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by Fungen Neziroglu and Katharine Donnelly
New Harbinger, 2010
Review by Alex Jenson on Oct 11th 2011

Overcoming Depersonalization Disorder

The title of this book is as mundane and obscure as you could imagine - of course a non-fiction work dealing with any kind of serious mental health difficulty is not obligated to deal in catchy, inviting language, but if we are talking about aesthetics and marketing, this book has some serious problems of its own to deal with. I don't think I have ever come across a book which such an unappealing, slapdash cover.

It is grey, bland and unappealing with a horrible font. But then the subject matter here is specialist and may well be essential reading for anyone with this condition who is motivated to seek help.

 If you were to ask many mental health professionals/psychologists/psychotherapists to tell you what 'Depersonalization disorder' amounts to in reality, I think a good proportion would be struggling to map it out for you in any great detail. This is undoubtedly a book that tackles a very specific and little known dissociative disorder. The better news is that once you get past the bleakness of the cover art (to judge this book by its cover would definitely confirm the wisdom of that old maxim), here is a very useful and insightful work, written in a very accessible style which will not leave you feeling befuddled or overwhelmed with psychobabble and extraneous jargon that can sometimes be found in specialist non-fiction. It is very well laid out, with lots of textual variety inside -- broken down paragraphs, nice spacings. It's a well-organized and accessible layout, accompanied with diagrams and chapter summaries and a useful FAQ section at the end.

At only 170 pages, it's a very practical book that does not waste much time with descriptive overload and drawn-out scene setting. The 'what' and the 'why' of this condition are mapped out very swiftly, because the meat of the narrative is concerned with methods the sufferer can employ to tackle this condition head-on. And that is where you will find the dynamic center of this book. I say dynamic, because while the methods presented are strongly connected to Acceptance-based-therapy (with next to no focus on dealing with early life traumas from the psychodynamic perspective) the authors are not unafraid to write with confidence and frankness about their own interpretation of what this condition is, what it means and how it should be confronted. There is a strong element of realism here.

On therapeutic approaches, the authors write "We are merely stating that human suffering is part of life and that sometimes struggling against it or constantly looking for an end to it just perpetuates the suffering, thereby intensifying it" and... According to Acceptance-based therapies, the litmus test for psychological functioning is not how good you feel, but rather, how willing you are to endure a range of experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant."

As a slight digression this reminded me of a comment I read underneath a YouTube video about the condition known as body dysmorphic disorder -- which is a very serious and crippling disorder. One user had posted quite seriously that 'I am ugly as **** but I go out all the time'. While that might seem a bit facetious in response to a serious psychiatric condition; there is some parallel there with what the authors of this book are trying to communicate -- essentially that when it comes to conquering psychiatric afflictions, it is not merely about finding clinical solutions, or medication-based solutions (in fact it is claimed that DPD is pretty impervious to any kind of medication) or even therapeutic solutions. Half the battle is finding the strength and the will to re-engage with life, to step out of the front door and put yourself back into situations, which although might seem traumatic and unenjoyable in the short term, will actually sow the seeds for your future rebirth and the re-establishment of well-being. The authors make it clear that this is not a condition that you can just 'think your way out of'. You actually have to take steps to engage with some level of discomfort, and even accept some level of discomfort as part and parcel of life. The alternative is not an appealing one -- total disengagement from life.

There are plenty of real cognitive exercises in this book and a few meditations as well. The thrust of the cognitive approach seems to be (to quote the authors again) "to act in accordance with our best interests rather than what our emotions want us to do". This is termed as 'psychological flexibility'. When we can train ourselves to observe our thoughts without accepting them as a true reflection of reality, we are in a better position to regain control. And you could argue that all mental illness is on some level, simply about loss of control. The challenge is always to explore as many avenues as possible to get you back in charge of your life - to re-establish that control.

Of course it is not as simple as reading one book. Inevitably action is required on a personal level. This book communicates a very grounded, common sense, logical methodology for getting on top of what appears to be a very distressing mental disorder.

There could be some gripe about the fixation with therapy that is only centered on the 'here and now'. Some people would argue that psychotherapy that homes in on childhood issues (which are not responsible for the onset of DPD in every case) is a more effective strategy in terms of long term eradication of DPD. However, this is a very comprehensive, diligent, well-researched and at times, surprisingly enlightening book. It is full of practical exercises, up to date information and a strong understanding and awareness, drawn from the authors’ own Real World experiences, about multi-layered strategies for coming to terms with DPD and ultimately getting it under some level of control. It is intelligent without being patronizing, and it most importantly, it is totally accessible for both mental health professionals and anyone who has been diagnosed with DPD. 


© 2011 Alex Jenson


Alex Jenson writes about himself: "I have just successfully completed my training to teach English as a second Language. I am a published author and poet, a film school screenwriting graduate. I am working on my first feature length screenplay. I was born in the north of England.  I am a big sports fan and I love running and playing football."

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