Official Review: What We're Afraid to Ask

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Official Review: What We're Afraid to Ask

Post by inaramid » 21 Jan 2018, 13:06

[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of "What We're Afraid to Ask" by Sherri L. Board Jon M. Fleetwood Anna M. Jones.]
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2 out of 4 stars
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All people were children once, but not all people had childhoods—in the fullest sense of the word. As a survivor of childhood abuse, Sherri Board knows this all too well. From victim to survivor and now a practicing counselor, Sherri aims to find answers to questions that have plagued survivors like her in the aftermath of their traumatic experiences. With the aid of worship director, Jon Fleetwood, and psychologist, Anna Jones, Sherri dedicates this 369-page devotional book to help Christian adults cope with their abusive pasts.

Published in 2016 by Circle Books, What We’re Afraid to Ask: 365 Days of Healing for Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse promises to address the queries of abuse survivors from the frameworks of both theology and psychology. The book is rooted in a blend of spirituality and the study of behavior, resulting in a therapeutic process called Christian counseling. Sherri herself has undergone this program and is an advocate of its benefits. She notes, “I trust in the practice in using humanity’s psychological therapies as tools and God’s Word as the ultimate Healer.” Christian counseling is similarly described in my additional readings as a Bible-centered approach that makes use of concepts and tools of “secular psychology.”

With Christian counseling as the genesis of What We’re Afraid to Ask, Sherri, Jon, and Anna have set quite a high bar for themselves, as implicit in the use of this term is the promise of healing not only the mind but also the spirit. With the added time element of 365 days, the authors also convey the idea that healing requires a long-term commitment. The book itself is meant to be read on a daily basis during the span of a year, hence the adoption of a simple, reader-friendly format. In each page, Sherri asks a question, and Jon and Anna provide separate answers. This pool of 365 questions and answers serve as focal points for dialogue and self-analysis.

As a psychology major—and therefore, one who has been trained in the science of “secular psychology”—my curiosity about this book and what it has to offer knew no bounds. I’ve never heard of Christian counseling up until I picked up the book, and I was torn between skepticism (because historically, faith and science do not mix) as well as a readiness to learn something new. Will this spirituality-focused approach fill in gaps that the science of psychology has failed to address? Will the book be effective for the population it targets? Will it truly answer the questions that survivors of childhood abuse are afraid to ask?

After reading the book, I’d say the answers are “Yes,” “Maybe,” and “Not really.”

Yes, What We’re Afraid to Ask offers a perspective that could enhance the practice of psychotherapy. However, the blending of theology and psychology is neither seamless nor balanced, and Jon’s and Anna’s separate responses clearly demonstrate this dichotomy. Jon’s perspective is understandably purely theological, as he provides liberal quotes from the Bible to support his contentions. While Anna’s answers are mostly founded on psychological theory, nearly all are heavily speckled with her religious beliefs. As a result, the psychological aspect is nearly lost in most of the chapters.

For instance, in one of the many times where evil was brought up, Sherri asks, “Why does God allow us to experience such evil and pain?” The psychologist Philip Zimbardo, the mind behind the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, had a very interesting take on evil and hatred, one that could readily be applied to abuse. In What We’re Afraid to Ask, Jon makes a case of people gaining “endurance, character, hope, and respect in their lives” from the “manure of evil.” In contrast, Anna talks about “a chain of disturbing and dehumanizing circumstances,” which I believe refers to Zimbardo’s concept of the Lucifer Effect. However, she immediately segues into how “evil moves because the angelic fell” and how “abuse was created by the devil.” The impact is so jarringly dissonant. I felt that this was a missed opportunity to drive home a point that Anna has repeatedly stressed throughout the book—that abusers are humans too and very likely have been victims of abuse themselves.

Now, will the book be effective for the population it targets? Maybe. From the contents, it’s clear that the book will appeal to a very limited group of abuse survivors—that is, Christian adults. Further prerequisites appear to be a strong faith equal to Jon’s brand of religiosity, as well as good cognitive faculties to accommodate Anna’s rather technical writing style. Anna addresses her answers to a general audience, as demonstrated by her use of the indefinite pronoun “one” (e.g., freedom from one’s cycle of self-persecution, one’s uncontrollable emotions…) rather than the personal “your.” In my opinion, changing the pronouns will make the text less cold and distant. As it stands, the book tends to evoke unpleasant memories of a really tedious homily and an equally dull class lecture.

Finally, does the book truly answer the questions that survivors of childhood abuse are afraid to ask? Not really. If anything, most of Sherri’s questions don’t fit the category of what people are “afraid to ask.” Sure, some questions are indeed difficult for a Christian to verbalize, like, “If God is such a powerful and loving God, why does he let innocent, defenseless children be born to or be adopted by abusive parents?” More often than not though, the questions hardly fit into what the book is supposedly about. There are practical questions about the therapeutic benefits of music, taking a walk in nature, mindfulness, dancing, and even listening to the sound of running water. There are questions that merely call for the definition of concepts like faith, patience, and even defense mechanisms. There are several questions about the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and the Scripture.

The answers, for the most part, are a hit and miss. Jon and Anna are spot on in some; in others, they’re batting one out of two. In some, they’re not really answering the question; in others, the answers given can be quite unsatisfactory. At some point, being told to just pray “for the object of your hatred” and to forgive as Jesus would can be immensely frustrating for someone in need of a more concrete direction. This further narrows down the field of possible readers to include only those that have already healed and not people who are still on the mend. Readers who are in pain about their pasts may be less receptive about taking the high road where their abusers are concerned.

After due consideration, I rate What We’re Afraid to Ask 2 out of 4 stars. Despite its failings, it’s a well-intentioned book that—with the right counselor or therapist—could actually be instrumental in the healing process, albeit of a very specific type of client. I agree with the book’s disclaimer that it’s really more of a supplement to therapy and not as a substitute for it. In this sense, individuals still in the process of healing shouldn’t use this book as a self-help material to “self-medicate,” so to speak. Overall, What We’re Afraid to Ask will work best as a resource for those in the helping profession, to be recommended to—and processed with—their clients as they see fit.

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Post by ButterscotchCherrie » 25 Jan 2018, 04:47

I thoroughly appreciate your thoughtful review of this ambitious approach to a horrendous subject, which misses the mark for so many reasons. I admire the author for attempting to introduce a spiritual angle in tackling trauma and believe there is a need for that. If the book helps even a select group of survivors she is growing roses from the "manure" she experienced, which is great. As you say, it's all very well saying: "it's the devil" and "pray for those who harmed you". That could be of value to some - as you say, probably more likely those who have already healed - but not helpful, and even harmful, to others.

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Post by Katerina Katapodi » 25 Jan 2018, 07:53

In this book, the author(-s) makes a really brave and remarkable effort to help others, here in one of the most crucial subjects of life of some children, who had the misfortune, to be abused in their childhood, and actually never knew childhood, but they thus became ''adults'' at a very early age, dispite of many other children of their age that were more lucky and weren't abused y parents and thus lived childhood, and became adults normally.
The authetic element of book, where author really makes an affort, regardless of the end, lays actually in giving an answer/answers to these problems, on basis of theology, and psychology, if not other sciences. -We all know that science and religion are often incompatible between each other, however, they can ''meet'' at a higher point, and this is where the problem actually becomes difficult to solve. But the effort may have a good result in the end: Thus take the aspect of science, here psychology, and make it a long means of psychotherapy, while theology on its side, can feed spirit and soul, where psychology in this case is called to feed and heal just mind. There's no really a specific result of therapy, in the controversy of science and religion, however the healing may be on individual basis, as some children may be healed sooner and better, with the aid of science, while other children may be more suscpetible and ''accept'' solution of Theology. And there maight be some common elements between science and religion, of which experts can make use, and agree on them as a method of therapy applied to most children. While other children will be ''pushed'' by science to hatred, and thus strengthen their souls, other children, might be able to accept better the version of Bible and imitate Jesus, to ''forgive those who harmed them''. This is of course not easy and may require a long term therapy, till health is restored.
The difficulty in achieving results through this book, also lays in the traumatic experience of children that have ben abused. Thus in all cases, a combination, of science and faith, through common elements as said above, would encourage children in developing hobbies, and proceed to a good marriage, thus learning to love, meet someone who could make them happy, and make them also ''forget''.. if we can say so, and to maximum extent possible for this.
Let's also remember a phrase of Marx, which of course Jesus had adopted: ''Let's stop exploitation of man by man'' and ways to avoid it from happening. In regard to the crucial question ''How Almighty, Who is so Wise, Omnipotens and above all ''ALMIGHTY'' didn't prevent the evil from happening. Then here whatever we say, is not enough. We never know what God has really in ''Mind'', when He allows evil to happen. May be because, He wants us to discover His true nature ans Essenc, but it's something not easily achievable by man, as God is the Supreme Being. -And to close here, solutions may be also given at school, with the proper courses that aime to restore such problems, here abuse of children, and lessons to be taught, with the perspective to make children forget.. later. and find their way in life..

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Post by kandscreeley » 25 Jan 2018, 08:19

This was definitely a thorough review of the book. Having not really suffered from childhood abuse, I don't know that I'm qualified in any way to judge this book. I guess if it has the potential to help even one person out there, then it's worth it. Thanks for all the thought you put into this one!
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Post by Mercy Bolo » 25 Jan 2018, 09:20

such a comprehensive review. I might check it out out of pure curiosity. The concepts of Christian counselling and secular psychology fascinate me.
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Post by inaramid » 25 Jan 2018, 10:03

ButterscotchCherrie wrote:
25 Jan 2018, 04:47
I thoroughly appreciate your thoughtful review of this ambitious approach to a horrendous subject, which misses the mark for so many reasons. I admire the author for attempting to introduce a spiritual angle in tackling trauma and believe there is a need for that. If the book helps even a select group of survivors she is growing roses from the "manure" she experienced, which is great. As you say, it's all very well saying: "it's the devil" and "pray for those who harmed you". That could be of value to some - as you say, probably more likely those who have already healed - but not helpful, and even harmful, to others.
Thanks for dropping by. I quite agree; there is a need for a spiritual angle in psychological healing. Interestingly, the book differentiated between the soul (which is the domain of science, and therefore, "secular psychology") and the spirit (which is the domain of religion). The idea is that sometimes, "regular" therapy only heals the soul, but not really the spirit. Faith is needed, but again, a lot is riding on the individual's faith--and of course, maturity.

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Post by inaramid » 25 Jan 2018, 10:10

Katerina Katapodi wrote:
25 Jan 2018, 07:53
We all know that science and religion are often incompatible between each other, however, they can ''meet'' at a higher point, and this is where the problem actually becomes difficult to solve. But the effort may have a good result in the end

The difficulty in achieving results through this book, also lays in the traumatic experience of children that have ben abused. Thus in all cases, a combination, of science and faith, through common elements as said above, would encourage children in developing hobbies, and proceed to a good marriage, thus learning to love, meet someone who could make them happy, and make them also ''forget''.. if we can say so, and to maximum extent possible for this.
Hey, thanks for dropping by. There has always been an attempt to integrate religion in psychology--that's why Christian counseling really caught my interest. True, the two can meet "at a higher point," but the results may appeal to a limited number of people.

I appreciate that you pointed out how the nature of abuse (physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual) can also affect the results. Perhaps some types of pain are easier to forgive than others? I'd just like to add that the book also introduced the notion of SPIRITUAL ABUSE, which is again something that I'm just hearing about.

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Post by inaramid » 25 Jan 2018, 10:17

kandscreeley wrote:
25 Jan 2018, 08:19
This was definitely a thorough review of the book. Having not really suffered from childhood abuse, I don't know that I'm qualified in any way to judge this book. I guess if it has the potential to help even one person out there, then it's worth it. Thanks for all the thought you put into this one!
Thanks for reading, kandscreeley. Yes, I think it's going to help someone, in some way or another. I think devout Christians will be more receptive to the approach taken in the book.

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Post by inaramid » 25 Jan 2018, 10:23

Mercy Bolo wrote:
25 Jan 2018, 09:20
such a comprehensive review. I might check it out out of pure curiosity. The concepts of Christian counselling and secular psychology fascinate me.
It's a good read. I actually learned quite a lot of concepts that weren't discussed in school.

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Post by Kat Berg » 25 Jan 2018, 14:58

This book is of great interest to me. I appreciate your perspective in reading the book and that you acknowledge both the strengths and weaknesses found in it. I actually want to read it now, although mostly out of curiosity and from a theological/pastoral care perspective. With this kind of book, there sometimes seems to be a minimizing of the real and hard questions with trite answers: Well, the Bible says that all things work together for good, so I shall just ignore my pain and not question. Thanks for the in-depth review.

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Post by Katerina Katapodi » 25 Jan 2018, 15:09

THANKS Too Dear friend,All the Best

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Post by Hildah Mose » 25 Jan 2018, 21:20

The subject of child abuse is tragic. And if this book can help children in anyway, then it serves the purpose. I hope they get to change a few of the things they can to make it warm and close. Thanks for your review

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Post by BookHausJ » 25 Jan 2018, 21:59

This book might not serve an ultimate solution in the process of healing the abused. But, it can give a lot of ease. We need this kind of book that addressing the issue of child abused. In my personal opinion, everything happens with a purpose. Only God can answers. But the Bible can enlighten. Read the book of Job. Hope I can read this book someday. Nice review! Thanks.

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Post by inaramid » 25 Jan 2018, 22:10

Kat Berg wrote:
25 Jan 2018, 14:58
This book is of great interest to me. I appreciate your perspective in reading the book and that you acknowledge both the strengths and weaknesses found in it. I actually want to read it now, although mostly out of curiosity and from a theological/pastoral care perspective. With this kind of book, there sometimes seems to be a minimizing of the real and hard questions with trite answers: Well, the Bible says that all things work together for good, so I shall just ignore my pain and not question. Thanks for the in-depth review.
That's a good idea, actually. From the psychological side of things, I was really looking for more. It would be interesting to see a perspective from the pastoral care side. Thanks for dropping by, Kat Berg.

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Post by inaramid » 25 Jan 2018, 22:13

Hildah Mose wrote:
25 Jan 2018, 21:20
The subject of child abuse is tragic. And if this book can help children in anyway, then it serves the purpose. I hope they get to change a few of the things they can to make it warm and close. Thanks for your review
Totally agree. There are people that will certainly benefit from this certain type of approach.

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