Book Review: SOS Help for Emotions by Lynn Clark
“SOS Help for Emotions” follows the Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). This is a well-written tool for dealing with emotions from man’s perspective. It was suggested that I read this to help me understand how people struggle with their emotions and several tools for dealing with them. Clark is obviously well-educated, very astute in the realm of observing how people make decisions and creative in teaching a humanistic approach to dealing with emotions. He is engaging and creative. However, as stated, it is man’s approach and not God’s approach. “SOS” is the Morse Code for help, and I get that for the title of the book, yet I would politely says that SOS stands for “Self-Oriented-Solutions.”
It’s obvious that Clark has extensive professional experience in community centers, hospitals and counseling agencies. I’m very confident that Clark is very successful in counseling, because the observations and solutions “make sense.” The observations are truly what a person would see as people make decisions. The solutions are tangible ways to make decisions if there were no God and no Scripture that tells us how we are to make decisions. The closest Clark comes to identifying any solution to a Bible-based solution is St. Francis’ Serenity Prayer.
He gives hope, but not from Scripture, therefore the hope can only be temporary according to a person’s own strength to make decisions. He never mentions the good news of the Gospel, any Scripture, the reality of sin, or any reliance upon what God has provided regarding solutions.
He establishes from the beginning that the foundation for SOS is rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) (4). “Feeling safe” is one of his intended solutions (8), rather than being safe in Jesus (Col. 3:1). He identifies “Anxiety, anger, depression and contentment and happiness” as core emotions and those are predominant aspects of thinking (9), but his solutions are not according to Scripture. He truly states that “unbridled emotions can also…spike our blood pressure, causing a blood vessel to burst leading to a stroke,” which is true (9). The challenge is that someone who is not well-grounded in Scripture may not discern truth from error. He states, “Motivating ourselves to achieve our goals, of course is dependent on knowing and managing our emotions,” (14) which has truth in that we must be aware of our emotions, but the motivation is to please God (2 Cor. 5:9) and managing our emotions comes by putting on biblical thinking through renewing the mind (Eph. 4:22-24).
Clark provides excellent observations about how humans think. For example, he states, “Various physical conditions (illness, lack of sleep, poor nutrition) can predispose you to be easily upset” (16) and “Our emotions are largely, but not entirely, controlled by our beliefs, the way we think about problems, and our silent self-talk.” (17) These are both true. He observes, “Emotional stress can cause increased muscle tension…” and “Emotional stress can stimulate the stomach to secrete too much acid which can lead to heartburn and gastritis,” (18) which are both true. The challenge is, how does the average reader know when Clark is making true observations and when he is making suggestions that are humanistic and not biblical?
I appreciate his comment quoting Epicticus, “People are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them,” (24) which has great truth in it, because how we respond to situations is the issue, not the situation. And his principle, “The one thing psychologists can count on is that their clients will talk to themselves and not infrequently, whether relevant or irrelevant, the things people say to themselves determine the rest of the things they do” (27) has truth. Even Scripture says as we think, so we become (Pro. 23:7) and we DO need to renew our thinking if we are going to be transformed (Rom. 12:2). However, we must conform our thinking according to Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17), not what seems to make sense or what is expedient.
His charts are helpful to understand his therapy solutions. “Crooked thinking” that doesn’t include “beliefs and self-talk” certainly will not help people understand why consequences result (29). His directions to take responsibility rather than blaming (30) is a biblical approach, but he gives no biblical basis and doesn’t identify any thinking or actions as sin. A major problem is that he never identifies any solution with the need to be dependent on God, but just develop better “self-talk” (33) and you’ll gain control.
There is truth to some of his analysis of how we get into misery. We do flip on the “I must, you must or the world must” attitude and then we link those statements to “’condemnation, ‘awfulizing,’ ‘I-can’t-stand-it-itus,’ ‘I’m worthless,’ and ‘always and never’” resulting in bad thinking of anxiety, anger and depression” (40) and those things do happen. Those kinds of comments engage a person, because the person will say, “That makes sense” or “That’s what I do.” The challenge is a person may try the suggested solutions, which exclude God’s power, and the person may get temporary relief, but not renewed thinking or a holy lifestyle.
He never identifies any thought or action as sin. He explains and gives great illustrative examples of sin (48, 53, 83), but without identifying the problem as sin, there will be no spiritual solution to unleash God’s delivering power. He does call problem areas “irrational beliefs and self-talk” (87), but that still places the standard on self, rather than on God (2 Tim. 2:15).
One of his solutions suggested will be different with every person. For example he states, “Replace Musts and Should with Preferences and Wishes,”(72) so that establishes the person as the standard rather than the unchangeable nature of God and His Word (Heb. 13:8).
This book is like many self-help books; they are about self and how self can help. Instead of finding strength in self, the Christian ought to find his strength in Jesus Christ (Phil. 4:13). Too many Christians will read pop books on self-help and because the observations and suggestions seem to make sense, they try them. The enemy is waiting for this and wants them to buy into the system and live by the humanistic solutions. That just creates frustrated Christians, who do not tap into the power of God for real transformation (Eph. 1:18-19). As nice of a person as Dr. Clark is, as much as he wants to help people, as sincere as he is in believing he has solutions through REBT, he will only lead people further away from God and God’s solutions. At best his solutions are tainted light rather than the pure milk of God’s Word. Unless you have years of biblical study to discern truth from error, do not open yourself up to these humanistic suggestions. I’m sure I still miss many.