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Book Forum: Stress and Anxiety Disorders   |    
Coping With Stress: Effective People and Processes
ROBERT O. PASNAU, M.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2002;159:1451-a-1452. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.159.8.1451-a
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Edited by C.R. Snyder. New York, Oxford University Press, 2001, 318 pp., $45.00.

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When Dr. Andreasen asked me to review this book, I accepted with pleasure and anticipation. I knew that Professor Snyder is a respected professor of clinical psychology and an expert in his field. In addition, I have had an interest in studying successful coping with physical illness for more than 40 years. As a psychiatrist, I was somewhat intimidated when I received a copy of the book and discovered that it was prepared for an audience composed primarily of psychology graduate students, behavioral medicine researchers, and clinical psychologists. Furthermore, with rare exceptions the contributors are clinical and research psychologists. It had been many years since I read a psychology text, and I wondered if I was the appropriate person to review it.

Glancing at the titles of the chapters, I was alarmed by the title of the first chapter, "Dr. Seuss, the Coping Machine, and ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go.’ " I feared that I was holding the latest "pop psychology" book and that the author would soon appear on daytime television. I skipped to the chapter titled "Coping With the Inevitability of Death: Terror Management and Mismanagement," somehow expecting a chapter related to terrorism, to find that the authors deal with anxiety disorders. The publication date is 4 months before the attack on the World Trade Center, and there is no mention of terrorism per se.

One of the many advantages of retirement is the gift of time. I had the book, the time, and the interest in the topic. I decided I had approached the task in the wrong manner. I opened the book and read it from cover to cover in one sitting. Somewhere into the first chapter I began to understand what Professor Snyder was attempting to convey, and halfway through the book I became a champion of the volume. It is uniformly well written and well edited, the information is conveyed clearly, with many clinical examples, and, most importantly, it is clinically relevant to my work with those few patients I continue to see in psychotherapy.

The references in each chapter are extensive and current, and they represent the work of psychiatrists, sociologists, social workers, and psychologists. I found the chapter by Drs. Redford and Virginia Williams on the management of hostile thoughts, feelings, and actions to be particularly effective. Some of the material, although probably well-known in the field of psychology, was new to me. The theory of social comparison and the research on this interesting theory made a great deal of sense to me. The chapter on the cognitive approach to coping was very convincing. The chapter on procrastination was a delight.

To be sure, there are the usual problems with a multiauthored volume. The repetitive definitions of stress and coping (some better than others) seem redundant. However, each chapter must stand on its own, and most readers will not have had the pleasure of reading it from cover to cover. The chapter on religious coping is superb, despite the somewhat puzzling reference to Judaism as one of the "relatively unstudied religions of the world."

If I were to read the book again for the first time, however, I would start with the final chapter. In this, the editor demonstrates why he has won countless teaching awards at the University of Kansas and why he is a successful editor of a major journal of clinical psychology. He reviews his own volume, pulling together the ideas from each of the other chapters and highlighting the overlaps and similarities as well as the areas of disagreement and controversy. This is a brilliant demonstration of his knowledge of the field and his appreciation of the work of others. Envy the graduate student who has him as mentor.

In my review of the current literature, I learned that 20 books on "coping" have been published recently. I have no idea how this book compares with any of the others because I have not read them. But I recommend this book to all of my colleagues and students who are struggling to assist their patients coping with serious adversity.

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