Whether they're called religious self-help, pop psychology, or—as in some CBA stores—Christian living, books that deal with psychological issues from a spiritual point of view continue to appeal to those seeking deeper answers to life's stresses. Most of all, people seem to be looking for meaning: Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life (Zondervan) has spent four months at or near the top of major national bestseller lists.
In addition, the integration of Eastern practices into Western psychology has found favor with many who credit ancient disciplines—particularly Buddhism (see sidebar)—with positive changes in their lives, making books in that subgenre steady sellers.
None of this comes as a surprise to Paulist Press academic editor Christopher Bellitto, who realized early on that Americans' needs changed dramatically September 11.
The first clue for Bellitto came right after the attacks, when Paulist author and religious psychologist Kelly Bulkeley called. "People in middle America who didn't have any direct connection to the attacks were dreaming that they were in the one of the towers seeing a plane coming toward them," Bellitto says. "Counselors, psychologists, and dream researchers began to call each other because there was no blueprint for this kind of thing. They discovered that public tragedies can cause people to relive private trauma, so that a terrorist attack can provoke the reliving of a rape or the recollection of a mugging in a shadowy alley."
Clue number two came when Bellitto told his wife—a clinical social worker at a hospital for terminal cancer patients—about Bulkeley's findings, she told him that people who had lost loved ones years earlier had started attending cancer support group meetings shortly after the attacks. Clearly, the attacks had prompted latent issues to surface.
The result was Bulkeley's Dreams of Healing (May)—the blueprint he and his colleagues so desperately needed that September. Designed for caregivers and lay people, the book describes the therapeutic value of dreams, presenting guidelines for interpreting dreams and showing how to use those guidelines to help trauma survivors.
Similarly, Joseph T. Kelley's Faith in Exile (Paulist, July)—which was already in the works but took on new meaning after September 11—recognizes that "healing comes through time and space and pain, and that some wounds never heal," Bellitto says. A reflection on the question of where God is in the face of evil, the book tackles the issue of keeping one's faith when the very idea of faith is suspect, such as in the wake of events like the 9/11 attacks or the pedophilia scandal in Catholic Church.
If any good resulted from the attacks, the outpouring of kindness has to be near the top of the list. Focusing on that, Vincent Ryan Ruggiero calls for a return to selfless love to counteract the focus on self-love prevalent in recent decades. His March release, The Practice of Loving Kindness (New City Press), offers instruction on practicing loving kindness through thoughts, words, deeds, and silence. Unrelated to 9/11 but placing a similar emphasis on kindness is The Healing Power of Kindness, a July book of reflections and responses by Jean Maalouf. Twenty-Third Publications will release a companion book on The Healing Power of Purpose, also by Maalouf, later in the year.
Andrews McMeel editor Jean Lucas likes to say it was her intuition that led her to acquire Lynn Robinson's April release, Compass of the Soul, which describes intuition—an instinctive "knowing"—as a natural skill that can be developed to effect positive change. Each of the 52 lessons includes insight into an aspect of intuition, a practical exercise and a journal prompt. In its first few weeks, Compass sold 10,000 copies.
"The topic has become more mainstream," Lucas says. "Fortune 500 companies use Lynn's intuition consulting company for business decisions. Intuition is not considered 'out there' anymore." Apparently not—Robinson was featured with singer Jewel at the early May Intuition Fest held in Central Park. Lucas is so convinced of the longevity of the trend that she acquired a second book by Robinson, Divine Prosperity, which applies to financial and spiritual abundance.
Also writing about intuition is Shirley J. Nicholson, who identifies it as one of The Seven Human Powers (Quest, June) that can be developed to lead a person to greater self-awareness; the book draws on the wisdom of Eastern traditions and the science of contemporary depth psychology. In The Findhorn Book of Guidance and Intuition (May) Carly Newfeld echoes the belief that an intuitive sense is available to everyone. Part of a series that includes another May release, The Findhorn Book of Unconditional Love by Tony Mitton, the book features stories from people who have relied on intuition for decision-making and a look at the heightened intuitive sense in children.
Among those children is a Bulgarian boy known as Thomas, the inspiration for a March release from Findhorn, Messages from Thomas: Raising Psychic Children by James Twyman, in which Thomas offers advice to parents. Coming in December is Inner Traditions' Teen Psychic by Julie Tallard Johnson, who provides insights and practical methods for developing intuition in teenagers.
It's the ultimate form of codependency—a syndrome that Carmen Renee Berry calls the "Messiah trap." When Helping You Is Hurting Me (Crossroad, Apr.)—an updated reissue of Berry's 1988 title—offers help for those whose codependency, rooted in childhood victimization, has turned their desire to help others into a harmful addiction. Berry's insights stem from her career as a social worker with victims of child sexual abuse and her own journey as a would-be messiah to those victims.
Addiction of a different sort is the focus of Gambling Addiction (Servant, May), a topic not frequently discussed in Christian circles. But author John M. Eades knows how devastating the problem can be; as a former addict and now a gambling addiction specialist, Eades has seen the problem from both sides. Calling the addiction an "accidental illness," he offers practical and spiritual advice and anecdotal strategies for recovery.
In The Samson Syndrome (Thomas Nelson, Apr.) Mark Atteberry identifies 12 characteristics common to powerful men—all of which led to Samson's downfall. Using examples of men like Bill Clinton, Pete Rose and Robert Downey Jr., Atteberry discusses problems such as lust, egotism and anger.
Tireless workers for the kingdom of God might want to take a cue from Harvest House author Kim Thomas, whose May release, Even God Rested, offers guilt-free encouragement and practical steps for women who need to get off the home-church-workplace treadmill that seems to have no "stop" button. Similarly, Kirk Byron Jones's Addicted to Hurry (Judson Press, June) is for those for whom hurry has become a chronic condition—people who rush through life even when there's no need to rush.
Psychotherapist Gregory C. Popcak believes the battle against anxiety is a spiritual as well as psychological one. His March release from Loyola, God Help Me! This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy, is peppered with lists and quizzes that help clarify his premise—that by relying on God's grace and applying proven techniques, no one need be driven crazy by the unavoidable stress of daily living.
Psychologist Terry Lyles believes that stress can be a positive factor in a person's life. In The Secret to Navigating Life's Storms (Destiny Image, July), Lyles applies the principles he uses in corporate training sessions to teach individuals to respond to everyday stress effectively. Early on he states his belief that inadequate periods of recovery from stress—not the stress itself—causes a depletion of a person's physical, emotional, mental and spiritual reserves.
Like anxiety and stress, worry robs people of their peace of mind. In a comprehensive look at worry from a Jewish perspective—Not to Worry (Jewish Publication Society, Mar.)—psychologist Michele Klein examines the problem of worry and the coping strategies typical to the Jewish community: prayer, music, humor, dream interpretation, meditation, and theurgy (supernatural activity) and magic. She rounds out her discussion with a look at the purposes of worry and how worry "serves humanity."
Also drawing from a specifically Jewish—albeit kabbalistic—tradition, Leonora Leet pairs psychological healing with traditional mystical teaching in The Kabbalah of the Soul (Inner Traditions, Apr.). Leet also introduces a therapeutic meditation technique called the Transformative Moment, designed to lead a person to higher levels of consciousness.
No Self-Help Here
Time was that you couldn't utter the words "self-help" or "psychology" in a typical Christian bookstore. That was some 30 years ago, and according to Jim Cox, owner of Anchor Bookshop, a regional chain in Tennessee, the pendulum of self-help popularity has swung back and forth in the intervening years. So what caused evangelicals to embrace self-help to begin with? Cox has the answer in two words: James Dobson.
"In the '60s and '70s if a book had the word psychology on it, it was of the devil," Cox says. "Then when James Dobson became popular, publishers went to the opposite extreme; everything was 'pick yourself up by your own bootstraps.' Now the pendulum is swinging the other way, in that you can't help yourself unless God is involved."
As evidence of the pendulum's arc, Cox's stores no longer have a self-help section. Such books are shelved under basic Christian living. "Biblical psychology starts with biblical principles and shows how they apply to life, whereas religious psychology starts with secular psychology and tries to place biblical principles as an overlay, which does not work," Cox says, explaining why self-help shelves are hard to find in CBA stores today.
Overcoming Negative Self-Image by Neil T. Anderson and Dave Park (Regal, July) certainly fits into the replacement category, focusing as it does on the concept of freedom in Christ as found in God's high opinion of his human creation. The release is the first in the Victory Over the Darkness series, which will present segments of Anderson's book by the same title; the original title, published in 2000, boasts four million copies in print.
John Eldredge points to the heart as central to all of life in Waking the Dead (Thomas Nelson, Aug.). Calling genuine Christianity a process of restoration, Eldredge draws on cultural references to make his case. Perhaps more than in any of his other books—which were also highly personal in nature—Eldredge uses honest and revealing illustrations from his own life.
The Power to Prevail (Warner Faith, Aug.) looks at what author David Foster calls the "paradox of adversity," through which people are empowered to overcome obstacles in life. A manual of practical advice and instruction, the book offers a three-pronged plan for transformative actions.
Considered by many psychologists to be a key element in the quest for emotional well-being, forgiveness is also a foundational spiritual concept, forming the framework of Judeo-Christian theology as well as other religious traditions. Theologian F. LeRon Shults and psychologist Steven J. Sandage offer insight into self-forgiveness, receiving forgiveness and extending it to others in The Faces of Forgiveness (Baker Academic, May).
Expanding on the concept of inner healing, author Jan McCray argues that the redemptive work of Jesus Christ effects the complete transformation of a person's body, mind and spirit in Your Redemptive Healing, a May release from Baker's Chosen Books division.
In Search of Well-Being
In Wrestling with Grace: A Spirituality for the Rough Edges of Daily Life (Upper Room, Mar.), Robert Corin Morris presents a practice he calls "second breath"—following each knee-jerk reaction to frustration with a second breath, an attitude-changing prayer.
Also related to "rough edges" is What Jesus Meant (Westminster John Knox, Apr.) by psychotherapist and minister Erik Kolbell—the inspiration for the character of Erik Camden on "Seventh Heaven"—which springs from the premise that the concepts found in the beatitudes (among them surrender, empathy and patience) provide relief in difficult circumstances.
In Thinking for a Change (Warner, Apr.) prolific author John C. Maxwell writes that when thinking is limited, so is potential. Also available as a Time Warner Audiobook, Thinking for a Change is loaded with anecdotes, practical advice, exercises, and illustrations of both good and bad thinking.
Looking back to the East, Solala Towers' Chi Energy of Happiness and Chi Energy of Harmony (both Andrews McMeel, Apr.) offer basic Taoist "life force" exercises and meditations designed to transform negative energy into positive energy and restore physical, emotional, and spiritual balance.
Finally, David Fontana's Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality (Blackwell, May) is more scholarly, but it addresses such unexpected topics as sexual identity, mysticism and near-death experiences.