Book Review: Healing is a Choice, by Stephen Arterburn

Healing Is a Choice

Ten Decisions That Will Transform Your Life & Ten Lies That Can Prevent You From Making Them

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by Stephen Arterburn

Published by Thomas Nelson, paperback edition

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I picked up Healing is a Choice with some serious reservations – I’m afraid that the title really sounded like it was saying, “If you’re not getting better, it’s your fault”. I was delighted to find as I read through it that the author’s central message is quite the opposite: as he re-iterates at the end of every chapter, healing is a choice, but it is God’s choice. What Arterburn focusses on is the decisions we can make and actions that we can take to remove the barricades that can hold us back from experiencing that healing.

He does not say that “If you follow these steps you’ll experience healing”. The message of the book is rather, “These things can hold back what God wants to do in your life, and even if it is not his will to heal you physically, these are things that you should do anyway.”

The book is broken into ten chapters, each looking at an aspect of the healing process. The chapters are framed around a choice that we can make, and a corresponding lie that runs counter to that choice. So the chapter on reflecting on our painful experiences and dealing with past hurts is paired with the lie that “Time heals all wounds”; and the chapter on getting help and support from others is paired with the lie that “I can just figure this out on my own.” It’s a good structure in that it promotes a healing choice and simultaneously warns of the dangerous cultural myth that keeps us from making that choice. There is a limited degree of overlap between some of the chapters, but I found that to be a useful re-inforcement rather than repetitive.

Reading the book for review purposes was interesting:the format of each chapter is based around teaching and activities to help the reader work through their pain and hurts. Not currently being at a point where I needed healing, the activities were less appropriate for me, but I think that they would be very useful in a group or individual therapy setting. This emphasis on practicality runs throughout the book. In the chapter on forgiveness, there are sample letters that the reader might like to use as a structure for asking forgiveness from someone. In the chapters on reflection and drawing from the past, there are guided journaling activities. There are prayers at the end of each chapter, though which the reader can ask God for help with the particular issue under discussion.

It is common for authors to include stories from their own past in any self-help book, but they are generally limited to the past tense: “I used to have problems, but now, thanks to my secret formula, my life is blissful and perfect!” Arterburn does not go down that path. He is willing to include recent disasters from his own life, personal experiences of pain and failure and be open about the process of healing that he had to go through – and is still going through. I found this openness refreshing.

Importantly, the book is very God-centred. There is a clear and consistent message that healing is what God does, and the decisions and actions that Arterburn recommends are all backed up by appropriate and well-interpreted scripture and biblical principles.

I enjoyed Healing is a Choice, and I would recommend it to people who are struggling to work through their own hurts or who are helping others to work through theirs. I think it would be particularly useful in a group-therapy context, and while I can’t claim any personal experitise in grief therapy or similar fields, I believe that working through the book over the course of months with fellow travellers would be a healing and rewarding journey.

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Full disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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