Emotional First Aid: Self-Help for the Wounded Psyche
Guy Winch's new book offers treatments for the daily hurts of life.
Posted September 11, 2013
Imagine...after a day filled with hassles, setbacks, and hurt feelings (a typical day, in other words), you open your psychological medicine cabinet and take out some soothing and healthy emotional first aid. Aah, that’s better...
Such balm for your aching psyche is exactly what is prescribed and provided by psych doc Guy Winch in his latest book, Emotional First Aid. Under the pressure of the daily grind, it's easy to forget to take care of our mental health. This book has the laudable goal of getting us into the habit of doing so. As Winch says, “It is my sincere hope that prioritizing our mental health and taking the steps necessary to enhance and maintain it will become a daily practice, a habit we all integrate into our lives from an early age.” (Disclosure: Winch is a fellow PT blogger.)
The idea of writing a self-help manual for the “emotional cuts and scrapes of daily life” is important and original. I've never read a book quite like it. For each typical emotional wound, Winch explains how your psyche can be damaged, what to do to begin the healing process, the signs that “infection” has set in, and when to consult with a mental health professional. As you might expect, Winch suggests emotional “band-aids” such as seeking and getting support for some injuries, such as loneliness; but he also includes a terrific section about when giving emotional support might backfire. I’ll share his counter-intuitive insight below.
Winch devotes a chapter to each of these 7 common, but hurtful, emotional injuries of daily life:
Simply recognizing and acknowledging that you have suffered one of these 7 wounds to the psyche can often be the first step toward healing them. Little cuts may heal with time. But if our emotional wounds fester and fail to heal, Winch uses the latest research to describe the harms that can result. In this situation, more intensive care may be necessary.
And so, for each of the 7 psychological injuries, Winch recommends several science-based “treatments.” For example, in the chapter on “Failure,” one of my favorites, he offers exercises that teach how to reframe failure as a learning experience; how to regain a sense of control after a setback; how to reexamine our planning and execution of tasks; and more.
Although you may want to seek out a supportive friend to comfort you after a failure, beware of whom you choose! According to Winch, a person who sympathizes intensely and at length with your failure may just reinforce your mistaken belief that, “I am inadequate or I would have succeeded.” The best medicine? Pick a friend who can first empathize with you and then help you find useful lessons and meaning from your setback. If you are trying to be that friend for someone else, a good mantra might be: “Give support; then get real.”
Winch’s book is based on up-to-date psychological research. Many of the treatments he suggests are also based on tried-and-true techniques from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I have a few quibbles, however. Many of his recommended treatments are writing-based and somewhat lengthy at that. I have no doubt that they are effective, but I wonder how many readers will be motivated to try them when they are experiencing a psychological crisis. I would have also liked to see more on prevention—but maybe that's a different book.
These minor complaints aside, I'm grateful to Winch for his original contribution to the psychological and self-help literature. What could be more useful to people than techniques that heal the psychological wounds of everyday life? This is what we are all seeking, and this is what “self-help” should mean--effective and healing self-care. In Emotional First Aid, everyone will find a few self-care techniques to add to their personal medicine cabinet--and will feel better for it.
© Meg Selig
If you enjoyed this blog, you may also like " The 9 Habits of Highly Effective Complainers ," a review of Winch's earlier book, The Squeaky Wheel . To see a fascinating blog by Winch on "Ten Surprising Facts About Rejection," click here .
For another take on the emotional wounds of everyday life, see “The Trauma of Being Alive” here .
Winch, Guy (2013). Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt, and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries (NY: Hudson Street Press).