Home > books, encouragement, feelings, healing, hope, psychotherapy blogs, trauma > Book Review: How We Heal and Grow

Book Review: How We Heal and Grow

I have been following Dr. Jeffery Smith’s blog, Moments of Change for some time now and was very honored when he asked to send me a pre-publication copy of his new book, How We Heal and Grow: The Power of Facing Your Feelings for review. I have long been a fan of his lucid, clear writing and his gift for so clearly explaining the often mysterious and elusive interplay of therapy. This book has proved to be no exception to that rule.

If you read only one book about healing this year, or even this decade, let it be How We Heal and Grow. The book is well written and easy to read, with clear prose and carefully delineated arguments. Despite being a practicing psychiatrist for a number of years, he writes in a refreshingly jargon-free manner. The only thing that slows you down is stopping to highlight yet another passage or think deeply about some profound “aha” moment you just had. This is not a “quick-fix” self help book (you know the kind: Complete Mental Health in 30 days by only eating Rutabagas!) but a profound, responsible, serious look at what it is that constitutes healing and how you go about it. So much of what Dr. Smith wrote resonated with my own experiences of healing; not least, his acknowledgement that healing can be a lengthy and repetitive process. He explains that process so clearly, making it easier to trust that committing to the process really will bring about a fuller, more enriching life. He is also adamant about our need to have another person – not always necessarily a therapist, by the way – witness our feelings to bring about the catharsis of healing.

The book starts with a wonderful analogy of a cave, a bridge and a village, which is illustrated in the cover art. Dr. Smith uses this analogy as a communicative arc, returning throughout the book to provide a visceral example of the process. The analogy holds the narrative together and provided an excellent way to continue seeing the forest while studying the trees. In fact, he made very effective use of analogy throughout the book. My favorite, again because it fit so well with my experience, was of the “castles” we build to protect us at a young age when our resources are so scarce that turn into the “prisons” that hold us now that there is no enemy outside our gates.

While his use of metaphor helps the reader to deeply grasp his thesis, what was even more impressive was the integrity with which he wrote. This book was a weaving together of Dr. Smith’s experience as a healer; his attempt to look deeply into the therapeutic process and truly understand the essentials of what truly heals and the precepts garnered from scientific research of the mind and brain. He lays out his arguments with precision, carefully identifying knowledge gleaned from other sources and being painstakingly clear what was based upon his personal experience. He always takes a great deal of care to identify his beliefs, never treating his own opinions as facts. Throughout the book, he highlighted key points, terminology, people and resources in a different typeface and format, making these references easy to find. The book itself is a treasure, but also provides a wealth of other resources that may be used by the reader. There is a humbleness to his approach that made what he is saying even more powerful.

This is an exchange in which conscious awareness and empathic connection with another being, whether internalized or external, makes it possible for us to face distress and receive the other’s calm presence and perspective. In doing so, we are able to emerge from the isolated and timeless state of terror that engulfs us when our brains perceive that danger is at hand. Furthermore, once this exchange has taken place, our reactivity to the original trigger is permanently transformed. As we cross the point of no return on the Bridge, our experience is brought out of the primitive realm of solitary, unspeakable horror and joins forever the stream of events that make up shared life.

As I stated earlier, much of what he said resonated very strongly with my own experience. There were many of those delightful shocks of recognition; of someone articulating something I felt but could not have put into words. I am so grateful that he wrote this book, because I finally have an answer to provide people with when they asked how did my healing actually occur. I have bought a copy of the book for a friend who asks me that question often, and then has to endure sitting there while I struggle to pin down just what it was that actually helped me get better. Dr. Smith identifies two major elements of healing: Catharsis and Connection Distress. He defines Catharsis as sharing feelings with an empathetic witness and sees it as the common thread woven through many different types of therapy and even our everyday life as the process by which we heal. Connection Distress is an explanation of how our deep need for connection drives us to internalize new values in our conscience to replace the wrong and hurtful lessons we learned from our abusers. Dr. Smiths’ careful explanations of development make it clear how we form our defenses, the purposes they served and how to go about dismantling them. While I approached this book from the standpoint of someone who experienced long term trauma in childhood, I believe anyone, with any level of problems, or someone just seeking to grow and develop, would find this a useful book. But I very much appreciated how clearly and thoroughly he addressed the effects of trauma on our development as well as the “castles” that we created to survive it.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Healing can be such a confusing, painful, difficult process but I think that Dr. Smith’s explanation of the healing process, while not a magic pill that allows you to avoid the often painful work of moving through your feelings, does provide hope of healing. The kind of hope that gives you the courage to face the work. He’s not just saying “trust me, this works” and expecting you to blindly follow. He lays out how it is the healing actually takes place and provides a blueprint for how to proceed. There were parts of this book that were of immediate help to me in the work I am doing in therapy, and I expect to return to it again and again as a rich resource.

And while I approached this book as a therapy client seeking to heal, I think it would also be extraordinarily useful for mental health professionals, both in it’s elucidation of the healing process and in the wealth of references it provides. This book is the transmission of years of wisdom learned in the trenches and should be required reading for aspiring therapists. I think they would find the time reading it well spent. And yes, I am giving a copy of it to BN. 🙂

  1. Gel
    October 28, 2014 at 10:10 am

    Reblogged this on Gentle Perseverence and commented:
    Attachment Girl has such a perfect review of this new book that I’m just going to reblog it. I agree with everything she says of the book. I have it too and am reading it. I especially like the paragraph form the book that she quotes in her review. I think it captures the essence of healing and the quality of connection we need to heal.


  2. Gel
    October 28, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Hi AG,
    I love your review of this new book. I am reading it too. I first found Dr. Smiths blog ‘Moments of Change’ from your blog roll…..woops I don’t see it there now, so maybe I’m wrong and found his blog from some other blogroll….Oh well it doesn’t matter does it. I found it and have gotten a lot of help from just reading his blog. And at his blog I heard about his new book. I jumped at the chance to read it.

    Anyway, I appreciate how you articulate your perspective on his book and so I reblogged it to my blog. Thanks for how you are able to put into words your feelings and thoughts. Always a delight to read your blog.



    • October 28, 2014 at 10:43 am

      Hi Gel,
      I saw your re-blog and left a comment on your blog before I saw your comment. 🙂 Thanks for re-blogging and leaving this comment. It was difficult to do justice to the book (part of me just wanted to say “Just read it!” 🙂 ) so I very much appreciated you saying this. I also really appreciated you pointing out that Dr. Smith was not on my blog roll. You probably did find him through my blog, I have re-blogged some of his posts. I thought I had added him to my blogroll. The mistake has been corrected! It’s wonderful to hear from you, thanks for the kind words! It’s good to be back. xx AG


      • Gel
        October 28, 2014 at 11:59 am

        Yes I bet I saw a re-blog of one of his posts on your blog.
        I’m glad you’re back too.


  3. Cat
    October 28, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Excellent review, I’m currently going through therapy and agree that healing can be a very confusing and uncertain process. I will certainly be looking out for this, thanks


    • October 30, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      Glad you liked it. And I’m on board with you about the confusing and uncertain (I really need to do some writing about my current work in therapy!). I think the book would be well worth your time (that probably came across in the review. 🙂 ) ~ AG

      Liked by 1 person

  4. little blond girl
    October 28, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    Great review AG. I have ordered the book and am looking forward to reading it (though it’s not so easy to get here in Canada -I have to wait at least a month before it’ll be shipped :-(…). Welcome back!


    • October 30, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      Sorry you have to wait so long!! But you’ll find it’s worth it. Thanks for the welcome, it’s good to be back. xx AG


  5. October 29, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    So glad you’re back and thank you for passing this on. I love his page and sure to love this book. He couldn’t have picked a better person to review it.


    • October 30, 2014 at 4:39 pm

      Thanks so much for the welcome back. And you’re right, if you like his blog, you’re going to love his book. I hope you enjoy it! ~ AG


  6. Jay
    October 31, 2014 at 8:54 am

    Thanks for the review and recommendation AG. I have been seeing DS (Deep Soul) for a year and a half and only feel like we are really getting to the meaty stuff of what we should be doing. It takes a while to build up trust and feel safe enough to open up to a therapist if you have attachment issues (clearly!). Sometimes I feel so lost when it comes to what therapy is supposed to achieve and how healing is meant to take place exactly. Obviously, everyone has different struggles and their therapy goals will be different. So it should be very interesting to see what this book reveals and how it compares to the other academic articles I have read on therapy. Look after yourself 🙂


  7. MAC
    July 20, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    Thanks for your thorough review. I need to stop reading your book reviews, or I’m going to go bankrupt! 🙂 I’ve ordered this book along with A General Theory of Love, and look forward to reading both.


    • July 21, 2015 at 6:45 pm

      Sorry to cost you so much 😀 but if you were going to spend money on books, you spent it very well. I think you’ll get a lot out of both. I’d love to hear your thoughts once you have a chance to read them! ~ AG


  8. MAC
    July 23, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    Thanks! They just arrived yesterday, and I’ve already started reading A General Theory of Love. I’ll report back once I’m done. 🙂


    • July 26, 2015 at 9:57 pm

      Looking forward to hearing about it, I LOVE that book! (Which by the way, doesn’t mean you need to! I don’t want you to feel any pressure to say you like it!)


  9. MAC
    August 9, 2015 at 11:20 pm

    Hi, AG. I just finished reading A General Theory of Love. HANDS DOWN one of the most amazing and beautiful books I have ever read. Ever. Just … wow. I’m intending to move on next to How We Heal and Grow, but I’m going to have to take a little break for a while just to let A General Theory of Love sink in. Talk about revolutionary! Thanks for the suggestion!


    • August 13, 2015 at 12:12 pm

      So glad you enjoyed it! That book has been so central to my recovery. It explained how you actually heal and gave me hope at a time when I saw myself through a lens of pathology and had no faith in ever being able to get better. I also love it because when I brought it into my sessions, BN asked for the title and ended up reading the book (actually to quote him after reading it “Shit, that’s another book I don’t get to write! 🙂 ) and we often referred to it during my work. That was also important to me because it gave the experience of actually affecting BN and made the relationship feel more authentic.

      And its a good idea to take a rest. Jeff Smith’s book is also very powerful and I think when we learn new things it’s good to give them time to soak in and to integrate the truths into our outlook. Although from where I’m sitting MAC, you are one relentless, tireless woman! 😀

      xx AG


  10. MG
    August 26, 2015 at 11:05 am

    Thank you for pointing me to this review – it sounds like a really helpful book! The concept of facing feelings and learning from them is also addressed in a book by Ronald J. Frederick called “Living Like You Mean It” – have you heard of or read it? Very good book.

    I’m adding this one to my reading list – thanks!


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