Facing life’s challenges

Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? by Julie Smith (Michael Joseph), reviewed by Poppy Harding.

In a sea of misinformation and unfounded psychology ‘tips and tricks’ online, for many it can be challenging to navigate the field of mental health. For a variety of reasons, only a proportion of people who struggle with mental health difficulties or who want to develop and exercise their psychological wellbeing seek support from a professional. And so, accessible and evidence-based information and advice through other media like self-help plays a vital role. In her bestselling book, Dr Julie Smith explores what contributes to the development of different emotional states, and how to manage difficulties including low mood, stress, and anxiety. Smith collates her years of wisdom and experience as a Clinical Psychologist to guide the reader through proven techniques and skills from psychological therapy. 

Relatable client stories and Smith’s own personal encounters give useful context. These examples convey compassion and empathy, and help normalise different experiences of distress. Smith models the scientist-practitioner stance by expertly weaving research throughout, dispelling myths such as why simply ‘thinking positively’ doesn’t work in overcoming negative unhelpful thoughts and explaining how employing curiosity and awareness can be more effective. The metaphors for psychological concepts are particularly engaging, for example, the basic requirements of exercise, sleep, nutrition, routine, and connection are the ‘defence players’ for mental health. 

Educational material and activities are taken from a range of therapeutic modalities including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy to name a few. They are designed to support the reader to understand themselves from a psychological perspective and to make positive changes to their wellbeing, whether during a time of struggle or as a personal-development strategy. Widely shared challenges are discussed, including how to understand and manage grief through accepting and expressing emotions, adjusting expectations, and spending time remembering who or what has been lost. 

As a clinician, this book reminded me of the value of supporting individuals with their psychological wellbeing whether or not they are struggling with mental health challenges. As Smith describes it, ‘The more work we do on building self-awareness and resilience when all is well, the better able we are to face life’s challenges when they come our way’. Smith’s work is hugely important in bringing applied psychology into the public realm. Her wise words and compassionate tone will stay with me as I navigate my own journey working in the world of Clinical Psychology. 

- Reviewed by Poppy Harding, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, University of Surrey

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