walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_The Worry Trick_, David A. Carbonell, PhD

I bought this in paperback at Willow Books for 40% off because it was on the clearance shelves in the foyer. I have no idea why this was on the clearance shelves. It's a good book and please don't take insult if I send you a copy in the next few days. I mean well, and I might actually intend for you to read it and think about whether someone closely connected to you might benefit from it.

I was at Willow Books to buy a gift certificate for my walking partner. While I was there, I bought a couple other books, too. Hopefully I'll get around to reading and passing along those books as quickly as this one, but honestly, I don't have a great track record with paper books in a TBR pile; it is one of the reasons I switched so hard over to reading on the kindle. Also, my eyes.

In any event, _The Worry Trick_ is a self-help book. If you read it without having the problem in question, because, like me, you are trying to understand what is going on in someone else's head, then you, like me, will likely stumble over the many moments where Carbonell says, Pick a Persistent Worry You Have. Or, You Wouldn't Be Reading This Book Unless. But that's okay; I hope those passages and exercises work well for the intended audience. They certainly look and sound plausible. Many times, Carbonell says something along the lines of, the intuitive response to blah blah blah is to blah blah blah, and I go, what? That's not why I do in that situation, it wouldn't work. What he suggests next is often on the list of things I _would_ do in that situation, which gives me confidence that his tactics are aligned with my values.

Here is the meat of the book. Carbonell comes at chronic worry from an acceptance and commitment framework. This is within the overall umbrella of cognitive behavior therapy, but differs from other CBT approaches to chronic worry. He specifically describes cognitive restructuring as a CBT tactic that does help many people but often does not help the people this book is aimed at. His basic theory is that people suffering from chronic worry have misidentified nervousness and uncertainty as danger. He states that they tend to have one of two stances with respect to worry: a desire for absolute certainty that the thing they are worried about will not (ever) happen and/or a desire to never have thoughts that the thing they are worried about might (ever) happen.

I think most of my readers (but not all) will take a look at these two stances and then have to pause for a moment to retrieve their eyeballs (because they popped right out of their heads!) or their jaw (from the floor where it fell). If I'd actually understood the desire for absolute certainty, I would have addressed that over the content of the worry. If I had understood that the goal was to never have a thought that something bad might happen ever again, I would have addressed that as an unattainable goal. Instead, I tend to do what amounts to cognitive restructuring, with a bit of reframing thrown in for good measure, along with a solid chunk of, hey, if that happened, here's what I think you would probably do to cope with it so you can rest assured that you will appropriately respond should it happen to pass, possibly with a dollop of, if you took this small action now, it would further reduce the small likelihood of this bad thing happening/this thing happening and causing problems for you down the line. That does feel really good, but it doesn't _stick_, because the stance is ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY or TOTAL LACK OF AWFUL THOUGHTS, neither of which is possible (or, I would argue, desirable).

The balance of the book is a combination of, here's what the inside of your head is like, broken down in very small steps so you can see how it works mechanically and here's a set of interventions to help you tolerate the bad thoughts, and reduce your desire for absolute certainty/total absence of what-if-bad-thing thoughts. Basically, some paradoxical strategies, some humor, some singing, and some prescribe the symptom stuff.

This is not a book for all kinds of anxiety. If your anxiety is reprocessing of past events, it probably will be of limited utility. The basic problem this book solves for is: improving strategies for coping with what-if-something-bad thoughts.

One final word. Everyone (wow, I sure hope, anyway) has thoughts that are formed more or less as: what if something bad. This book doesn't get rid of those thoughts. This book does not help you prove that the something bad can't happen. This book gets you to the point where you go, hunh, that's an interesting thought. It gets you to the point where if, as a result of a stressful period in your life, those thoughts are happening at a high rate, you can still take care of yourself even while the what if something bad thoughts are still parading through your increasingly exhausted brain. Please believe me when I say, getting to that point is a wicked awesome place.
Tags: book review, psychology
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