We live in the age of workbooks. There are self-help workbooks at Caversham on almost every subject you can think of. Beyond the obvious subjects like depression , anxiety, phobias, we have books on chronic illness , assertiveness , divorce, and body image . There are even workbooks on having attitude and on more obscure medical ailments such as Sjorgen's Syndrome (an auto-immune disorder in which white blood cells attack the moisture- producing glands).
Most workbooks that we see are modelled after Mind over Mood , our biggest selling book ever. We sell at least a dozen copies each week to individuals, and to hospitals and treatment programs, several dozen at a time. Mind over Mood is essentially a course of cognitive-behaviour therapy in book form and it in fact can be used as an introductory text on the subject.
Other popular workbooks include The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook and The Feeling Good Handbook . What is true of all of these titles is their grounding in cognitive-behavioural techniques. The climate of mental health in North America is becoming increasingly focused on "evidence based" treatments for mental disorders: getting results, and getting them fast and making, at least in the United States, managed care organizations happy. Cognitive-behavioural therapies are one such treatment and probably the most widely used by far.
With dwindling resources and time; with narrowly defined and rigorously enforced insurance policies, coupled with a culture that has become more and more informed about mental illnesses, it is not surprising that we arrived in the age of the workbook. People have decided, and perhaps have had it decided for them, that they are on their own with their problems. In some ways, this could be seen as a sign that people are in fact taking responsibility for where they find themselves in their lives and seeing that it is possible for them to do something to change. At the same time, however, this phenomenon indicates that people may be more isolated with their problems and feel they have no one to turn to but themselves.
There seems to be a parallel here with psychiatric drugs which, more and more, are being prescribed as an implicit or even explicit alternative to psychotherapy, despite evidence indicating that the use of both concurrently is more effective, according to some research .
A workbook can never replace the psychotherapeutic relationship (of whatever brand) with all its relational power, but with a workbook, at least someone without the access or resources to enter psychotherapy can begin to take steps toward changing their life or at least become more informed about what their options might be.
We may be running the risk, as a culture, of giving people the impression that their problems will always be simple enough to be found within a book and even more, that the solution is just as simple - with the implication that they as people are as simple. If someone, upon finishing a workbook on, say, anxiety, still finds themselves lying anxiously awake at night, will they feel themselves to be a failure or beyond help? To whom will they address these questions? The workbook won't be talking.
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