It was wonderful speaking with Dr. Todd Pressman about his 2019 book, Deconstructing Anxiety: The Journey from Fear to Fulfillment. I was happy for the opportunity not only because of the excellence of his book but also to discover we have a lot in common despite the fact that we’ve never met in person.  It turns out we both did our undergraduate work at the University of Pennsylvania and we both have deep roots in humanistic and transpersonal psychology.  As a result of our mutual engagement with the humanistic/transpersonal world, we also know some of the same people.  For example, I discovered that his doctoral chair at he Saybrook Graduate Institute was Stanley Krippner PhD , who has been a guest on my Shrink Rap Radio Podcast at least three times. And Saybrook was actually founded by two of my Sonoma State University colleagues,  Drs. Eleanor Criswell and Art Warmoth.

All of these connections aside, I’m very impressed by Dr. Pressman’s book on Deconstructing Anxiety because he presents a model that integrates the wisdom of Eastern spiritual traditions and Western psychology.  As he described his model I was struck by how many elements were congruent with other psychotherapies ranging all the way from Cognitive Behavioral approaches  to psychoanalytic ones.   He’s done this without actually “borrowing” from any of them. Rather he starts from what he refers to, rather formally, as three postulates:

    • There is an absolute truth that can be realized.  It brings a transcendent experience of fulfillment and is characterized by wholeness, completion and freedom from limitation.  It is our original and natural state.
    • Fear (anxiety) distorts this truth, fracturing it into partial, relative “truths”.  It breaks up the wholeness, leaving us feeling incomplete and vulnerable to suffering.  It separates us from our natural state.
    • Deconstructing anxiety resolves fear’s distortions, opening the way back to absolute truth and returning us to our natural state of fulfillment.

In these three postulates, we can see the fundamental influence of both humanistic and transpersonal perspectives.  Namely, that our true, deepest nature is whole and transcendent.  What gets in the way of our experiencing ourselves in this way is Fear and our anxious defenses against facing that fear, a large component of which is our false perception of separateness.

If we ladder all the way down through the multiple layers of fear/anxiety, he says we’ll arrive at our core fear, which he says will be one of the following five:

    • Abandonment (loss of love)
    • Identity
    • Meaning
    • Purpose
    • Death (including the pain and sickness that can lead to death)

 

Just as Luke Skywalker must confront his demons, the therapeutic process demands the courage to face our successive levels of fear and defense.  Pressman writes:

  • “All defenses backfire, actually preserving and exacerbating the anxiety they were meant to resolve.  They demonstrate the separation is real; by responding defensively, we convince ourselves there is a “real” threat requiring our defense.”

Pressman goes beyond theory to present specific therapeutic exercises that can be used by therapists with their clients or dedicated self-help readers.

Of course, I’ve greatly simplified things here but I highly recommend Dr. Todd Pressdman’s book to both therapists and those who suffer from anxiety.  The title once again is Deconstructing Anxiety: The Journey from Fear to Fulfillment .

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