Book Review: Letting Go of Self Destructive Behaviours by Lisa Ferentz

Self destructive behaviours can come in many forms, including eating disorders, addictions and self mutilation. 

In both my career as Social Worker and in my personal life I have seen many people (myself included) use a variety of self-destructive behaviours to cope with the traumatic experiences and the emotions they hide inside themselves. 

As a child, I would skip meals and refuse to eat whenever I felt scared, upset or anxious - resulting in a very low body weight and nutritional deficiencies. As an adolescent I swung to the other extreme, I would drink alcohol to excess and binge eat whenever I slipped into depressive episode. 

Even as an adult who is teetotal 98% of the time (with the exception of weddings and holidays!) I can tell when I'm slipping back into a depressive episode as I will suddenly start drinking and overeating again. Fortunately, having a background in psychology and training as a Social Worker means that I can now spot my own triggers and self destructive cycle and self sooth with a healthy alternative instead. Lately, this has been a gym session or a reading books written by people I consider inspirational who have overcome issues in their own lives.

It's because of my past experiences and the experiences of other people close to me, I read Lisa Ferentz book with interest. 'Letting go of Self-Destructive Behaviours'  is a workbook that aims to help you unpick the root cause of any self-destructive behaviours and spot the psychological cycle of self destruction. 

What I like most about Lisa Ferentz's approach is that she doesn't tell you to simply ditch the problem behaviour straight away. Self-destructive behaviours are like torn safety nets. They're not by any means ideal, but they work to an extent and provide the individual with more comfort than if it were not there at all - even if it is a problem in itself. 

Many therapists ask clients to sign a contract at the beginning of their treatment to agree to stop their behaviours while undergoing treatment. To me, that would be like pulling a torn safety net away from someone who is in the middle of walking on a tightrope. Ok, so the safety net is torn, but it's still better than nothing! We need to install a replacement safety net before we remove the torn one. 

Lisa Ferentz instead advocates for beginning at the root cause of the behaviours and then finding an alternative behaviour to assist with self-soothing, with the expectation that the self destructive behaviour will then fizzle out as it's no longer needed.   

The paperback version of the book enables you to photocopy the worksheets to make notes, collages and doodles on. The activities are designed to get you thinking about your behaviours from the eyes of a therapist and are worth doing to get the most out of the book. You can either carry out these exercises by yourself or if you find it too emotionally challenging, you could take them with you to a counselling session.

I'm a strong believer that there is no health without mental health and so it's important to take a holistic approach to changing your lifestyle for a healthier one. I would recommend this book to anyone who feels ready to address their self-destructive behaviours, whether that may be binge eating, purging, starving or any other behaviour within the spectrum of self-destructive behaviours. It won't be easy to tackle the underlying issues but if you feel determined to conquer it and also have the right support around you from trusted friends, family or a counsellor, then it will definitely be worth it. 

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