Book Reviews: Mostly By Psychotherapy, Neurobiology, and Self Help Professionals

“This is a clear, readable presentation of psychotherapy techniques combined with insights from neuroscience. The author writes in a warm, insightful manner based on his many years as a practicing clinician; it is guaranteed to provide useful insights for both general readers as well as practicing mental health professionals. I recommend it highly.”

—Gary Groth-Marnat, Ph.D., author of Handbook of Psychological Assessment and Neuropsychological Assessment in Clinical Practice

“With a strong basis in research, Dr. Timothy Stokes’s amygdala-script theory draws from neurophysiology and evolutionary psychology and applies historical Eastern and current Western techniques. Clinicians and clients alike will find this book easy to read and put into practice.”

—Elizabeth L. George, coauthor of The Bipolar Teen: What You Can Do to Help Your Child and Your Family

“Dr. Stokes has done a masterly job of fusing new neurobiological findings with mainstay psychotherapy practices to create a powerful and easily understood therapeutic procedure. His use of illustrative cases effectively adds a human element and provides beginning to end treatment examples.”

—Jerry Joseph, Ph.D., president and CEO, Family Behavioral Resources

“Stokes, from the perspective of a practicing therapist, has taken on the task of translating basic research findings into a coherent approach to guiding people to a closer approximation of things as they are. His metaphorical concept of ‘amygdala scripts’ integrates a broad range of scientific and clinical material into a systematic framework for understanding and using established techniques of psychotherapy.”

—Jim Grigsby, Ph.D., Division of Health Care Policy and Research, University of Colorado Denver

“This book, just like its author, is explanatory, insightful, and always provocative!”

—Norman Weitzberg, Ph.D, neuropsychologist, Newport Hospital


A Review from the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry Newsletter

Book Reviews: Gregory P. Barclay, M.D. Newsletter Editor

Newsletter Editor’s note: In this edition, I am pleased to summarize 3 books I have recently read. They all relate to a common theme, which is how our increasing understanding of neuroscience helps us to understand and redefine the process of psychotherapy. As professionals with particular interests in adolescents, it is essential that we have a thorough and updated education in neuroscience, since what we are learning about the adolescent brain has enormous impact on how we conduct treatment and what we should expect from patients at an individual level.

What Freud Didn’t Know – A Three-Step Practice for Emotional Well-Being through Neuroscience and Psychology, by Timothy B. Stokes, Ph.D.

Although this book is intended for the lay person who struggles with emotional regulation problems, I found it to be a very useful book from my perspective as a treating provider. As its title suggests, Timothy Stokes reviews how Freud’s fundamental concepts of the Id, Ego, and Superego now are best understood as corresponding to brain regions of varying degrees of connectivity and maturity. He develops the concept of “Amygdala Scripts” and reviews how powerful emotional experiences are stored instantaneously in the amygdale and subsequently “hijack the neocortex”. This process  is at the root of what maintains negative and distorted cognitions and compensatory maladaptive behavior, and therefore “mastering” the amygdale scripts is the core of his 3-step practice.

The 3-step practice is essentially a self-help style simplification of what is accomplished in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Dr. Stokes provides guidance on how to first establish an enhanced state of mindfulness so as to allow for access to deeply buried Amygdala scripts. Consequently, it is possible to develop enhanced insight to facilitate the mastering those scripts and attaining the third step, which is belief change. Throughout the book, there are examples and exercises designed for the motivated lay person to accomplish meaningful change. Dr. Stokes makes it clear, however, that many individuals with these problems require a much higher level of treatment delivered by a trained professional.

This book is useful to have on your shelf to share with a highly motivated and intelligent patient with emotional regulation problems, as it may assist them before committing to an extensive course of EMDR or DBT. It is also a good reference for patients already participating in psychotherapy.

A Review from Foreward Magazine

What Freud Didn’t Know: A Three-Step Practice for Emotional Well-Being through Neuroscience and Psychology

by Timothy B. Stokes Ph.D.

Poor Freud. He gets a bad rap these days, ending up as the punchline to penis jokes. His theories have been absorbed into pop culture, losing their meanings in the process. He’s been disproved and displaced.

However, that’s what makes What Freud Didn’t Know so refreshing. For the jaded reader, author Timothy Stokes revives Freudian psychotherapy, framing the original concepts of Freud’s work in modern, comprehensible terms. Better yet, Stokes adds to our understanding of Freud. He cites recent empirical evidence that describes the relationships between different parts of the brain once associated with the ego, super-ego, and id. Using Freud’s beliefs about repressed memory as a base, Stokes elaborates, using examples from contemporary psychology, behavioral and cognitive science, and case studies. The result is altogether enjoyable.

What Freud Didn’t Know stands squarely at the crossroads of self-help and hard science, which is both its strength and its weakness. It’s not a textbook, though Stokes’ writing is dense with neuroscience and anatomical terminology. The graphs are simple enough for a layman to understand. Even for those with the most basic grasp of psychology, the logic is clear, and the chapters are easy to follow and packed with plenty of examples.

The book’s self-help core is Stokes’ proposal that any person can rewrite his or her “amygdala scripts,” which are basically conditioned emotional responses to triggering scenarios. For example, a woman who was criticized throughout her childhood by her parents feels herself getting defensive in meetings at work. Using what Stokes calls “mindfulness,” this woman should be able to re-program her response and break out of a negative cycle. Stokes claims that the process is faster and more efficient when insight therapy is combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy. That is, when the trigger is initiated intentionally, in a controlled environment, the patient can learn a new response much faster than in real-world practice.

It’s a fascinating idea that represents the scientific edge of self-help. There are plenty of emotional exercises, meditations, and even practical applications in the second half of the book. Stokes makes mindfulness seem like an achievable goal, and sets the steps to make it possible.

Reviewed by: Claire Rudy Foster | Jan/Feb 2010


A Review from Publishers Weekly

What Freud Didn’t Know: A Three-Step Practice for Emotional Well-Being through Neuroscience and Psychology

Timothy B. Stokes. Rutgers Univ., $24.95 (224p) ISBN 9780813546407

Though Freudian therapy has, in general, been superseded by modern psychotherapy methods, practicing clinical psychologist Stokes (former editor-in chief of the Naropa Journal of Contemplative Psychotherapy) shows how Freud, over a century ago, ingeniously anticipated modern neurobiological discoveries. Freud’s attribution of psychological problems to the “internal struggles” among the id, ego, and super-ego is roughly analogous to modern understanding of “the functions of three regions of the brain: the neocortical regions, the prefrontal cortex regions, and the limbic system.” Recent findings by neurobiologists show that the limbic system (where the amygdala is located) “exerts a powerful role in the emotional life of humans” by regulating automatic responses to perceived danger; the release of hormones provokes a physical response perceived as emotion. Building on the concepts of cognitive therapy, which teaches clients to identify and replace dysfunctional thoughts, Stokes developed a three-step method to help people becomes aware of what he calls the amygdala “scripts” that normally operate unconsciously: step one is recognition of a conditioned response, step two identifies the trigger, and step three involves conscious reconditioning through insight. With three appendices, this makes a useful self-help manual for clients and clinicians. (Jan.)


Reviews from

Reader review by “Tea Drinker”

This is the best psych book I have read in decades. A slim volume that packs a wallop.

This gem of a book is a must for the professional therapist, as well as the lay readers who want to change old, outdated scripts in their lives. After years of reading either dense scientific treatises, or light-weight fuzzy-headed self-help books, it is a delight to have in one volume the neuro-science and its application. Behaviors that range from ancient marital arguments all the way to PTSD can be dealt with using Stokes’ step-by-step awareness techniques.

Dr. Stokes has packed his book full of the latest research and, more importantly, simple, clear steps for implementing the research findings. His writing is filled with the wisdom gleaned from his years of experience with clients. Not content with applying these scientific theories to his own clients, he joined with other practitioners in a monthly roundtable to hone the efficacy of his 3-Step Practice for Emotional Well-Being. The result is a set of steps that you or I can take, today, in our lives, to begin to change old habits of thought and action.

Effective technique to lessen psychological suffering, February 21, 2010    by David Rubio (Boulder, CO USA)

Dr Stokes presents an effective 3-step practice to reduce or eliminate chronic, troublesome, inihibiting emotional reactions he terms amygdala scripts. The technique uses the latest findings in brain science and combing through years of referenced research in the effective clinical techniques from the various schools of psychotherapy such as insight, mindfulness, and cognitive therapy in an integrative simple recipe. I highly recommend this book from having experienced the effectiveness of Dr Stokes 3-step practice. I consider this book revolutionary in moving us towards fulfilling the promise of psychotherapy. The book puts in clear perspective the nature of recurring emotiomal issues explaining how the older and newer parts of the brain are involved without labeling symptoms as some sort of pathology.

Clear and Essential!, April 26, 2010 by Passage “Passage”

I very much agree with the two previous reviews! I found this to be an extremely helpful and well written book. The explanations and exercises are very clear and available. I’m not a therapist, just a lay person, and I found the book in language that is very accessible. Even the chapter that was written specifically for therapists I found very clear and of great interest. Practicing the exercises has been stunning. There is an efficiency that is quite remarkable as I have found myself in situations that in the past had proven to be very difficult to negotiate are now more than manageable. Dr. Stokes’ explanation of how the amygdala functions and leads to behavior that we have come to call neurotic has, I believe, enormous implications, both for the field of psychotherapy and in the arena of spiritual inner work. I wholeheartedly recommend this book for psychotherapists, engaged lay people and spiritually inclined folks that have found themselves facing inexplicable blocks to greater opening.

Reader Review by Laura Hofer, Therapist

Recently I met the author of What Freud Didn’t Know, Tim Stokes. In our conversation he explained to me the basic concepts in his book. I was intrigued enough to buy it, and I’m very glad I did.

In the preface Tim describes his journey to creating this remarkable three step tool for emotional well-being. Briefly, because of his interest in the richness of the human experience, he became a clinical psychologist, specializing in insight-oriented psychotherapy. However, he also has a background in the physical sciences and was drawn to understand the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral psychotherapy. In addition, he explored neurobiology beginning in the late 1990s. He writes, “The more I learned about brain physiology, the more I began to suspect that neurobiology and a great deal of clinical research dovetailed to a surprising degree, affording new insights into the psychological change process.”

From this rich stew of clinical experience, psychological research about effective interventions, and neurobiological research, Tim designed a three step practice that he explains clearly in this easy to understand book. I worked with the practice as I read the book and found that a long-standing pattern that I have addressed for years shifted both easily and, it seems now, thoroughly. It also opened later into another pattern I had not previously accessed in such depth. The hold of the second pattern has also shifted.

Tim’s three step practice begins with a focus on the body and the activation of what he calls “an amygdala script.” This concept is key for the practice, and Tim explains it fully in the introduction and in the first two chapters.

Very briefly, the amygdala is a small almond-shaped part of the brain that belongs to the limbic system, the part of the brain that we share with reptiles. It records memories of painful events, but only in bare outline, not with historical details. Often called emotion memories, Tim refers to the activation of these memories, or “seed images,” as an amygdala script, because the script programs our behavior without our conscious awareness.

To explain a little further, one of the amygdala’s major purposes is to alert us to any situation that bears a resemblance to the seed image and to activate the flight, fight, or freeze response without delay. It bypasses our more analytical processes in order to protect us. We are glad we have amygdala scripts in case that flash of orange is a tiger about to pounce. But, the amygdala will also hijack our capacity for higher reasoning even when we are safe. We might, for example, think “Tiger,” feel fear, and flee when, in fact, the flash of orange is really Aunt Martha’s sundress.

Tim has identified three components of amygdala scripts: a felt experience, that is, a reaction felt in the body; the use of a seed situation as a template laid on the current situation; and, beliefs about oneself and/or others.

The practice that Tim has designed is supported by psychological and neurobiological research and addresses all three components. For the felt experience he suggests using mindfulness to become more aware of the experience in the body. Having learned what the bodily experience is, he comments, you can then evoke it and work with it at will.

To deconstruct the template laid on the current situation, Tim suggests an insight-oriented practice that distinguishes the present from the past.

Finally, for the erroneous beliefs about oneself and/or others Tim offers the cognitive tools of identifying and acknowledging an old belief and then practicing warmth and empathy for the self who believed it. Tim’s thorough and patient description of how to accomplish the three parts of the practice is the core of the book (Chapters 3 through 7).

Tim closes with a chapter for therapists and another dedicated to distinguishing between scripted and unscripted emotions.

I highly recommend the practice and the book to anyone with interest in psychological matters and to anyone who is suffering with any type of emotion, such as, fear, depression, anxiety, guilt, anger, sickness at heart, or queasiness in the belly.

Reader Review byAnne O.

This book’s 3 step process for gaining emotional well-being resonated with me. I already had some understanding of the purpose and power of the amygdala region of the brain but this book helped explain it in terms that made it quite comprehensible. I have utilized Dr. Stokes three-step practice successfully and am feeling much more peace and well-being in my life as a result of these exercises. I highly recommend the book to anyone who finds themselves “emotionally trapped” by their own amygdala scripts.