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Available only in ebook (in Kindle) format at this time, Popovich presents a very brief, but thoughtful and contemplative guide for those concerned with coping with personal fears and anxiety. Reading as an extended form of self-help information leaflet one may receive from a University chaplaincy or Christian Union body – the text of A Layman's Guide to Managing Fear makes clear that it does not seek to replace the standard medical models and practices of professional counseling, psychology, or psychiatry. However, its focus would appear to the reviewer to be of more value to the practicing lay councilor, rather than the sufferer seeking fear management advice, though the latter may conceivably benefit from its suggestions as laid out in the first of its three main sections.
The first section (Ch.1) outlines a general counseling methodology for dealing with presentations of fear and anxiety, and over its very few pages nonetheless usefully suggests the use of critical thinking and reasoning in coming to better understand one's fear state and its putative etiology, before going on to consider a variety of standard mind-body-spirit therapeutic solutions one might consider in alleviating its symptoms. The second chapter seeks to explore the otherwise cryptic term employed in the volume's subtitle, 'non-resistant methods'. By use of this term, Popovich means "… taking a more defensive approach [to fear/anxiety], showing the individual how to reduce the[ir] fear's strength, thereby making it easier to manage" (p20). The choice of wording here further suggests to the current reviewer that this text was prepared for an assisting/attending counselor's attention, but an unexplained anomaly in Popovich's thesis appears here (in putative contradiction to the advise offered in the previous chapter), when he now advices that one does NOT seek the causes of one's fear, but instead simply learns to accept and live with them. Other advice concerned with one's worrying about what is indeed happening, rather than worrying about what is NOT happening, is in my view a helpful position to take in more practically coming to terms with anxiety or fear, and especially so if debilitating to one's normal functioning.
The third of the three parts is concerned exclusively with the use of seeking spiritual comfort in the Christian faith, its doctrines, social support structures, and its organisation's ministers. As written, this chapter will be of most comfort to its exiting faithful (i.e. Christians), but may appear alienating (even threatening) to those of other faiths, or of a different spiritual calling, without familiarity with the canonical or social discourse of Christian doctrine and ethics. For example, the conclusion of one of Popovish's cited pastors is that, "The end result is that God is in control and that He will take care of us" (p.29), will likely be of little comfort to the sufferer of fear or anxiety desperately seeking understanding of his/her experience. For the devout, such a reaction/observation might be to have missed the point of Biblical scripture's intent (or its use in proselytizing/recruitment to its body politic), but the use of language in explaining experience (especially experiences of fear and anxiety) as resulting from external sources of control (albethey omnipotent), will perhaps result in some sufferer's exacerbation (rather than alleviation) of symptoms and negative-affectual fear ideation. This in turn may cause a significant proportion of counseling sessions to result in an increased sense of helplessness and self-efficacy in relieving themselves of their condition(s), at least at an early stage, and thus must be explored only with caution, and with the full complicity of the client (if used at all). Having said that, the examples presented, although anecdotal, may be particularly meaningful in helping connect Christian readers with salient guidance, and thus empowering those readers' confidence in managing fear (both their own, and those of others). Furthermore, the inclusion of a volume such as this on the bookshelf, written from a Christian viewpoint in dealing with fear may be welcome for both the Christian counselor/reader, and those who are non-religious but working with a client who is, whether or not the counselor him/herself believe in the existence of God(s). Indeed, and whatever the chosen faith of the characters in involved, one should keep in mind of Popovich's disclaimer, which asks of his readers that they use the book as a general guide, and that he "does not intend this work to substitute for using the guidance of a mental health professional" (Introduction).
The remainder of the book presents a point/paragraph summary of the preceding pages (themselves only 35 in number), and several pages of Biblical text extracts relating the theme of 'fear' (and its overcoming) in various ways, and although necessarily selective, will prove of comfort to Christians or religious scholars familiar with the format/style of presentation. The sources are clearly cited in this regard, but the therapeutic claims made in the earlier chapters remain anecdotal, and make no reference to the considerably large counseling literature, or even the growing scientific literature (even experimental) concerned with the 'power of prayer', meditation, or other spiritually-inclined/informed therapeutic practices in use across the world in counseling/alleviating the pain resulting from many a person's unwelcome mental experiences.
© 2013 Anthony R. Dickinson and Stanley C. Y. Chung
Dr. Anthony R. Dickinson [President, Hong Kong Society of Counseling and Psychology, and Research Advisor, Beijing Genomics Institute, China], and Stanley C. Y. Chung (Chinese University of Hong Kong). October, 2013.