|I'm always happy when I hear from someone who has benefitted from the book, then passed it on to friends. In fact, I've been so happy that I'm preparing a second edition, which will be published soon. Watch for the announcement here.|
For the many years I have been a therapist, I have read hundreds of self-help books, and I have written a few myself. Most of these volumes are sound and helpful, and have found their loyal followings. Not very often, however, do I finish reading one of these books saying, "I really learned something useful for myself as a person and as a therapist." In fact, I can remember only three or four recent self-help books that have excited me enough that I have passed them on to friends and recommended them to clients. This is one of those books.
I happened to have a rare Saturday with few pressing matters when the manuscript arrived in the mail. Once I opened it, I read it straight through: I didn't want to stop, because it was so readable, stimulating, and full of wisdom. The experience of reading the book was like having the opportunity for a marathon therapy session with a first-rate psychiatrist.
Dr. Don Watson's writing combines his common sense with his wonderful down-to-earth way of explaining his ideas about healing the hurts that life deals us. His wealth of experience, not only as a therapist, but as a man who has met his own tragedies, provides sure footing for his ways of explaining how to survive our losses and get on with our lives. His self-revelations encouraged me to reexamine my own early losses of my parents, as well as my more recent loss of a long-term marriage.
I recommend this book, not only to all mental health professionals, but to any person who is struggling with the hurts and disappointments that happen to all of us sooner or later. Don Watson has made a real contribution to the self-help literature.
More than 15 years ago, my interest in the subject of death and dying led me to my first meeting with Don Watson through his writings. In reading his description of his work with a young leukemic patient who was rapidly succumbing to his disease, I was impressed with the clarity of his writing, and with his high level of commitment to his patients. Naturally, I was delighted when I met Don personally while we were volunteering our services to the YWCA's program for women recovering from breast cancer. Soon after, we began working together professionally with patients, presenting programs concerning thanatology and life-threatening diseases, and in our hospital's bioethics committee and a bioethics seminar.
During his years in practice, Don helped many patients struggle with their life crises. Then, with the tragic death of his son, Scott, he embarked on his own personal journey of introspect and healinga journey that resulted in the book you are now reading.
This book is a clear, thorough volume that helps the reader achieve mental fitness by exercising his or her mind fully, intellectually and emotionally. It comprehends conventional theories and practice, yet it is rich in the author's personal knowledge, which far exceeds the bounds of ordinary psychiatric training. It frames the healing process in ways that allow professionals and lay persons alike to fully understand exactly what the term healing entails.
Emotional exercise is provided in Don's own story, as well as the stories of his patients. These accounts allow us to stand beside several real people (and one familiar fictional one), and see how they turned their despair into healthy, robust coping. The stories are always fascinating, often poignant, and sometimes sadbut always hopeful.
In short, this book illuminates the paths to healing our injuries, reviving our dreams, and proceeding with our lives stronger than we were before.
As an educator and a practitioner, I found this volume a valuable contribution to the thanatology literature. Yet remarkably, it is merely a resource for mental health professionals: It is even more valuable as an easy to read, practical guidebook from which all people can learn essential lessons of living.
Loss is a fact of life, a fact that mandates that we invest the time and energy to recover from adversity, and continue on our often arduous journey of life. This book sheds much light on the paths to growth and healing. Reading it will make your path easier to walk.
Many of us in our modern world are so emotionally scarred by past crises that we never make comebacks, and we usually don't even realize that we need to. Too many of us feel that we must keep our grief to ourselves, not only about our lost loved ones, but about all our losses. But acting strong and silent often backfires. In our frustration and unhappiness, we do not consider that we may be trapped, trying fruitlessly to grieve for losses long past. Dr. Watson's story of "Eben" illustrates this point in terms we can all understand.
The author has offered this invaluable book, not only for people scarred by past crises, but those needing to cope with current crises, as well. He teaches the important skills of grieving through the insight he gained as he worked through the loss of his father and his son. He has written this book, somewhat as a memorial to his losses, but more for his readersin a sense, his extended group of patients. The overriding lesson of the book is, if we do not work through our inevitable grieving, we are then crippled from advancing in our lives. Additionally, by remaining unhappy and unfulfilled, we adversely affect our friends and loved ones.
The author describes and explains our habitual defense systems in ordinary language. He also demonstrates how our unconscious mind, without our awareness, operates in many ways to sabotage our healing by helping us evade the unpleasant aspects of our realities. For example, his ideas on denial as either instinctive or habitual remove the onus of "lying to ourselves," which some psychiatric literature tends to infer, thereby adding to the guilt that typically exists already. Indeed, this book is especially relevant for those who deny too much, and need help in coping with their real life crises.
Finally, the author reveals his great understanding of peoplenot just his patients, but all of us. We are complicated beings who possess mental defense systems that try to keep us from realizing that we are disabled or injured. Our sense of omnipotence, an unrealistic but universal human characteristic, does not protect us from our emotional wounds. We all know of soldiers who do not realize they have been wounded until they are removed from the battlefield. If this can happen with obvious physical injuries, think how much easier we can deny our subtle psychological injuries.
With honest, compassionate self-examination, we can learn to cope with crisis and grow through healing by reading, studying, and applying the author's ideas. This may require some hard work on the part of the reader, but anything worth doing requires effort. This book makes it worthwhile.
Donald W. Schafer, MD
As a beginning therapist, I was armed with the notion that grieving is a life experience with a predictable, stage-by-stage course. According to this belief, grieving was accompanied by unpleasant feelings that would somehow be weathered, and inevitably lead to the goal of "acceptance." In the real world of my practice, however, this notion hasn't proven true. I have rarely found persons whose experiences appear in such an orderly fashion. For most persons, feelings of anger, guilt, and sadness coincide, collide, and reappear unexpectedly. Meanwhile, their losses pile upon losses as they frustrate their healing by trying to cope by using harmful beliefs and habits learned in childhood.
At last, Don Watson gives fresh, realistic insights into what we may hope for in seeking the goal of coping, healing, and growing through life's crises. He explores with wisdom and sensitivity the emotional states experienced during critical times. By combining cognitive and psychodynamic elements, he presents compelling clarification of the thoughts and feelings that are universal, yet unique to each person.
In reading the stories and vignettes, the reader accepts the opportunity to join sessions with patient and therapist. In these sessions, feelings are identified, then explored by using the "reasoning mind" to understand and master the automatic products of the "emotional mind"mental events that can otherwise easily overwhelm us in the heat of a crisis. Instead of hiding our emotions, the author teaches us to invite them as tools for healing. For example, he guides us through learning how to recognize and manage our anger, which allows us to tap its supply of energy for solving our problems.
Like a personal teacher, Don Watson guides the reader on a journey through the habits and beliefs, conscious and unconscious, that typically prevent the work of grieving. He explores the concept of the guilty conscience, and the conditioning in childhood that leads to developing unrealistic guilt and shame. He provides alternatives to reflex guilt by using "ethical thinking" and reasoning that lead to self-forgiveness. And he teaches how to develop and practice new "mental habits" that "create confidence that we can adapt to our most difficult challenges."
Moreover, the lessons do not stop at merely "surviving" a loss. Instead, they show how the work of grieving can become a restaging area for creating new dreams ("promises of the future"). Using far-reaching examples of such crises as midlife, death of a spouse, job loss, divorce, illness, and aging, he shows clearly how learning to cope with crises can form the foundation for living and growing.
Surviving Your Losses, Reviving Your Dreams is a priceless guide book for all who are willing to join Don Watson in an exciting expedition of exploration. Join him. You will embark on what might become the most rewarding journey of your life.
Gale J. Schuler, PhD