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Terrible worriers should read on

15 March 2013

Bruce Duncan finds some anxious, and others self-absorbed


The Worry Book: Finding a path to freedom
Will van der Hart and Rob Waller
IVP £7.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.20 (Use code CT618 )

Lessons in Simply Being: Finding the peace within tumult
Carol O. Eckerman
Circle Books £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9 (Use code CT618 )

"WORRY", Corrie Ten Boom said, "robs today of its joy." As its title suggests, The Worry Book is designed to help those whose lives are afflicted by anxiety. The co-authors are both self-professed worriers. Will van der Hart is a vicar, and Rob Waller is a consultant psychiatrist. Between them, they offer eight chapters combining Christian insights with the techniques of cognitive-behavioural therapy.

They emphasise that the book should be read slowly, taking time to reflect, make notes, and complete the exercises at the end of each chapter. Many useful explanations and resources are included in the appendices.

So, a self-help book for Christian worriers. But is this book for you? A simple way to find out is to download The Penn State Worry Questionnaire (PSWQ) from the internet. It has 16 simple questions. A score of 57-65 indicates a moderately high Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). It is for such people (maybe 16 per cent of the population) that this book has been written; and for them, according to the authors, working through the book should make a significant difference to how they think and feel.

Those who report more severe GAD, whose worry significantly affects their functioning and may also cause depression, are unlikely to be helped so much by The Worry Book and should seek professional advice.

For people like me, with a GAD score in the normal range of 16-56, inordinate, unreasonable, and debilitating worry is not an issue, and I found it difficult to relate sympathetically, at a personal level, to much of the book.

Lessons in Simply Being is not a "How To" self-help book, like The Worry Book. Rather, it is Carol Eckerman's candid account of her spiritual journey after the disintegration of her "good life".

At 50 years old, she was happily married with a family and a secure career as Professor of Developmental Psychology at Duke University, in the United States. The collapse of her marriage and her mother's decline into dementia triggered an 18-year quest for release from the "myths of control".

The quest led to a recognition of her control addiction, and a movement into the territory of faith. Through silent retreats, spiritual direction, and writers' workshops, she gradually discovered "a mysterious loving presence that permeated her world, even its darkest corners".

Writing as a North American with, presumably, a North American readership in mind, Eckerman is not shy about disclosing the intimate details of her long and difficult process of spiritual and psychological change and development. Many readers will connect with issues raised in this well-written book; others will be put off by the author's self-engrossed agenda, and share my uncomfortable sense of what I can describe only as spiritual voyeurism.

Canon Bruce Duncan, a retired priest, was the founding Principal of Sarum College.

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