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Review of "Self-Coaching"

By Joseph J. Luciani
John Wiley & Sons, 2001
Review by Jack R. Anderson, M.D. on Apr 12th 2004

†††† The underlying theme of this book is quite simple. Luciani tells us--his readers--in no uncertain tone, that if we are depressed or anxious it's probably our own damn fault. It's because we keep telling ourselves a lot of lies about ourselves, other people and the world. If we want to feel better, what we have to do is identify the part of us that tells these lies--the part the author calls "our Insecure Child"--and quit listening to this little monster's false messages of doom, gloom and imaginary dangers. Then, after we have discredited our insecure child, we can corner the rest of ourselves in imaginary locker rooms and give ourselves motivational speeches, as if we were coaches inspiring our teams to outdo themselves in the Big Game--thus "Self-Coaching."

†††† In his "Introduction," the author introduces himself. He begins by describing a "cautious, worrisome child," named "Joe" who, at age 5 or 6, was already worried about his parents dying and leaving him alone. After a traumatic experience in the fourth grade, Joe became even more insecure. He controlled his anxiety by trying to please everyone--what he calls his "chameleon" defense. Despite his social successes--he was voted the most popular student in his high school--he still felt insecure. The "Joe" he described was, of course, himself: Joseph J. Luciani.

††† In college, using the "wounded healer" theory, he decided to major in psychology, hoping he would find a remedy for his own psychological torment. His studies and psychoanalytical training helped somewhat but he was still miserable. In his words: "I gave Freud a chance, then Jung, but nothing changed. I still worried."

†††† Shortly after the completion of his studying and training, Luciani experienced the epiphany: "There's no reason to be so miserable." This developed into the realization that he had a choice as to whether to be miserable or not, and eventually to his development of the self-coaching method.

†††† Although the author seems to deny it, I believe there was a causal relationship between his psychoanalytic training and his epiphany. My personal experience with psychoanalysis was in the middle 1940's, probably a quarter of a century or more before Luciani's, but I still experience occasional, sudden insights into my Weltanschauung, based on exchanges with my analyst so many years ago. Friends who have had training or therapeutic analyses report similar experiences.

†††† In Chapter 1, "A New Self-Therapy," the author stresses the importance of self-reliance. He writes: "Anyone who insists on looking for a guru, a shrink, a pill, or even a book to do their work will ultimately fail, because no one but you can ever topple your destructive habits." His contemptuous reference to therapists as "shrinks" or "gurus" was a bit confusing to this reviewer as the author says earlier in the chapter that it took him twenty-three years of clinical work to write "Self-Coaching." He doesn't specify whether he practiced as a shrink or as a guru.

†††† In Part II of the book, in the chapters on depression and anxiety, Luciani is more accepting of therapists, whom he refers to as "mental-health professionals" instead of "shrinks and gurus." He also recommends that some depressed and anxious patients be referred to mental-health professionals and be treated with appropriate medications, instead of "pills."

†††† All five chapters of Part II are exceptionally well written and easy to understand. Diagnostic terms are well defined and illustrated with clinical examples from the author's practice. I did take exception to some of the checklists, self-quizzes and severity scales. From my own clinical experience I would expect that the patients most in need of prompt referral to mental-health professionals, would not understand these self-diagnostic instruments and would thus inappropriately attempt self-treatment.

†††† In Part III of his book, Luciani gets down to the nitty-gritty of his self-coaching program. Like all of this author's writing, this part in interesting and well-written. There are three chapters on Self-Talk, the basic component of the self-coaching program. He explains how most of us talk to ourselves: "A part of you talks and a part of you listens?" When the part of you talking is your Insecure Child and you accept what he/she says, the consequent negative thinking makes you feel anxious and depressed. Self-Talk encourages you to disagree with your Insecure Child, to direct your thinking into more appropriate, rational and positive interpretations of your experience, and thus lower your levels of anxiety and depression.

†††† The fourth chapter of Part III is entitled: "Motivation." Luciani tells us that if we are successful with Self-Talk, we should experience an attitude adjustment.. Then, when we have achieved a positive attitude, we can use motivation to mobilize the necessary energy to maintain this attitude and move toward a healthy and productive life. To achieve this level of motivation he recommends we think of ourselves as Knute Rocknes giving pep-talks. "Visualize yourself as a 'coach,'" he writes, "prancing around the locker room getting yourself pumped up."

†††† Luciani recommends that we journal our self-coaching activities in an ongoing training log. He includes a "Training Log Format" in the Appendix.

†††† In the very last section of Part III, some models for our coaching style are suggested. They include: Knute Rockne; Eleanor Roosevelt; George Patton; Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. Luciani recommends: "Just choose someone that gets you hopping."

†††† Part IV discusses the application of Self-Coaching to six different personality types: Worrywarts; Hedgehogs; Turtles; Chameleons; Perfectionists and Guilt-Sensitive People.† Self-quizzes are provided to help readers decide their own personality types. The author gives examples of the various types from his clinical experience. I believe almost every reader will recognize himself in one or more of these categories. There are also specific training suggestions offered for each type.

†††† In the chapter on guilt-sensitive people, Luciani discusses the relationship between guilt and civilization. He writes: "Guilt, and at times the anticipation of guilt, can be a major force in shaping our socialization." He uses a triangular figure to illustrate the relationships of guilt, consequence and conscience to personal morality. This very clearly gets his point across that guilt itself is not always a negative force, but only when it is† excessive and unreasonable. From the chapters on anxiety and depression, this reviewer believes the author feels much the same way about these feelings. He believes that they are necessary to civilization, but disruptive when exaggerated. Freud expressed he same opinion in "Civilization and Its Discontents."

†††† In his discussion of guilt, the author relates that as an intern he ran a therapy group for repeat offenders from Lompoc Federal Prison. Talk about a small world! In the early 1950s I also ran therapy groups in the prison at Lompoc. At that time it was a U.S. Army Disciplinary Barracks and I was a psychiatric social worker technician.

†††† Part V, "Self-Coaching for Life," briefly recaps the previous parts. Luciani devotes a six-paragraph section to the development of another concept--that depression and anxiety are just bad habits and habits were made to be broken. He says he uses this principle in his practice and recommends that anyone in the Self-Coaching program repeat to himself/herself at frequent intervals "It's just a habit!" He believes that the repetition of this mantra helps the patient to remember that anxiety and depression are not mysterious illnesses but just habits, and habits can be broken.

†††† In the final two sections of the book: "Letting Go" and "Ready, Coach?" the author waxes a bit Pollyannish for this reviewer. To illustrate his concept of "Letting Go" or being "totally in the moment" he refers to a Zen Buddhist story. In this story, a monk is hanging over a cliff suspended by a vine. The vine begins to loosen and the monk is facing certain death from the fall. Instead of being depressed or anxious about his impending death, the monk, who is "totally in the moment," focuses on a strawberry growing on his vine. His last words are "What a magnificent strawberry. I think I'll eat it."

†††† It occurs to me that, if the monk had not been so "totally in the moment," he might have chosen a better course of action than jumping over the cliff and hanging on to a poorly rooted vine.

†††† In "Ready, Coach?" the author writes: "That's all I have to say. It's all I need to say. You have everything you need to insist on a life free from anxiety and depression."

†††† A life free from anxiety and depression wouldn't last very long in this dangerous world.

†††† Despite his over-optimistic closing, Luciani has done society a great service by taking the time to assemble all the good advice in this book. "Self-Coaching" is well organized and easy to read. Anyone who studies and applies the book's principles and keeps the recommended journal--the "Training Log--is almost certain to attain a more satisfying and successful existence, and to realize that he is more a creator than he is a creature of circumstances.

© 2004 Jack R. Anderson


††† Jack R. Anderson, M.D. is a retired psychiatrist living in Lincoln, Nebraska.†

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