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  • Published: 5 January 2022
  • ISBN: 9780241529720
  • Imprint: Michael Joseph
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $29.99

Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?

The No 1 Sunday Times bestseller

Extract

I’m sitting in my therapy room across from a young woman. She is relaxed in the chair, her arms open and loosely moving as she speaks to me. A transformation from the tension and nerves of her first session. We have only had a dozen appointments. She looks into my eyes and starts to nod and smile as she says, ‘You know what? I know it’s going to be hard, but I know I can do it.’

My eyes sting and I swallow. The smile sweeps across every muscle in my face. She has felt the shift and, now, so have I. She came into this room, some time ago, fearful of the world and everything she had to face. Pervasive self-doubt led her to feel dread for every new change and challenge. She left therapy that day with her head held a little higher. Not because of me. I have no magical ability to heal anyone or change their life. She had not needed years of therapy that unravelled her childhood. In this situation, as in many others, the major part of my role was as an educator. I passed on insights about what the science says and what has worked for others. Once she understood and started using the concepts and skills, a transformation began. She felt hope for the future. She started to believe in her own strength. She started dealing with difficult situations in healthy new ways. Each time she did, confidence in her ability to cope grew a bit more.

As we revisited the things she needed to remember in order to face the week ahead, she nodded, looked at me and asked, ‘Why has nobody told me this before?’

Those words stayed with me, ringing in my head. She was not the first or the last person to say them. The same scenario repeated itself over and over. Individuals were coming along to therapy believing that their strong painful emotions were the result of a fault in their brain or personality. They did not believe they had any power to influence them. While longer term, more in-depth therapy is appropriate for some people, there were so many who simply needed some education about how their mind and body work and how they could manage their mental health day-to-day.

I knew the catalyst was not me, it was the knowledge they were being introduced to. But people should not have to pay to come and see someone like me just to get access to that education about how their mind works. Sure, the information is out there. But in a sea of misinformation, you have to know what you are looking for.

I started campaigning into my poor husband’s ear about how things should be different. ‘OK, go for it,’ he said. ‘Put some videos on YouTube or something.’

So we did. Together we started making videos talking about mental health. As it turned out, I was not the only one who wanted to talk about this stuff. Before I knew it, I was making almost daily videos for millions of followers across social media. But the platforms where I could reach the most people seemed to be those with short-form videos. This means I have a large collection of videos with no longer than 60 seconds to get my point across.

While I have been able to catch people’s attention, share some insights and get them talking about mental health, I still want to go one step further. When you make a 60-second video there is so much that you have to leave out. So much detail that gets missed. So, here it is. The detail. The ins and outs of how I might explain some of these concepts in a therapy session and some simple guidance on how to use them, step by step. The tools in this book are mostly taught in therapy, but they are not therapy skills. They are life skills. Tools that can help every single one of us to navigate through difficult times and to flourish.

In this book, I will break down the things I have learned as a psychologist and gather together all of the most valuable knowledge, wisdom and practical techniques I have come across that have changed my life and those of the people I have worked with. This is the place to get clarity on emotional experience and a clear idea of what to do about it.

When we understand a little about how our minds work and we have some guideposts on how to deal with our emotions in a healthy way, we not only build resilience, but we can thrive and, over time, find a sense of growth.

Before leaving their first therapy session, many people want some sort of tool they can take home and start using to ease their distress. For this reason, this book is not about delving into your childhood and working out how or why you came to struggle. There are other great books for that. But, in therapy, before we can expect anyone to work on healing any past traumas, we must ensure they have the tools in place to build resilience and the ability to tolerate distressing emotions safely. There is such power in understanding the many ways you can influence how you feel and nurture good mental health.

This book is all about doing just that.

This book is not therapy, in the same way that a book about how to maximize your physical health is not medicine. It is a toolbox filled to the brim with different tools for different jobs. You cannot master how to use them all at the same time, so you don’t need to try. Pick the section that fits with the challenges you face right now, and spend time applying those ideas. Every skill takes time to become effective, so give it a chance and plenty of repetition before you discard any of the tools. You cannot build a house with just one tool. Each task requires something slightly different. And however skilled you get at using those tools, some challenges are just much harder than others.

To me, working on maximizing our mental health is no different to working on our physical health. If you put health on a number scale with zero as neutral – not unwell but not thriving – a number below zero would indicate a health problem and any number above zero would indicate good health. In the last few decades it has become acceptable and even fashionable to work on maximizing your physical health through nutrition and exercise. Only more recently has it become acceptable to openly and visibly work on your mental health. This means you don't need to wait until you’re struggling before you pick up this book, because it is OK to build upon your mental health and resilience, even if you are not unwell or struggling right now. When you feed your body with good nutrition and build up stamina and strength with regular exercise, you know that your body is more able to fight infection and heal when faced with injury. It’s just the same with mental health. The more work we do on building self-awareness and resilience when all is well, the better able we are to face life’s challenges when they come our way.

If you pick a skill from this book and find it useful, in hard times don’t stop practising that skill when everything starts to improve. Even when you are feeling good and don’t think you need it, these skills are nutrition for your mind. It’s like paying a mortgage rather than rent. You are investing in your future health.

The things included in this book have a research evidence base. But I do not rest on that alone. I also know they can help because I have seen them help, time and time again, for real people. There is hope. With some guidance and self-awareness, struggle can build strength.

When you start to share things on social media or you write a self-help book, lots of people get the impression that you have it all sorted. I have seen a lot of authors in the self-help industry perpetuate this idea. They feel they have to look as if the things life throws at them leave no dents or scars. They suggest that their book contains the answers – all the answers you will ever need in life. Let me demystify that one right now.

I am a psychologist. That means I have read a lot of the research that has been produced on this subject and I have been trained to use it to help guide other people in their quest towards positive change. I am also a human. The tools I have acquired do not stop life throwing stuff at you. They help you to navigate, swerve, take a hit and get back up. They don’t stop you getting lost along the way. They help you to notice when you have lost your way and bravely turn on your heel and head back towards a life that feels meaningful and purposeful to you. This book is not the key to a problem-free life. It is a great bunch of tools that helps me and many others find our way through.

The journey so far...

I am not a guru who has all the answers to the universe. This book is part journal, part guide. In some ways I have always been on a personal quest to discover how it all pieces together. So this book is me making use of all those hours spent reading, writing and speaking with real humans in therapy to understand a bit more about being human and what helps us while we are here. This is only the journey so far. I continue to learn and be amazed by people I meet. Scientists keep asking better questions and discovering better answers. So here is my collection of the most important things I have learned so far that have helped both me and the people I work with in therapy to find our way through human struggle.

So this book is not necessarily going to ensure that you live the rest of your days with a smile on your face. It will let you know which tools you can use to make sure that when you smile, it is because you genuinely feel something. It will describe the tools you need to keep re-evaluating and finding your direction, returning to healthier habits and self-awareness.

Tools might look great in the box. But they only help when you get them out and start practising how to use them. Each tool takes regular practice. If you miss the nail with the hammer this time, come back later and try again. As a fellow human being, I too continue to do this, and I have only included techniques and skills that I have tried and found useful both for myself and for the individuals I have worked with. This book is a resource for me as much as it is for you. I will keep returning to it time and time again whenever I feel I need to. My wish is that you will do the same and that it can be a toolbox for life.


Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? Dr Julie Smith

A simple, positive, practical toolkit for better mental health, from clinical psychologist and TikTok star Dr Julie Smith

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