justonethingHanson, R. (2011). Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time.
Reviewed by: Michael Fiorini, New York University

Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time is a step by step guide aimed towards improving psychological well being in all aspects of personal, social, and emotional life. The book incorporates a mildly Buddhist-influenced perspective as it guides readers through a series of techniques aimed at improving the quality of human experience. Mindfulness is central to the narrative throughout, and steps are broken down so that the book, which is primarily concerned with self-help, can be as useful and accessible as possible. No single part or step is necessary here, either. The book stresses that one need not bog themselves down in the semantics and particularities of the provided guidelines and instructions if they feel there is a better means of achieving the book’s goals. There is also an intermittent psychological and neuroscientific presence and occasional explanation for the mindfulness process taught. Engaging the self to positively impact neuroplasticity through repetition and practice is the end goal, and through following the book, a diverse audience might benefit from its techniques and conceptual approach.

The driving point in Just One Thing is that small changes in daily routine can have a large positive impact on stress, health, and overall emotional life. In its own words, the book aims to help you “be good to yourself, enjoy life as it is, build on your strengths, be more effective at home and work, and make peace with your emotions.” The way this is achieved is through the practice of the book’s series of fifty-two mindfulness exercises. Separated into five parts, the sections cover being good to yourself, enjoying life, building upon strengths, engaging the world, and being at peace, respectively. The design of the book is such that the basic exercises build upon one another so that when read in order readers become more engaged in their emotional awareness. The model followed here is aimed towards expanding conscious awareness and bears some degree of similarity to cognitive behavioral therapy. Since the narrative and presentation styles are designed like a self-help book with less overt psychological or scientific explanations, the book is accessible to a diverse crop of readership. Professionals will find the book especially useful for its different methods for increasing mindfulness that might help them direct their own instructions during therapy with clients. The lessons included are crucial to improving the human experience on a basic level while also avoiding being too dry or heavy handed in new-age thinking. This might help some readers to reinvigorate their therapeutic practice and reconsolidate goals. That there is a definite neuroscientific influence present in the book furthers its broad clinical efficacy.

A self-help book that combines the underlying principles of CBT with a new-age influenced outlook on mindfulness, Just One Thing is promising in its potential application. While at times quite simple, it is the book’s boiled down elements and easy to read style that make it most effective. Not meant to be followed strictly and not expecting the kind of dedicated consistency other contemporaries demand, it is made for the average reader to pick up and use as needed. Not dedicating more than a few pages per lesson makes this style maintain its point. Those who already have a background in mindfulness training will find this book helpful in honing goals and outcome expectancies, and those who do not will benefit from the gradual building process that it presents. Readers open to doing so will find that, even after a short read, they will be shown useful and practical techniques for the present moment.

Rick Hanson, PhD, is a neuropsychologist and Affiliate of the of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California. He has been invited to speak at numerous universities, including Oxford, Harvard, and Stanford. He is also the author of Buddha’s Brain.

Hanson, R. (2011). Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time.
Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
ISBN: 978-1-60882-031-3.
Paperback. 224 pages. Includes references.

buddasbrainHanson, R. (2009). Buddha’s Brain: The practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom.
Reviewed by: Anny Reyes, New York University

Neuroscience is being widely used to explain concepts and ideas that were once separated from science, such as religion, spirituality, and contemplative practices. Experts in these fields are utilizing basic neuroscience such as neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and evolutionary biology to explain concepts and applications to their areas of expertise. Understanding our mind, how it functions, and how we can gain control over it has been one of the world’s most preeminent challenges. Some of the greatest philosophers, Descartes, Aristotle, and Locke, dedicated their lives to understanding the mystery of the mind and its relationship with the 3-pound organ that controls every mechanism in our body, the brain.

In the introduction Hanson outlines the format of the book, its purpose, and how it could be put into practice. He explains how neuroscience research supports the idea that you could use your mind to change your brain and ultimately change your life. The book is then divided into four parts: the causes of suffering, happiness, love, and wisdom, which are the central themes of Hanson’s Buddhist beliefs and framework. The first part of the book provides a comprehensive background on basic brain anatomy, brain mechanisms, and how our brains give rise to emotions. Hanson also provides evolutionary explanations for emotions and our reactions to everyday situations and to life’s more traumatic experiences. The research was relevant and the explanations as to the causes of suffering were very straightforward.

However, the later chapters follow a less evidence-based framework. This is an area where experts in a field outside neuroscience must be cautious not to make conclusions based on assumptions or personal opinions. Neuroscience follows an empirical framework and anything that’s not scientifically proven is not taken at face value, therefore when using neuroscience research to explain certain concepts, only evidence-based explanations should be provided. Overall the book is moderately well researched, some chapters more than others. Despite the lack of relevant research in certain parts of the book, Hanson provides a great overview of the different concepts and practices related to the three themes of the book, happiness, love, and wisdom.

Hanson, R. (2009). Buddha’s Brain: The practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom. ISBN: 978-1-57224-695-9.
Paperback. 251 pages.
Contains references, forward, and preface.

whensexhurtsGoldstein, A. (2011). When Sex Hurts: A Woman’s Guide to Banishing Sexual Pain.
Reviewed by: Michael Fiorini, New York University

When Sex Hurts: A Woman’s Guide to Banishing Sexual Pain is a medically informed self-help book directed at women who suffer severe and long term pain during sex, as well as general genital pain during contact with afflicted areas. Drawing from both a medical and psychological framework, the book breaks down the many reasons a person might be experiencing such pain. It makes clear that pain during sex is exceedingly common and often not well-understood or diagnosed, even by professionals. It also emphasizes that sex does not need to be painful, which is on its own a powerful notion for those who have always experienced such symptoms. Especially of note here is that the book is designed for women without any medical or psychological background, and a significant portion of what is covered is aimed at teaching, alleviating fears and insecurities, and helping readers develop comfort with their bodies. Primarily focusing on the medical and physical spectrum of the various potential and common causes of pain, the psychological influence of trauma, insecurity, intentions, communication, and comfort with sexual partners are present here but are not as emphasized narratively. For those therapists who wish to expand their own knowledge of the phenomenon, the book will bring them up to speed on the newest medical and psychological considerations in diagnosis and treatment.

When Sex Hurts is structured in three parts, essential background information, the root of the problem, and when pain is gone, each reflecting the healing process as part of a continuum. Readers first get an overview of the problem, the commonality of it, what forms it might take, and reasons it might be there. The book then moves on to discuss pain more generally and how to think about it medically and personally. The third chapter covers how best to address pain and symptoms you may have with your doctor, what terminology you should know, and explains that seeing different doctors might be necessary if what’s occurring isn’t being addressed effectively. The following chapter discusses how to contain damage to your relationship, with different avenues of communication and understanding discussed, as well as how to maintain a healthy romance in spite of pain. The next several chapters discuss the various specific causes of sexual pain, which comprises the majority of the book’s contents. Disorders, infections, the effects of childbirth, pelvic and nerve pain, and psychological influences among other things are covered here. It is all very detail-oriented in a way that is easy to digest for average readers. The final part of the book discusses how to pick up the pieces of your life once the pain is alleviated, and deals largely with interpersonal relationships, prognoses, and how to adjust into a truly fulfilling sex life.

Because it is such a pervasive factor in the lives of many women, it is highly likely that having an understanding of the problem of sexual pain will be useful for therapists and their clients. Because this is an issue that might come up in therapy, the problem warrants greater understanding so that informed guidance can be given. The portion of the book dedicated to the potential psychological roots of sexual pain are, admittedly, lacking in comparison to the far more expansive sections on medical and biological problems. In part, this is due to the authors being medical doctors, and also due to sexual pain having been inappropriately considered a primarily psychological problem for the last several decades. This is something the authors make clear does more harm than good and allows avoidance of effective steps towards symptom improvement. Ultimately, the book is significant because of the good that it can do for those women who experience this kind of pain and are not getting informed or proper advice on how to think about and address it. What that might entail informatively for professionals depends on their practice, and individual therapeutic considerations.

Andrew Golstein, MD, is the president of the International Society for Study of Women’s Sexual Health. Caroline Pukall, PhD., is a leading researcher of female sexual pain and dysfunction, and works as an associate professor at Queen’s University. Irwin Goldstein, MD, has performed patient care and research for sexual dysfunction for thirty years. All three also co-authored the influential textbook Female Sexual Pain Disorders, considered groundbreaking work on the topic.

Goldstein, A. (2011). When Sex Hurts: A Woman’s Guide to Banishing Sexual Pain. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.
ISBN: 978-0-7382-1398-9.
Paperback. 250 pages. Includes glossary, notes, index, and references.