I love to read books about anything related to psychology and counselling, often to the exclusion of everything else. It seemed a good idea to put all this reading to use and let you know what I think of the books that I read. The first such book is “Sane New World – Taming the Mind” by Ruby Wax – and yes, I did say Ruby Wax. If you aren’t already aware Ms Wax has recently completed a Masters Degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy at Oxford University and a degree in Psychotherapy, so she really does know what she’s talking about.
I’ll start with an overview of the contents of the book and will then go on to tell you what I liked and didn’t like, and my overall verdict.
The book is essentially a discussion of Ruby’s own experiences with depression and her journey to find a way to deal with it, which eventually led her to mindfulness. However, far from being just a series of anecdotes, it is a detailed and at times quite technical discussion of depression and the options for treating it.
The book starts with a discussion of why people are affected by mental health problems, in particular how our emotional wellbeing is affected by 21st century life. She distinguishes between what she calls “normal-mad” and “mad-mad” – essentially those of us struggling with daily life, and those suffering with diagnosed mental illness. I think she gets away with using such terms as “normal” and “mad” because she is talking about herself most of all – it has the feeling of being an in-joke affectionately told.
She then goes on to discuss at some length the biology and biochemistry of the brain, drawing on the latest research using imaging techniques. In the final part of the book, Ruby discusses her favoured answer to these issues – mindfulness, as well as looking as some of the other options, well she says this is what she does but she really just talks about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
At the end of the book there are also a number of exercises you can try to get some idea of how you can use mindfulness in your own life.
What I liked.
One of the key concepts in the book is the idea of “self regulation” of your own emotional state – essentially becoming aware of your own internal state and being able to manage it. To me, this is an essential skill to learn and quite frankly should be taught in schools from a young age, so I’m glad to see the importance placed on it here.
The book is written in a light hearted, chatty style – you can almost hear her talking to you. This makes the book an easy and enjoyable read.
The book is peppered throughout with segments of “My Story”, where Ruby talks very candidly and movingly about her own experiences of depression. There is no ego here and she is willing to be open and vulnerable. The world needs more, much more of this.
I also loved the discussion of the biology of the brain. This is a subject that fascinates me and it is written in that chatty style I discussed above, not an easy feat to pull off!
What I don’t like
Okay, I’ve got to get this one out there first – her over simplistic description of person-centred counselling rather irritated me. Although she says she loves person-centred counselling it felt like she was being slightly mocking. It really is about so much more than just “parroting back with love” what the client has just said (her words, not mine).
The only other negative point I would like to make is about the use of the mindfulness exercises at the end of the book. They did seem to be just thrown in there one after another, almost as an afterthought.
Overall, I do think this book is well worth reading. The tone in which it is written and the honesty with which she describes her own experiences make the book a warm and compelling read. For someone suffering in silence it could be a real insight and a first step towards facing up to their own difficulties. It is not, however the best book to read if you want a comprehensive beginners guide to mindfulness. A much better book for this is “Mindfulness – a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world” by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, which is a full 8 week introductory programme with a guided meditations on CD.
If you have read the book yourself, or have any other recommendations, leave me a comment – I’d love to know your opinions!