Tag Archive: Book Review


The Art of Comforting: What to Say and Do for People in Distress by Val Walker

Do you ever hesitate to say something to someone who has just lost a loved one or experienced some other tragedy for fear of saying the wrong thing?  Is the thought of spending time with someone who is grieving or even just crying anxiety provoking? If so, The Art of Comforting may be the book for you.  In our fast-paced world, comforting has become a lost art.  With each step we take away from face-to-face communication in favor of texting and emoticons, we grow increasingly unfamiliar and unskilled with expressing real compassion and warmth to others who are experiencing distress.

With The Art of Comforting, Val Walker has written “the book she needed but could not find.”  Ms. Walker contrasts the “quick-fix” ways of mainstream culture while clearly delineating the characteristic of being “comforting.”  She expands on many of these characteristic, including: being present & listening, empathetic, respectful, calm, hopeful, validating, and others.  Throughout the book, she shares the wisdom she’s gleaned from interviewing some “comforting professionals.”  Ms. Walker provides useful lists of “do’s & don’ts” as well as “less helpful & more helpful” statements.  The book concludes with lists of comforting things: books, movies, and music. However the items included here are not entirely intuitive. Did she really need to include music by The Pussycat Dolls and the movie Mad Max? Despite being somewhat disorganized and rambling at times, this is a good review of a much needed subject. (expected release date: 10/28/10)

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50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behaviorby Scott Lilienfeld, Steven Lynn, John Ruscio, and Barry Beyerstein.

Do most people in their 40’s to early 50’s experience a midlife crisis? Do psychiatric admissions go up during a full moon? Can playing Mozart to infants boost their intelligence? Do most people only use 10% of their brain power? Is low self-esteem a major cause of psychological problems?

From Oprah and Dr. Oz to the nightly news, we are constantly exposed to psychological concepts on a daily basis.  While some of this information is factual and can be useful, a great deal of what we believe to be true is actually myth and misconception.  Professors Lilienfeld, Lynn, and Ruscio have taken on the task of “Mythbusting” in the field of Psychomythology.  This is a refreshing and fun look at many of the concepts that have been accepted as fact by our popular culture.  It is refreshing to find a scientific, evidence-based approach to psychological ideas in a time that has become so dominated by subjective experience.  This books reviews 50 of the most popular psychological myths and explores both the facts and misconceptions  surrounding each of these topics.  This book is sure to spur interesting conversations at your next cocktail party or social gathering.  Prepare to join the ranks of the Mythbusters as you will soon be equipped to set the record straight.

The Kitchen Shrink: A Psychiatrist’s Reflections on Healing in a Changing World by Dora Calott Wang, M.D.

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a psychiatrist? To know the intimate thoughts and struggles that go on in the minds of those who are charged with the restoration of health and well-being? The Kitchen Shrink might be the book for you.

The Kitchen Shrink is a beautifully written memoir by Dr. Dora Wang detailing her life as a psychiatrist, wife, and mother and her experience of the shift that has occurred in medicine over the past twenty years.  Dr. Wang is an incredibly gifted writer and storyteller.  Unfortunately, the story she has to share is not as beautiful: there has been a paradigm shift away from patient-centered, “cradle-to-grave” medicine to a more business-centered, insurance driven model that focuses, not on quality, but rather on efficiencies–where the patient has been removed from the center of attention and remade as a “cog” in the health care machine.  I found myself wanting to share my patient-care stories with Dr. Wang as I read her poignant and all-too-familiar accounts.  While I know that her story is both emotionally-wrenching and true, I am left to wonder who, outside of physicians and those interested in health care reform, will find and read this book. While Dr. Wang does not suggest any specific health care reform options, she does a wonderful job of illuminating many of the problems with our current state of health care while reminding us of medicine’s noble history as the healing art.  Through the intimacy shared in her writing, Dr. Wang feels like a kindred-spirit in the quest for balance, happiness, and contentment.  I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

Lost in Time

Review: Time Management from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern

One of my favorite lectures from residency was on “Unchangeables.” This list of core characteristics, thought to be unalterable, included such things as empathy, sense of aesthetics, sense of direction, being a “reader”, organizational ability, and sense of time.  With the permission afforded me by this list, I have spend many years indulging in “tardiness.”  I would tell myself, “I can’t help being late, I have an imperfect sense of time.”   I routinely get lost in activities and lose track of time, or miscalculate how much time a particular activity will take, and I am always late.  This defect in my “sense of time” has caused a great deal of consternation in our family as I am married to a man with a perfect sense of both time and organization. Needless-to-say, he doesn’t buy into my excuse nor does he care about “timeliness” being an unchangeable.  So in an attempt to maintain peace and harmony in our home, I went in search for the seemingly impossible: a way to become aware of time.

What I found was a book: Time Management from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern. Ms. Morgenstern promises a “foolproof system for taking control of your schedule and your life.”  What she delivers is a system of time organization that takes into account the individual’s quirks and shortcomings.  She begins by having the individual do a “three level diagnostic” looking for particular obstacles, then teaches several pneumonic driven “take-charge” programs (WADE: write it down, Add it Up, Decide, Execute your plan; the 4 D’s: Delete, Delay, Diminish, Delegate).  Ms. Morgenstern’s strength lies in her organizational expertise and she applies her strategies adeptly to “time.”  While I will likely always struggle with accurately predicting how long it will take me to do a particular thing, it’s encouraging to learn and implement some strategies to prevent my particular time management challenges from derailing my entire day.  If you find yourself frustrated at the end of the day, asking where the time went, this may be the book to help you “Analyze, Strategize, & Attack” your way into better time management.

It’s Summer! It’s that time of year when temperatures rise, clothing covers less, and thoughts turn to having the perfect “swimsuit” body and that favorite of four-letter-words: DIET.  While there are a multitude of books available promoting weight loss; most are based on unhealthy fads that do not translate into long-term weight loss.  Most of these tomes tell what magical mixture of foods, or lack thereof, will cause the pounds to melt away.  The only problem is that, once you return to your normal pattern of eating, the pounds find their way back home and bring their friends.  A few years ago, I was faced with a diagnosis of diabetes and the reality of needing to lose 35 pounds on a permanent basis.  I set out to find a way to change not only my eating habits but, most importantly, how I thought about food.  Fortunately, I discovered Dr. Judith Beck’s “The Beck Diet Solution.”

Dr. Beck’s book seems unique in the weight loss genre: it doesn’t suggest any particular diet or exercise program.  It promises to work with ANY healthy diet and exercise plan.  This book uses techniques from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (a mental health technique created by her father, Dr. Aaron Beck, to treat depression) to identify the distorted thoughts that keep one from being motivated, disciplined, and successful.  Dr. Beck’s book goes beyond “eat less and move more” and teaches how to do so when you don’t want to or when it’s not easy.  People who struggle with their weight, says Beck, all have one thing in common: They don’t know how to think like a thin person – their behavior, mindset, lifestyle, and habits all sabotage their best intentions. For example, she writes, people often have thoughts such as “I know I shouldn’t eat this, but I don’t care,” or “It’s okay if I eat [this food] just this one time.” Permanent weight control requires a life long change in thoughts and attitudes while dealing with such sabotaging habits and behaviors.  Three years later, I’ve maintained the weight loss I achieved using her techniques.  So before you sign up for hormone weight-loss shots or some other fad diet de jour, consider checking out “The Beck Diet Solution” and see if there are some “sabotaging thoughts” that are derailing your best intents and efforts.  While you won’t drop “7 pounds in 7 days”, it certainly is more palatable than Dolly Parton soup and grapefruit for every meal.

_225_350_Book.83.coverSo…what’s your story? I love stories–always have.  I may not always remember names, but I rarely forget a story. A Million Miles is one story I am certain not to forget.  I became acquainted with Mr. Miller earlier this year through his bestseller, Blue Like Jazz (2003)– an excellent work in itself: especially cathartic for those who might be recovering from negative religious experiences. A Million Miles is the powerful story that arose as Mr. Miller was approached about turning Blue Like Jazz into a movie.  Mr. Miller has an exceptionally engaging and easy style of writing that complements and lends credence to this insightful memoir.

A Million Miles is the story about “Story”: what makes a good story; the transformational power of stories; and most of all, about our ownership and responsibility for our own story.  In many ways, Mr. Miller’s story is not unlike the stories my patients share with me on a daily basis: the quest for love, meaning, adventure, forgiveness, and purpose; these elements making up some of the pillars of most good stories.  As Mr. Miller faces his own conflicts and demons, he inspires the reader to take a chance and live “a better story”.  Mr. Miller shares so much of himself in his writing that a sense of familiarity and intimacy is conveyed:  he feels like a trusted friend that you want to succeed.  His narration is both humorous and poignant. A Million Miles balances being instructive and encouraging, avoiding being dogmatic or “preachy”,  while demonstrating that significant life-changes are both possible and worthwhile.

As a psychiatrist, I am blessed to get to hear individuals’ stories on a daily basis: to reflect back these stories (as a type of whiteboard) and help my patients make course corrections as desired.  I have already begun recommending A Million Miles to many of my patients as well as to my friends.  I find it to be a most entertaining guide to assist anyone in “speaking a better story”.  I share Mr. Miller’s basic precept: all human life is meaningful and the best path finding meaning is by doing.  I am grateful to have read this wonderful book.  I recommend A Million Miles highly and without reservation.

_225_350_Book.68.coverAll you need is love? Not according to Dr. Eggerich:  Love & Respect, based on Ephesians 5:33 and culminating from Dr. Eggerich’s vast experience in pastoral and marital counseling, focuses on the transformational power of unconditional love and unconditional respect in marriage. Although it is certainly not the most entertaining or captivating book, Dr. Eggerich does successfully capture one of the primary sources of conflict in a majority of marriages: unmet needs.  Dr. Eggerichs postulates that women have an innate need for love and that men have an innate need, not for love, but for respect.  He explains that the failure to have this essential need met results in a cycle of reacting and withholding the other from one’s spouse, dubbed the “Crazy Cycle”.  While this may seem an overly simplistic distillation, it does have merit.  In a highly unscientific poll, I queried my patients over the past week that were experiencing challenges in their marriage: 100% agreed, not only that “love & respect” were an issue, but also that the converse had the potential for restoration.  Dr. Eggerich presents his thesis in the first section, accompanied by many relevant and supportive Biblical quotations.  He follows in the subsequent sections with suggestions for creating an “Energizing Cycle” including specifics on how to express your love/respect in a way that the other spouse can receive; then concludes with the “Rewarded Cycle” and several appendices with practical exercises.  While Eggerich tends to be redundant in his writing style, his message is both valid and useful in application.  I recommend this book for couples that are experiencing difficulties in their relationship or those who want to take their relationship to a higher level through improved communication and greater understanding.