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by Aphrodite Matsakis
New Harbinger, 2000
Review by Margo McPhillips on Jul 1st 2002

Emotional Claustrophobia

New Harbinger is one of the new publishers operating from an online site and they specialize in "self-help psychology, life skills, and health publications and tapes that offer real change for real problems."  I like the publishers popping up online because they often bring quite helpful, interesting books to press that wouldn't otherwise get published; books written by real professionals out in the real world working day-to-day and becoming experts by experience rather than just study.  I think there's an obvious difference between books written by scholars or theoreticians, people whose primary work is in thinking about subjects and those written by clinicians or professionals doing hands-on work with problems.  I think both types of books are important but, due to the nature of publishing in the past, the workers were often too busy working to find sufficient time to write or hone their writing skills enough to pass the requirements of most publishers.  Computers and the Internet have changed all that and made many aspects of writing and publishing much easier and more relaxed, increasing the breadth of books one is able to choose from on any given subject.

Matsakis is a clinical psychologist with a private practice.  She has counseled "thousands of clients ranging from combat veterans to victims of crime and abuse and other traumatic events."

One of the main features of this book and Matsakis writing is her insistence that the reader understand this is not primarily a self-help book.  Over and over she cautions the reader that this book is probably best used in conjunction with therapy and under the guidance of a therapist.  That point creates the atmosphere for the book.

The book is actually specifically-targeted psychological education followed by questions and ideas on how to think about and work with one's self and relationship problems.  There are no answers to the questions because presumably one is asking one's self the questions (so is also the only one with the answers) or one is discussing the questions with a therapist and thus in another dialog than that between the book and one's self.  If the reader forgets this or is not interested in working this way, the book seems dry and a bit pointless, posing random-seeming questions that the reader doesn't pursue.  Too, because of the depth and squishy nature of the problem of "emotional claustrophobia," there is no one cause or line of thought so some chapters of the book may pertain and be helpful to the reader while others will not.

I really liked this book, agreed with the author's theories and teaching and can see how it could be very helpful to someone very motivated to change or to someone using it, working with a therapist.  But it's not a casual book one can pick up and read to get ideas, self-help or support from.  It's a very serious book that must be taken seriously.  Otherwise it doesn't make sense to read it.


© 2002 Margo McPhillips

Margo McPhillips is a 1972 graduate of the University of Maryland with a Bachelors degree in Sociology. She is currently interested in the use of books on the Web, bibliotherapy, genealogy as an online family/generational activity, and is enrolled in the UserActive program to earn a Certificate of Professional Development in Web Programming from the University of Illinois to help her with her seven Web sites. Visit her new UserActive site