they loved it.

The book focuses on four particular herbs:  St. John’s wort, Kava Kava, Valerian, and Ginkgo Biloba. What these four have in common is this: They are widely used, they have been extensively studied, they have few or no side effects, and in studies, they have been shown to be at LEAST as effective, if not more effective, than popular prescription medications for various mental and psychological complaints.

Before going further, I should probably draw the readers attention to our disclaimers.  I’m not a doctor, so my opinion is not a medical diagnosis or treatment suggestion. However, Davidson and Connor ARE doctors, and in fact Duke University psychiatrists. Their research is meticulous and cautious. If there isn’t any conclusive evidence that a particular herb helps a particular condition – they say so quite clearly.

But with the evidence in hand, the doctors find great possible benefits in the use of these four herbs. In general, St. John’s wort is well established in treating depression, Kava Kava for dealing with anxiety, Valerian for insomnia, and Ginkgo Biloba for memory loss. These are, of course, generalities. Davidson and Connor go into considerable detail about these particular conditions. They answer extensive questions on what works and what doesen’t, what to expect, what to be cautious about.

They also present information about the physiology of these conditions, the history of the herbs, and their physiological actions. If you are skeptical about the various claims of herbal remedies (and some skepticism is warranted) this is the book for you (or your doctor). Nothing but the facts.

I had to renew this from the library twice to accommodate everyone who wanted to read it, and expect to buy a copy shortly. It’s too valuable not to have in the library.  My friend, by the way, totally ignored all my disclaimers and warnings and started trying Kava for anxiety. She found it to work far better with far fewer side effects than her prescribed anti-anxiety medication.

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