Thursday, March 5, 2015

Book Review: The Viscott Method

Title: The Viscott Method
Author: David Viscott
Date: 1984
Publisher: HoughtonMifflin
ISBN: 0-395-34429-8
Length: 168 pages
Quote: “There is no secret to surviving happily. The best way to cope is to live through pain and experience it.”
David Viscott, M.D., was a psychiatrist who offered counselling rather than tranquillizers to people who he thought could benefit more from psychology than from psychiatry. Despite major advertising campaigns, funded by pharmaceutical corporations, intended to convince us that happiness lies in finding the “right” mood-elevating drugs, for most of us the Viscott Method (or similar methods) of reasoning our way through life’s difficulties is still safer and more effective than taking anti-depressant pills.
The Viscott Method, as practiced in 1984, relied on cassette tape technology. People didn’t have to pay someone $75 per hour to listen as they talked through their situation; Viscott demonstrated that most people, most of the time, would be able to spot their own “erroneous zones” and come to their own best conclusions if they used enough probing questions to reason with themselves. Tape-recording or cell-phone-recording answers to the questions this book asks is still possible, and easier than writing the answers, for most of us. It’s not essential; in the 1980s, when personal computers weren’t linked to one another and were confusing enough that it was usually safe to imagine that housemates wouldn’t peek at your computer the way they might hear you making tapes, some people typed their answers to the questions into their computers. It is important to record your answers to each question in some way, because subsequent questions will refer back to those answers.
How useful is this exercise? Depends on your situation. The Viscott Method is probably most likely to help the people who routinely sought psychological counselling and psychotherapy in 1984, whose insurance companies are discouraging them from getting that kind of professional help now. It’s a guide to navigating the decision points and major life passages ahead of you. If, for example, you’re an insecure student or recent graduate or drop-out, feeling anxious about the transition from the classroom where you knew exactly what to do into the business world where you don’t seem to know much of anything useful, I can personally testify that the Viscott Method can be very helpful. If you’re considering a change of careers, wondering what to do with your retirement years, debating with yourself whether you even want to drag a spouse or other family member to family counselling, trying to decide whether you need college or trade school and what you could hope to get out of either experience, or contemplating marriage or parenthood, this book would also be likely to help you.
If your problem is that other people refuse to listen to what a mysterious voice has told you, or you’ve suddenly remembered part of your early life in ways your old friends and relatives insist couldn’t possibly be true, or you are persistently plagued by the thought that your children need to be euthanized now before they develop a disease as painful as yours, then all this book is likely to do for you is help you understand why you need more help than a book can give. The Viscott Method can be used along with psychiatric treatment for psychosis, but it’s certainly not a substitute for isolation, observation, and treatment as indicated.
There’s another large category of people for whom the Viscott Method may have limited usefulness: the ones who are unhappy because they are unpopular. In 1984 American popular culture relied so heavily on psychological counselling that women turning down dates with repulsive men would tell those men they needed personal growth through psychotherapy, rather than giving those men the simple truth that those women didn't like to look at them. “Everyone can benefit from personal growth and there are probably some unresolved issues from the past that are blocking him from noticing how repulsive he looks,” was the rationale. Listening to recordings and/or watching videos of yourself answering these questions is a good way to identify things you can do, or stop doing, to make yourself more attractive to other people, especially if the problem is something simple: a repulsive person might, for example, think that nobody notices the dirt he’s not patient enough to scrub off, and the recording might correct this mistake. If the problem is a real character disorder, the person is likely to ignore what either the Viscott Method or a live counsellor might show them, and may need to “hit bottom” and go to jail before he or she can begin to improve.
In the 1980s there was an ongoing conflict between people who thought that the kind of questions this book asks ought to be topics of discussion for schools, churches, even friends and social clubs—people who wanted to share answers to these questions during lunch dates—and people who thought that asking these questions was likely to stir up psychiatric issues and uncontrollable emotions. I think most of the people who argued both sides have retired by now. Their concerns were valid, their fears usually exaggerated. Strangely, I don’t remember many people expressing fears of what really did happen when school friends routinely asked each other “What are the biggest problems in your life right now?” and “Do you feel you have to prove your worthiness before receiving love?” What happened was that we all got too much information about each other too fast, and used the information in thoughtless, unhelpful ways. The alternative to not talking about our emotions all the time is that people get to know each other better at a more realistic pace.
The people who were worried about “uncontrollable emotions” tended to be the people who had been taught that nobody else should be able to guess that they had emotions. Unfortunately a few of these people passed their fears on to their children; we still have people like Joyce Meyer believing that nobody else should know when a Christian feels angry. These people don’t realize that the unpleasant emotions we feel don’t do others any harm, that revealing our unpleasant emotions may actually help others and improve relationships. If her friends think that somebody like Joyce Meyer doesn't mind when they make plans for Monday, forget all about those plans, and call her on Friday, not only are they likely to do that kind of thing again, but they may also tell other people something like "Joyce is easy to work with but she has no idea how to organize her time. I wouldn't want to work with her in a responsible position."

The Viscott Method is meant to stir up a few uncomfortable feelings. If you are the kind of person who should read this book, experiencing those feelings won’t hurt you or anyone around you in any way. You might cry, you might yell, you might feel like chopping or pounding something; you don’t have enough unbearable pent-up emotional energy to do anything violent. Of course, if you are a person who has lost control of your emotions and done violent things in the past, then your psychiatrist and/or probation or parole officer should supervise any use you make of this book.

For most people, The Viscott Method is warmly recommended.

Unfortunately David Viscott no longer needs his 10% of the total price you would pay for this book, which is $5 for the book + $5 shipping, if you bought it here (salolianigodagewi @ If you buy a Fair Trade Book here, though, you may add The Viscott Method to the package and pay only one shipping charge.