Book Review: The Tools

The Tools Book ReviewAuthor: Phil Stutz & Barry Michels
Publisher: Random House
Book Publication: 2012

What’s the best movie you’ve seen lately? Whatever your answer, chances are that one of the co-authors of this book has counselled the film’s star, director, writer or producer at some point in their career. The phone numbers of Phil Stutz and Barry Michels are on the speed dial of many of Hollywood’s high rollers.

The upcoming publication of The Tools (July 2012), a collaborative based on years of research and the treatment of patients, is a personal growth book with a difference: it deals with the most common complaint amongst psychotherapy patients – the wait for real change to kick in. What brought the two men together was a shared disenchantment with the traditional therapeutic model, and frustration over its inability to bring patients quicker relief from the issues that plagued them. The result of their efforts is an approach to personal growth that utilizes a unique set of tools that initiate dynamic change and impressive results in the present, and a deeper understanding of the complexity of the human condition in the longer term.

Approaching their work from a Jungian basis, with hints of Buddhism throughout, the therapist and the psychiatrist have written a book that is already attracting considerable attention. In The Tools the collective wisdom honed from years of practice combines with compelling case studies of patients who’ve benefited from the application of the tools they’ve developed.

Examples of real and measurable change brought about in these patients’ lives are detailed in what critics are calling “a groundbreaking book”. We meet Elizabeth, a woman who lived under a constant ‘black cloud’ that kept her anxious and fretful most days. Through the vigilant practice espoused in The Tools she came to experience a peace of mind she’d never known in her life.

“What if every bad thing that’s ever happened to you – including every problem you’ve ever had – was there, in your life, to get you in touch with abilities you never knew you had? And what if there were specific procedures that led you directly to those new abilities?”

See my problems as opportunities? Find meaning and purpose in adversity? Neither are new thoughts to most, but the authors don’t stop there. Their original approach to the challenges life presents introduces a whole new world of possibilities. “Think of a particularly difficult problem you have in your life right now and then try this: First, think of the problem as a random hardship, occurring in an unthinking universe that doesn’t care about you or your evolution. How does that feel? Now, think of the same problem as a challenge posed by a universe that wants you to evolve and knows that you can. How does that feel?”

The spiritual orientation approach to psychotherapy outlined in this book is refreshing in its honest, down-to-earth exposition. When we realize we are an integral part of an intelligent system that wants our growth as much as we do, and is supportive of that goal in very practical ways, we are motivated to do the work needed to achieve our advancement. Problems, rather than being labelled obstacles to be overcome through some force of will, are seen as doorways into the power of the unconscious and a stimulus to action.

There are lots of books describing various ways to tap into the inexhaustible supply and potential the universe holds in store for us all. We are exhorted to believe that, by asking with a modicum of faith, our requests will be realized. What’s often missing in self-help books of this ilk are two things: the acknowledgment that thought alone, without appropriate action, will likely yield little to nothing; and the practical tools that can bring about real and lasting change. Let’s face it; if wishing could make it so, the market for self-help books would have dried up long ago.

The authors pull no punches. They warn the reader this is by no means a passive journey or intellectual pursuit. “The point is that a tool – unlike an attitude adjustment – requires you to do something. Not only does it take work, it’s work you have to do over and over again. Understanding the tools and how to use them in not enough.” Further, we are reminded that, unlike the limitations imposed upon us by thoughts, a tool’s value lies in its ability to take us beyond what’s inside our head. It connects us to a world of limitless forces which are infinitely larger than ourselves.

The authors’ goal is “to convey a simple but powerful truth: the power of higher forces is absolutely real.” If it’s true that the thing we most seek is true happiness, it’s also true that most of us may never find it because we’re looking in the wrong place; we’re searching in the outside world when true peace is found in the constant presence of a higher power in our life. It’s there every moment; and now we have the tools to access it and to keep the connection open.

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Bonnie Black is a former editor, and current contributor, to Vitality magazine.

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