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June's Book Review: How To Do the Work by Dr. Nicole LePera

I am an avid follower of The Holistic Psychologist on Instagram. Dr. Nicole LePera posts relevant, vulnerable and helpful tips and tools for healing and living our lives to their fullest potential. I was super excited to see she was writing a book and couldn't wait to get my hands on it.

The book itself works from a psychoanalytical approach to healing and recovering. Before you continue reading, know that NONE of us have had a pain free life. If you think you did, you're probably lying to yourself. I have yet to meet anyone who was blessed with perfect parents or experienced zero adversity during their childhood. That's because we aren't perfect. We have flaws, we make mistakes, bad things happen for no reason at all -- the list goes on and on.

What does psychoanalytical even mean? Well, it means looking at patterns of behavior in your life and being curious about them. 9 times out of 10 we are able to see a pattern but not necessarily know where it is coming from. That's where self-discovery can happen. There are many forms of "flash lights" for us to use in navigating the darkness of our soul.

I like to define the term flash lights as the means to which we discovery the birth places of our patterns.

Flash lights can be as simple as a song that triggers us into a realization, a self-help book (much like this one), which allows us to recognize that "we aren't alone," or "that wasn't normal," a yoga class that taps into a place in our body, which releases a suppressed thought or a therapist who assists us in discovering "why we are the way we are." The analytical part is like the dissection in a science lab - it is teasing out the when, where, how and the big one WHY in terms of patterns. It is then looking at and picking part all the little pieces of our experiences.

This is the basis of LePera's book. She also works out of the frame work that trauma is personal. Meaning, a trauma can be childhood sexual abuse or having a parent who minimized a child's emotions by telling her to "stop acting like a baby." Trauma is a widely misunderstood concept. We've done a poor job of defining trauma -- telling people "you have to have something really really really bad happen to you to go to therapy." LePera broadens the spectrum in what trauma is - listing 6 different Parent Types - all of which she defines as trauma. Again, we are not chastising our parents, but merely looking at the foundation of our established personal belief system. Shedding light on this idea of trauma was helpful in my own work and personal work with patients. Each chapter ends with a Future Self Journal Prompt (another great flash light - journaling!). The Future Self Journal activities are great and allow you a means of beginning to look at the past and guide you in moving into a future self.

LePera goes on to look at the Mind Body Spirit - Holistic Approach, to healing. This approach isn't necessarily "ground breaking," however, a good return to innovation from the "new school" of therapy, where we focus mostly on the mind - leaving out the importance of body memory and spirit (think of spirit as your meaning and purpose in life - deeper than the "mind stuff"). LePera looks at one of my personal favorite concepts - The Inner Child. She explores the attachment one has with their parental figures and the impact of attachment on the child moving into adulthood. She defines 7 Inner Child Types (Caretaker, over achiever, under achiever, rescuer/protector, the life of the party, yes person and hero worshipper). I identify with the first 2 as well as a yes person).

From there, I did struggle a bit to digest the rest of material, which can be quite heavy, in my belief for the general population (however, I may have also not paced myself as she advised; 1 chapter per week). If I, a clinician in the field, had a hard time digesting some of the concepts moving forward I can only imagine other's may have struggled as well. The author still has some relevant, relatable and applicable concepts, however the Ego chapter left me feeling a lack of consistency in the chapters before. The Ego is defined as the image which we project in social situations, which is not usually our true image (unless we've done a lot of self-help and healing work). Think of the Ego as your astrological sign; then think of the shadow or true self as your descending sign - the traits you have when you feel most safe.

The remainder of the book looks additionally at trauma bonds and attachment - how we relate to others through the lens of our past experiences and eventually brings us to the big discussion on boundaries. If you can do yourself one thing and only read one chapter of this book, go to boundaries and read it thoroughly. Boundaries is my favorite B word, and one often neglected in our world. Boundaries are saying yes and no without justification and without allowance of other's to add intention to your boundary setting. Boundaries can be rigid, loose and flexible -- which LePera defines and gives examples of. She then goes on to discuss how to set boundaries, emotional dumping (what a fantastic term, lol) and oversharing.

Knowing how much we share is dependent on the relationship with have with said person as well as the level of trust that has been built.

The last few chapters of the book look at reparenting the self, emotional maturity and interdependence. I truly LOVED the four pillars of reparenting the self:

  • Emotion Regulation (controlling emotions/modulating them)

  • Loving Discipline (keeping promises to ourselves - developing routines and habits)

  • Self-Care (supporting your needs and valuing your worth)

  • Rediscovering your childhood sense of wonder (finding playfulness, possibility)

Emotional maturity is getting to the point where we can allow ourselves a chance to make a choice of how to respond, rather than JUST responding. In my work with folks, we work on becoming responsive people VS reactive people. Emotional maturity takes years and this is an area where we need to have compassion with ourselves. We will not always be able to respond as positive or sensitive as we wish we could have. That's okay, because as imperfect creatures we have the ability to make mistakes, apologize, and most importantly, learn from them and apply healthier forms of communication in the future.

In closing, LePera ends with the need to connect.

In the therapy world, teaching people to nourish a healthy ego takes both discipline and delicacy; because we want them to know the power of standing on their own two feet, while also acknowledging the equally powerful force of human connection - connecting makes our lives better.

We do not know it all. No man is an island. It's super safe to be alone; but super alone. LePera encourages the reader to find authenticity within yourself, allowing that authenticity to shine and connect with true friends.

Overall, this book is definitely worth the read; however if you're seeking the fast track to healing you need to know, this book is a lot to digest; and would pair nicely with talk therapy as an added tool on your journey to healing and self-discovery. Enjoy.

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