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by Tim Desmond
W. W. Norton, 2017
Review by Beth Cholette, Ph.D. on Jul 4th 2017
Self-compassion has been getting more attention in the field of psychology, and in the opening pages of this book, author Tim Desmond, a licensed marital and family therapist, cites research that 30 minutes of self-compassion a day for just 14 days can produce lasting change. This is the basis for the book's subtitle, A 14-Day Plan to Transform Your Relationship with Yourself.
In the first part of the book, Desmond introduces self-compassion as a skill that needs to be developed. He reviews some of the "imposters" which get in the way of self-compassion, such as self-indulgence, self-pity, passivity, and egotism. He then offers short vignettes, inviting readers to contrast these typical, obstacle-type reactions with more self-compassionate responses. This section reads very much like traditional cognitive therapy, with the therapist (Desmond) addressing and disputing dysfunctional cognitive thoughts.
Part II of the book is "The Map to Self-Compassion," the individualized guide intended to be used over a period of 14 days. The book includes an actual "map," a decision tree which helps the reader to choose the starting practice which best meets their needs. There is a somewhat cumbersome "practice journal" to record reflections on each day's practice as well as self-compassion quizzes for further self-assessment.
The actual practices are a combination of written instructions in the book and audio tracks which must be accessed online. (These are free, but readers will need to submit an email address.) The book provides several self-reflective questions for each practice, including noting whether the practice caused any discomfort—and if the answer to this was yes, whether this discomfort was overwhelming, whether one was exhausted by it, or whether one can stay present with the discomfort. The nature of one's response will guide the choice of the next practice based on the "map" mentioned above. On the other hand, there is little guidance on how to utilize the practices over the course of 14 days, other than to begin with the first practice and to try to schedule the training sessions for the same time each day.
There is a final section of the book that addresses "Maintenance: Living Self-Compassionately." Here Desmond, who is also a mindfulness teacher and student of Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn, talks about everyday practice, compassion in relationships, and also very rudimentary information about physical self-care (e.g., "vegetables are good for you").
I am both a clinical psychologist and a yoga instructor, and I attended a workshop that Tim Desmond facilitated on "Advanced Mindfulness" several years ago, which led to my interest in this book. I found him to be extremely warm and genuine, and I learned valuable techniques to incorporate into my psychotherapy. Unfortunately, neither this book nor the related audio recordings seem to be the appropriate venue for conveying Desmond's considerable wisdom. There is some helpful information in these materials, but I believe that the unwieldly formatting will decrease the usefulness of this book for most.
© 2017 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.