Eileen Bailey is one of those few people whose life experience of anxiety and depression has helped inform and direct their writing. Eileen’s expertise is forged from an insightful and inquisitive mind. Difficult periods in her life have enabled her to write with wisdom and perception. I asked Eileen some questions regarding her latest book, “What Went Right_._”
Jerry: Why do you write?** Eileen:** I have always enjoyed writing. I was one of those rare people in college that actually enjoyed writing term papers. I loved the entire process, researching, reading, and then rearranging the information in ways that made sense to me. When faced with mental health challenges within my family, I went back to what I knew, I researched, talked to experts, read everything I could find, and compiled the information in a way that I, as well as other parents, could easily understand. My goal in writing is to provide people with information they need to make informed decisions about their health care and lifestyle choices.
The book, “What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now,” is the first self-help book I have written. Before this, most of the articles, blogposts, and books have been informational in nature. This one is different. When a publisher first suggested it, I was excited to be part of the project. Writing “The Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” coincided with a very difficult time in my personal life when my self-esteem took a big hit.
As I researched and wrote about this type of therapy, I used the strategies on a daily basis. And, I discovered they helped. I coped better in my daily life. I changed my perspective on my life and the world around me. It helped free me from my despair and, over time, view my situation as an opportunity for growth rather than the end of my marriage. Mostly, it changed how I viewed myself. I became more confident and happier. This book was an exciting opportunity to share what I learned with others and hopefully, in some small way, help them feel better about themselves.
Jerry: It’s one thing reading and enjoying a book, and it’s another feeling energized and motivated to change. In what ways do your exercises tick the motivation box?** Eileen:** In many cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) books, the exercises are rather repetitive. You are asked to complete a detailed thought log and most of the exercises follow this same process. This is a difficult and redundant process. My co-author, Michael Wetter, and I decided to use the thought log but also to make exercises more varied. For example, one of the challenges in the book that addresses past mistakes:
Write down the details of a mistake or situation you regret. Rewrite it with how you would handle it today. What would you do differently? This helps you notice how you have changed and what you have learned. Remember, learning from your mistakes is always a good thing.
In the book, we use real-life examples and make the exercises easy to implement. Books, however, can only offer a certain amount of motivation. The desire to change or improve comes from within, not from an exercise in a book. These are tools to use to help facilitate the change, but they are not the motivation. An internal desire for change and a commitment are essential.
Jerry: The CBT approach you promote isn’t without its critics. Accusations that it is mechanical, unemotional, superficial, and simplistic are amongst some of the more enduring reproaches. How would you counter such claims to CBT?** Eileen:** I am not sure if I am so much promoting CBT as offering people one way to help and improve their self-esteem by changing their perspective. However, there have been many studies showing CBT to be effective in treating depression, anxiety, insomnia, low self-esteem, and other conditions.
In my personal experience, CBT techniques were very helpful. Each of us have a running narrative in our mind. When this narrative is negative, we react accordingly. CBT teaches us to listen and question that narrative. It isn’t so much simplistic as practical, such as listening for times you use the words “always” and “never” to describe your life in negative terms — “I never have any friends” and changing it to, “I have a difficult time making friends but have had friends in my life.” This type of change can give you a more balanced view of yourself.
Jerry: I was pleased to see that one of the chapters is on setbacks. So many self-help books gloss over or ignore this possibility** —** but how many setbacks are reasonable or acceptable? What are the limits of self-help in this regard?****** Eileen:** Self-improvement is a journey and along the way you have setbacks. There isn’t any number of setbacks that are reasonable or acceptable — that would be different for each person. Setbacks are part of the process, not a failure.
That said, if you are working on self-improving and increasing your self-esteem and find that you aren’t making progress, or aren’t happy with the progress you have made, it might be time to work with a therapist. There is nothing wrong with seeking out help or asking for guidance. In the book we discuss what you can expect when working with a therapist and why it might be helpful.
Jerry: There are over half a million self-help books on the market. If you were asked to identify just a handful of reasons why a reader should select this book over others in the same genre, what would they be?** Eileen:** Obviously, I would suggest this book because it was inspired by what worked for me. Aside from that, early in the book, there is a quiz to help you identify which negative thought processes are affecting your self-esteem — for example, do you use should-and-must statements or do you overgeneralize? Many CBT books leave it to the reader to figure out which type of negative thought processes are most prevalent but this is difficult. Instead, in “_What Went Right,”_we point you in the right direction to start you on the road to a more positive self-image.
Dr. Jerry Kennard is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.