Doing the work” is a term therapists and psychologists use quite often. “You will get better, but you have to do the work,” they say, never quite clearly defining what “the work” is. You assume they are—broadly—talking about getting in touch with your feelings and emotions and seeing the patterns in your behaviour that are causing you unhappiness, but you are never sure. Dr Nicole LePera, “the holistic psychologist” (that’s her Instagram handle, which made her famous), is, on the other hand, quite clear about what the “the work” is, both in this book and her Insta posts. Most of the wisdom contained in this book is shared on her Instagram account in nugget-sized versions, peppered by words like “trauma”, “boundaries” and “healing”.
This is not to suggest that they are meaningless or insubstantial—they do, in fact, contain a lot of sound theories that are widely accepted within the medical establishment, and despite her general unpopularity within this establishment, a huge number of her staggering 3.9 million followers say her posts and her book have helped them more than years of therapy.
“Self-healing” is LePera’s mantra, and it is possible to actually see the book as a primer for a therapist starting out—only, here, you are at once the therapist and the client. It’s not New Agey nonsense—her theories on the impact of childhood and parenting on adult behaviour, on bullying, self-esteem and ego overwhelmingly echo what mainstream psychotherapy thinks about these subjects. The only aspect of her approach that differs somewhat is her insistence on the mind-body connection—that physical and mental well-being are intrinsically linked, impacting each other all the time; and actually, even here, mainstream research on mental health is looking into new ways of treating issues like anxiety and testing theories about how calming the body through practices like mindfulness and meditation can impact the mind. Some are even calling this the third big shift in psychotherapy practice, after Freudian analysis and methodologies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
So LePera is not off in her approach, nor is she peddling complete pseudoscience (though some of her assertions border on that). She is, after all, a trained clinical psychologist with years of experience being a traditional therapist. But what she does with this book is suggest a self-help, DIY way to, well, therapise yourself, and therein lies the issue. It’s as if she’s telling her readers, “look, these are the basic tools therapists use to treat you, it’s not rocket science, now go do it yourself.”
This is not only simplistic, it can be dangerous. There is a reason it takes years for therapists to get the education and training they need to actually set up a practice, and it is not as simple as learning the basic theory—not to mention that there are serious psychological issues that cannot, should not, be treated through “self-healing”; that require proper diagnoses and a combination of medication and therapy.
Even if LePera is not talking to those people—and she makes it pretty clear early on in the book that her audience is made up of those who feel unexplained, general unhappiness and dissatisfaction rather than survivors of serious trauma and abuse—it does feel a little exhausting to be told to “do the work” all by oneself. How many more things do we need to DIY? As one reviewer of the book on Goodreads put it succinctly, “Is this the new psychological CrossFit?”