Book of the Month: The Tools


In the spirit of self-improvement with the New Year, I chose a self-help book, The Tools: Transform Your Problems into Courage, Confidence, and Creativity as the first book on my book of the month reading list for 2017. I am not generally a self-help book enthusiast, but after I read an article by one of the authors, I was intrigued enough with the concepts developed in this book to give it a shot. I was not necessarily looking to make any huge changes in my life, but I think everyone always has room for improvement, so why not. The book is authored by two psychotherapists with impressive credentials and patient testimonials. The "Tools" were initially developed by the Phil Stutz to help his patients cope with some common situations holding them back in life. I will make the disclaimer before continuing my review that I do not believe these "Tools" will work for everyone. In my personal opinion these Tools will not work for the following persons, and then I will explain why: 1) atheists 2) those without personal insight 3) those with undiagnosed, under-treated, or untreated mental illness 4) general close-mindedness. First, the techniques behind the tools rely on the belief in " higher forces" albeit not necessarily religious, but still requires the person using the tools to have the ability to believe in something greater than themselves. For this reason, I don't think a true atheist can benefit from these techniques. 2) The authors present many different patient cases who have used the tools and had major life changes. The common theme with each of these patients was they recognized a behavior or thought process they wished to change and were already seeking help through psychotherapy for change. I don't think if a person is able to look at themselves and identify the need for improvement or change, the Tools or any other intervention for that matter will truly help. 3) I believe many of the problems addressed with these Tools could be symptoms of undiagnosed or untreated mental illness, such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, ADHD, etc. True mental illness should be addressed with a multi-disciplinary approach, including a medical practitioner or psychiatrist in addition to psychotherapy and other approaches. 4) These techniques outlined in the book are simple, but can seem cheesy. The tools will not work for someone who cannot be open-minded about trying this approach to self-change.

In a nutshell the authors, Barry Michaels and Phil Stutz outline five "Tools" which are essentially visual imagery exercises that are to be performed when triggered by a "cue" which is usually some form of negative thoughts. Barry Michaels becomes intrigued with Stutz's methods after he experiences some limitations to psychotherapy with his patients. Michaels found that although psychotherapy was helpful to patients in identifying root causes of behaviors and thoughts, it often was limited in the ability to stop irrational and negative behavior and thoughts in real time. The authors present a variety of patient cases who have used and benefits from these exercises as well as their own personal journey with these "Tools".

What I liked about their developed techniques are they are easy and quick to use. I do agree with Michaels that identifying the root cause of our problems is not enough, but that other interventions, such as these can be the catalyst for behavioral and thought modification. The belief in  "higher powers" may not be everyone's cup of tea, but has been proven effective in other self-change programs such as AA. The belief in a "higher power" does not necessarily require a religious affiliation, but simply a spiritual belief, which I believe can be beneficial for many people without a concrete religious orientation.

I myself have used these techniques as directed, and believe they can be effective. However, like anything it requires consistency, commitment and a readiness for change.
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