by Joseph J. Luciani
John Wiley & Sons, 2001
Review by Jack R. Anderson, M.D. on Apr 12th 2004
underlying theme of this book is quite simple. Luciani tells us--his readers--in
no uncertain tone, that if we are depressed or anxious it's probably our own
damn fault. It's because we keep telling ourselves a lot of lies about
ourselves, other people and the world. If we want to feel better, what we have
to do is identify the part of us that tells these lies--the part the author
calls "our Insecure Child"--and quit listening to this little monster's
false messages of doom, gloom and imaginary dangers. Then, after we have
discredited our insecure child, we can corner the rest of ourselves in
imaginary locker rooms and give ourselves motivational speeches, as if we were
coaches inspiring our teams to outdo themselves in the Big Game--thus "Self-Coaching."
In his "Introduction,"
the author introduces himself. He begins by describing a "cautious,
worrisome child," named "Joe" who, at age 5 or 6, was already
worried about his parents dying and leaving him alone. After a traumatic
experience in the fourth grade, Joe became even more insecure. He controlled
his anxiety by trying to please everyone--what he calls his "chameleon"
defense. Despite his social successes--he was voted the most popular student in
his high school--he still felt insecure. The "Joe" he described was,
of course, himself: Joseph J. Luciani.
college, using the "wounded healer" theory, he decided to major in
psychology, hoping he would find a remedy for his own psychological torment.
His studies and psychoanalytical training helped somewhat but he was still
miserable. In his words: "I gave Freud a chance, then Jung, but nothing
changed. I still worried."
after the completion of his studying and training, Luciani experienced the
epiphany: "There's no reason to be so miserable." This developed into
the realization that he had a choice as to whether to be miserable or
not, and eventually to his development of the self-coaching method.
the author seems to deny it, I believe there was a causal relationship between
his psychoanalytic training and his epiphany. My personal experience with
psychoanalysis was in the middle 1940's, probably a quarter of a century or
more before Luciani's, but I still experience occasional, sudden insights into
my Weltanschauung, based on exchanges with my analyst so many years ago.
Friends who have had training or therapeutic analyses report similar
Chapter 1, "A New Self-Therapy," the author stresses the importance
of self-reliance. He writes: "Anyone who insists on looking for a guru, a
shrink, a pill, or even a book to do their work will ultimately fail, because
no one but you can ever topple your destructive habits." His contemptuous
reference to therapists as "shrinks" or "gurus" was a bit
confusing to this reviewer as the author says earlier in the chapter that it
took him twenty-three years of clinical work to write "Self-Coaching."
He doesn't specify whether he practiced as a shrink or as a guru.
II of the book, in the chapters on depression and anxiety, Luciani is more accepting
of therapists, whom he refers to as "mental-health professionals"
instead of "shrinks and gurus." He also recommends that some
depressed and anxious patients be referred to mental-health professionals and
be treated with appropriate medications, instead of "pills."
chapters of Part II are exceptionally well written and easy to understand.
Diagnostic terms are well defined and illustrated with clinical examples from
the author's practice. I did take exception to some of the checklists, self-quizzes
and severity scales. From my own clinical experience I would expect that the
patients most in need of prompt referral to mental-health professionals, would
not understand these self-diagnostic instruments and would thus inappropriately
III of his book, Luciani gets down to the nitty-gritty of his self-coaching
program. Like all of this author's writing, this part in interesting and
well-written. There are three chapters on Self-Talk, the basic component of the
self-coaching program. He explains how most of us talk to ourselves: "A
part of you talks and a part of you listens…" When the part of you talking
is your Insecure Child and you accept what he/she says, the consequent negative
thinking makes you feel anxious and depressed. Self-Talk encourages you to
disagree with your Insecure Child, to direct your thinking into more
appropriate, rational and positive interpretations of your experience, and thus
lower your levels of anxiety and depression.
chapter of Part III is entitled: "Motivation." Luciani tells us that
if we are successful with Self-Talk, we should experience an attitude
adjustment.. Then, when we have achieved a positive attitude, we can use
motivation to mobilize the necessary energy to maintain this attitude and move
toward a healthy and productive life. To achieve this level of motivation he
recommends we think of ourselves as Knute Rocknes giving pep-talks. "Visualize
yourself as a 'coach,'" he writes, "prancing around the locker room
getting yourself pumped up."
recommends that we journal our self-coaching activities in an ongoing training
log. He includes a "Training Log Format" in the Appendix.
very last section of Part III, some models for our coaching style are
suggested. They include: Knute Rockne; Eleanor Roosevelt; George Patton; Mother
Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. Luciani recommends: "Just choose
someone that gets you hopping."
discusses the application of Self-Coaching to six different personality types:
Worrywarts; Hedgehogs; Turtles; Chameleons; Perfectionists and Guilt-Sensitive
People. Self-quizzes are provided to help readers decide their own personality
types. The author gives examples of the various types from his clinical
experience. I believe almost every reader will recognize himself in one or more
of these categories. There are also specific training suggestions offered for
chapter on guilt-sensitive people, Luciani discusses the relationship between
guilt and civilization. He writes: "Guilt, and at times the anticipation
of guilt, can be a major force in shaping our socialization." He uses a
triangular figure to illustrate the relationships of guilt, consequence and
conscience to personal morality. This very clearly gets his point across that
guilt itself is not always a negative force, but only when it is excessive and
unreasonable. From the chapters on anxiety and depression, this reviewer
believes the author feels much the same way about these feelings. He believes
that they are necessary to civilization, but disruptive when exaggerated. Freud
expressed he same opinion in "Civilization and Its Discontents."
discussion of guilt, the author relates that as an intern he ran a therapy
group for repeat offenders from Lompoc Federal Prison. Talk about a small
world! In the early 1950s I also ran therapy groups in the prison at Lompoc. At
that time it was a U.S. Army Disciplinary Barracks and I was a psychiatric social
Part V, "Self-Coaching
for Life," briefly recaps the previous parts. Luciani devotes a
six-paragraph section to the development of another concept--that depression
and anxiety are just bad habits and habits were made to be broken. He says he
uses this principle in his practice and recommends that anyone in the
Self-Coaching program repeat to himself/herself at frequent intervals "It's
just a habit!" He believes that the repetition of this mantra helps the
patient to remember that anxiety and depression are not mysterious illnesses
but just habits, and habits can be broken.
final two sections of the book: "Letting Go" and "Ready, Coach?"
the author waxes a bit Pollyannish for this reviewer. To illustrate his concept
of "Letting Go" or being "totally in the moment" he refers
to a Zen Buddhist story. In this story, a monk is hanging over a cliff
suspended by a vine. The vine begins to loosen and the monk is facing certain
death from the fall. Instead of being depressed or anxious about his impending
death, the monk, who is "totally in the moment," focuses on a
strawberry growing on his vine. His last words are "What a magnificent
strawberry. I think I'll eat it."
occurs to me that, if the monk had not been so "totally in the moment,"
he might have chosen a better course of action than jumping over the cliff and
hanging on to a poorly rooted vine.
Coach?" the author writes: "That's all I have to say. It's all I need
to say. You have everything you need to insist on a life free from anxiety and
free from anxiety and depression wouldn't last very long in this dangerous
his over-optimistic closing, Luciani has done society a great service by taking
the time to assemble all the good advice in this book. "Self-Coaching"
is well organized and easy to read. Anyone who studies and applies the book's
principles and keeps the recommended journal--the "Training Log--is almost
certain to attain a more satisfying and successful existence, and to realize
that he is more a creator than he is a creature of circumstances.
2004 Jack R. Anderson
Anderson, M.D. is a retired psychiatrist living in Lincoln,