A: As we described in the beginning of the book, we had used the material for several years in a large church in Placerville, California. The number of people interested in the classes overwhelmed all expectations from the very first class. We saw lives turned around: people with depression able to return to a normal life; mothers and daughters reconciling and reestablishing a loving connection; estranged couples who were able to communicate in a more healthy style and recommit their love for each other. By the second year of classes, we realized that this material was too valuable to be kept in California. As word has spread about the power of the skills we teach, more people now have access to fulfilling their need for the abundant life. You can read some comments from others here.
Q: Dr. Sandbek, have you written any other self-help books?
A. Yes, The Deadly Diet was my first book and was published about two decades ago. It has gone through a second edition and I am working on updating it to a third edition (although the second edition is still available on Amazon). It is a self-help manual for people who have eating disorders. This would include anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.
Q: When I read about the "Voice" in your book, it made me uneasy. Why is that?
A. This is a comment I have heard from some of my clients. They have told me that if they admitted they heard a voice talking to them, someone might lock them up in a mental hospital. The use of the Voice in our book is a metaphor for negative thinking. It has nothing to do with hallucinations or "hearing voices." This concept of the Voice is a way to externalize your negative thoughts so as not to have to take responsibility for them. By giving all your negativity to the imaginary Voice, you are left with owning only your own healthy thoughts. As I tell my therapy clients, "you are not responsible for having the Voice, you are only responsible for learning how to get rid of it."
Q: How can you say that shame is a healthy emotion when everyone else says it is so destructive?
A. There is a lot of confusion about what shame is. Many people think it is just another version of guilt. The dictionary defines shame as the emotion felt when one has violated community standards. Remorse is the emotion one feels after violating one’s own internal standards. Both of these emotions are normal and natural merely because we are imperfect creatures in an imperfect world. As The Worry Free Life explains, these healthy (but painful) emotions can drive us to take action to repair the damage. Shame naturally leads us to ask for forgiveness from others and maybe doing something to correct any damage. On the other hand, remorse can push us to forgive ourselves for being human. Guilt is totally different in that it gets us to punish ourselves. This can become a vicious cycle because when we punish ourselves we make another mistake which makes us feel even more guilty followed by more self punishment. Some people have been trapped in this cycle for years. By learning to deal effectively with the Voice, you can banish guilt from your life and let shame and remorse be effective, painful emotions leading to corrective action.
Q: The Worry Free Life seems so different from other self help books but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Can you explain this for me?
A. The Worry Free Life is different from most self books because it teaches the reader how to improve his or her life instead of telling what to do. My professional experience with others has taught me that most people know what they ought to be doing with their life but don’t have the necessary skills to reach their goals. Teaching skills and personal tools is unusual for self help books — although this has been improving in recent years. Most self help books are designed to make us feel better and this is something we all want. Unfortunately, this affect can wear off quickly. My goal in writing this book is not to feed you but to show you how to feed yourself. I tell my therapy clients during our first visit that my job is to work myself out of a job. My experience has been that after a person has read some of the more helpful self help books and felt committed to a life change The Worry Free Life can take them to the next level of life.
Q: I’m in a church that is always looking for new material for small groups. I loved your book but am wondering how to go about getting this book into our program. Any ideas?
A. There are several things you can do. First, talk with everyone you know in your church about how the book has helped you change your life. Tell your story to the pastoral staff and explain that you want to share this good news with the rest of your church. If your church has a life skills or small group staff person, set up an appointment to talk to this person about a Worry Free Life small group. There is a Study Guide that was designed to be used for small groups so if you don’t have it you may want to look at a copy and share it with the people you talk to. It is okay if you start small with as few as 4-5 people. Some people are more comfortable starting a small group as an all men’s group or an all women’s group. If you must, you can also start the group yourself. If this in an option, please contact me personally and I can offer you suggestions and advice to get you going.
Q: Your book has had a tremendous impact on my life and I would like to share it with a friend who is not interested in religion. What should I do?
A. This is a common question. The book was originally written to target the church market because we saw an absence of books on the order of The Worry Free Life. Many people who have no need for religion in their life have read and used The Worry Free Life by merely ignoring the context (religion) of the skills training. One of my goals in the near future is to make a secular version of this book available to the general public.
Q: I have such a hard time thinking that my thoughts belong to the Voice. These are really my thoughts and to pretend they are not seems phony. Do I have to use the Voice concept to use the skills in the book?
A. A few of the people I have worked with have had the very same thoughts you have just expressed. The reason I developed the Voice technique years ago was as a result of a comment from a client I was working with. We had been using the standard cognitive therapy procedures and it was going slowly. When we talked about what was impeding her progress, she told me, "Dr. Sandbek, you are expecting me to use my mind that is full of worry to actually get rid of the worry in my mind." She felt like she had been set up to run in circles. What she said made sense. As I was pondering during the following week about what she said, another therapy client of mine was having a tough week. In describing to me the trouble she was having she blurted out, "Dr. Sandbek, there is a voice in my head." I had an epiphany. The two concepts made the proverbial light bulb go off in my head. As I explored the idea of externalizing negative thoughts with my other clients, I found they liked the idea and therapy became much easier for many of them. Of course, not everyone resonates with the concept of the Voice. If you are in this group, you can just ignore the Voice strategy and substitute "worry" for the Voice. By changing the language a bit, you might be able to still use these skills and techniques successfully.
Q: Sometimes when I’m feeling really self destructive, it is hard not to believe what I’m telling myself, namely that I deserve not to live any more. How can I not believe what I really believe?
A. I remember years ago working in a mental hospital and having a patient tell me that she "really wanted" to kill herself. Fortunately, she had be taking the daily cognitive therapy classes in the hospital. I reminded her that she didn’t really want to die, rather her Voice wanted her to believe she wanted to die. As we talked she realized this was true and she had been believing a lie. As she calmed down, she knew deep down that she wanted to live but the Voice had spent so much time convincing her otherwise that she had come to believe it. She spent the next hour in her room doing written Voice Fighting. The rest of the staff were surprised, but happy, that she was able to turn herself around so quickly. Your Voice wants to do the same thing for you. Sometimes the hardest part of changing your thinking is to separate yourself from the Voice. Once this step becomes easier for you, the rest of the skills will fall into place. Keep up with your writing and put all your "negative" thoughts on paper making sure you ascribe them to the Voice. As the book tells you, "don’t forget to watch your pronouns."
Q: Why are there only six destructive emotions and not five or seven?
A. That’s a good question. I don’t think there is any good reason why there are only six. I don’t even know of any research that says there should only be six. The best I can tell you is that after thirty years of working as a psychologist, these are the only ones I have found. I suppose there could be more, but these six destructive emotions seem to be at the heart of our difficulties as human beings. Psychologists tend to call these six destructive emotions "core emotions" and the Voice language behind them "mental schemas."