This book is the second collaboration between authors Kelly Wilson, a psychology professor, and Troy Dufrene, a psychology writer, who previously co-authored the book Mindfulness for Two. Their prior work focused on the role mindfulness plays in a specific type of psychotherapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong: A Guide to Life Liberated from Anxiety is also grounded in the principles of ACT. At the start of the book, Wilson and Dufrene establish that Things is not a self-help manual; nor is the goal to assist the reader in eliminating anxiety. Rather, the authors maintain that ACT allows the possibility of a new perspective on anxiety.
Ultimately, Wilson and Dufrene aim to assist their readers reducing the effects of anxiety on their lives as well as living rewarding lives despite their anxiety. Some aspects of ACT which support this include remaining connected to the present moment, equally accepting both pleasurable and painful aspects of your life, committing to doing things that shape your values, and recognizing the unlimited possibilities of who you are. Throughout the book, the authors attend to these and other themes, which connect to the six process areas of ACT. To further illustrate some of the ACT concepts, Wilson and Dufrene also occasionally weave in what they call "Games." These short exercises--rated for difficult level from easy to hard--allow readers to think more specifically about how the ACT ideas might apply to their own lives.
Several things about this book which made a particular impression on me. The first was the connection between anxiety and ambiguity. As a psychologist myself, I frequent tell my clients that worry is a form of ineffectual problem-solving. Not only do Wilson and Dufrene write quite eloquently on the subject of ambiguity--including offering a sense of appreciation for this often troubling state--but also they expand on "the problem with problem-solving" (p. 34). Secondly, I was struck by the data which the authors presented. When they examined a few research studies in greater depth, they found that in a one year period, over one in three young adults (15 to 24 year olds) experienced symptoms consistent with a diagnosable mental health disorder. On the one hand, I found this remarkable, but on the other, it was not surprising given my own experience working in a college counseling center. Finally, I especially appreciated an analogy which the authors utilized to expound acceptance, an essential component of ACT. They point out that when a smoker decides to quit, that individual generally must accept a certain set of negative experiences (urges to smoke, uncomfortable emotions, thoughts about smoking, etc.). The individual makes a choice to accept the unpleasant state in order to reach a particular goal--in this case, not smoking; this acceptance can be applied to anxiety as well.
In the end, Wilson and Dufrene make good on their promise not to offer a solution to the "problem" of anxiety. (Although they do offer an extensive list of "Sources for Further Study" for those who want to learn more about both ACT and Mindfulness.) Instead, they conclude their short (just over 150 pages) book with a sense of hope--while they acknowledge that things still might go terribly, horribly wrong, they also suggest that when we exist in the current moment, we just may notice that life is also filled with good.
© 2011 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.