Review of ‘The Self-Esteem Journal: Using a Journal to Build Self-Esteem’ by Alison Waines

Dower, C., 2004. Review of ‘The Self-Esteem Journal: Using a Journal to Build Self-Esteem’ by Alison Waines. Reformulation, Autumn, pp.29-30.


‘The Self-Esteem Journal: Using a Journal to Build Self-Esteem’ by Alison Waines
London: Sheldon Press. (2004) £7.99

A friend recently announced his latest passion – blogging. I was intrigued. Apparently he is not alone. A recent survey revealed that there are up to a million bloggers worldwide. A blog is essentially a journal published on the web – an abbreviation of weblog. For some people a blog provides an easy way for friends and family to keep in touch, but clearly for others it provides a medium for private thoughts and feelings. A recent Observer article on growth of blogging describes the writing as

... some of most engaging, trivial, thoughtful, rambling, reactionary, self-obsessed and shamelessly disturbing material of the present day” (Simon Garfield, 4 April 2004).

Garfield identifies the common theme to bloggers; the desire to be heard. As a 21st century phenomenon it can be considered as a further example of the fabricated intimacy presented in reality TV shows, but equally it stands as a testament to the very human desire to construct, re-construct and review our experiences, much in the way that Pepys achieved in the 17th century.

In CAT we have a deep respect for the narrative construction of experience, and we value the client’s engagement with the work between sessions through homework tasks that often involve writing about self and day-to-day experience. I work in a higher education setting, seeing clients for an average of six sessions, and the imperative to engage clients rapidly and to help them develop their own supportive relationship with themselves is all the greater. At the same time I have struggled to find a way of creatively developing focussed homework exercises to differentiate our work from a didactic, tutor/pupil mode. I have found that Alison Waines’ book has rejuvenated my interest in and my repertoire of writing exercises.

Waines proposes the idea of a therapeutic journal, and whilst her title suggests an emphasis on developing feelings of self-worth, closer reading reveals her focus to be much broader than that; she is interested in the full range of thoughts and feelings that are maintained through what she calls ‘self-talk’. It is a self-help book, Waines refrains from proposing a formal theory but her underlying thinking is clearly congruent with CAT, for example in one section she identifies internalised relationships as the basis of the internal monologue.

The book strives to give equal weight to developing one’s emotional, cognitive and action/behavioural awareness. The central idea is the maintenance of a regular journal, but she has assembled almost fifty different exercises to structure writing as well as to review and make sense of it all. In this way it can be seen how writing about oneself can develop into a therapeutic tool rather than the self-obsessed scribblings that constitute many of the blogs. One exercise, ‘The 4 constructive tasks’, outlines simple steps to review your outpourings; summing it up, searching for themes, identifying who is doing the writing (which aspect of yourself), and then prioritising issues to be dealt with. This idea has proved useful with my clients. I also appreciate Waines’ digression from the verbal narrative into imagework, body awareness and dreams - even the most literate clients will benefit from developing their non-verbal awareness.

I fear the title of the book may limit the readership of a volume that constitutes a useful resource for counsellors, psychotherapists and clients alike. It differs from Liz McCormick’s Change for the Better and Lorraine Bell’s Managing Intense Emotions and Overcoming Self-Destructive Habits in not proposing a systematic model to be worked through. In this way I think it complements these volumes. It can be read as a whole or dipped into at will. It shares with those two self-help books a respect for the process of psychotherapy as a joint, collaborative venture, at the same time as fostering means of self-support. Similarly Alison Waines’ voice in the book conveys warmth, acceptance and acknowledgement of the pain of embarking on these processes, rather than offering the upbeat, quick-fix, no-pain pitch of many self-help books. I have found it a valuable addition to my bookshelf and a valuable resource for my practice.

Bell, Lorraine (2003) Managing Intense Emotions and Overcoming Self-Destructive Habits: A Self-Help Manual, East Sussex: Brunner Routledge. ISBN 1-58391-915-5

McCormick, Elizabeth (1996) Change for the Better: Self-Help Through Practical Psychotherapy, London: Cassell. ISBN 0-304-33530-4

www.awaines.fsnet.co.uk;
alison@awaines.fsnet.co.uk

Caroline Dower

Full Reference

Dower, C., 2004. Review of ‘The Self-Esteem Journal: Using a Journal to Build Self-Esteem’ by Alison Waines. Reformulation, Autumn, pp.29-30.

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