Hardcore Self-Help

When I was doing my undergraduate degree, my friends and I would often talk about who our favourite psychologists were. One person always loved the hilarity and strangeness of Freud, another would always say she was “Jung at heart”. A good pun often beats a coherent argument in my book. I was a long time fan of Aaron Beck. Those cognitive triads. It was a theory that made complete sense to me, seemed practical, and just seemed to speak to my way of thinking. Also I really like triangles, they’re the best of the shapes. 

Whilst I didn’t study psychology beyond undergrad, I still love cognitive theory. It’s so interesting to me and is something I make sure to try and keep up with (although it often goes beyond my understanding). Beck is someone I talk about a lot, and I have made sure my students know of his work. I teach social work, so this is still relevant, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t mention Beck even if I was teaching something wildly different. To me, Beck is one of the greats (the musician of the same name is also pretty ace, which may have been a contributing factor in my fandom). But I may have a new favourite psychologist. It’s kind of a big deal.

Recently I read “Hardcore Self-Help: Fuck Anxiety” by Robert Duff. It is amazing. I’ve looked into some self-help stuff before, and it often seems to me that it is too soft, like the author feels their readers are all so fragile they need to be cosseted with words. Hardcore Self-Help doesn’t do this. It’s sweary, funny, and honest. The tone is like talking to one of my friends, who know that I have a sarcastic and dark sense of humour, and the best way to make me feel better is to play on that. This isn’t to say that Duff’s book is harsh or sarcastic, but it’s realistic and fun, and doesn’t pussy-foot around the more unpleasant aspects of anxiety and the associated issues. It gives some practical steps to help stop or relieve anxiety (some of which are linked to my beloved cognitive triads), and tells you that it isn’t going to happen immediately, but will take work. That was nice to hear, and Duff makes the reader feel pretty excited about getting to do the work. It acknowledges that anxiety sucks, and it’s difficult to get past, but that those things are ok, and you’ll be able to deal with it anyway with some work. At one point he makes the analogy between developing coping skills and levelling up video game characters. That made me laugh lots, and imagine what my anxiety fighting character would be like (Jess the vampire slayer, who can also fly). 

Robert Duff has also recently started a podcast where he answers questions about mental health and talks about his work as a neuropsychologist. It’s great. I’m going to read his other book “Fuck Depression”, and hope that he never says anything bad about Aaron Beck. That would be a deal breaker.

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About Jess Urwin

Lecturer in social work at De Montfort University, youth justice researcher, musician, crafter, constant reader.
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