Changes that Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud is one of the most helpful books anyone could read. It comes with the highest recommendation I can give. On the cover of the book Josh McDowell is quoted: "Changes That Heal has affected my life more than any other book I've read." When I saw that, I thought it was a pretty bold statement. But after reading the book, it was hard to disagree with that sentiment.
At the outset, Cloud (co-author of the excellent "Boundaries" books) identifies a balanced approach to life, change and growth governed by three key elements: grace, truth and time. He discusses what good can come when these are employed in a balanced way, and what damage and frustration results when any of these are neglected.
He then goes on to discuss mental health from a Christian orientation and a developmental perspective. His four main phases of development are bonding, separating, sorting out good from bad and becoming an adult. Punctuated with relevant case-history stories, common emotional and spiritual problems are connected with their developmental roots. Cloud also addresses varying sizes of problems, for example dealing with everything from extreme problems like suicide attempts to nagging, below-the-surface depression. Everyone will benefit from reading this book.
Not only does Cloud address the topics he intends to address, he has words that are indeed profound on other related topics. For example, Cloud takes aim at some of the church's contributions to the emotional problems of some people. He exposes distorted ideas that may be taught from almost any pulpit in the world: those who would suggest that "just relying on God" is all that the isolated Christian needs, that rule-keeping and discipline are the pinnacle of Christian growth, that being Christlike means never saying "no" to people, that being a "good disciple" means letting other people run your life and make your decisions for you-- just to name a few. But upon seeing the mature and healthy alternatives to these warped and unhealthy behaviors, if you're like me you will feel like you have been enlightened. Cloud works to equip his readers to be healthy, mature and loving adult Christians.
Another little nugget is his discussion about the maturing process of adolescence; it isn't just for those trying to figure out "what happened" when they were teens; this is a must-read for any adult who has regular contact with teens-- from parents of teens to church "teen workers," as well as teachers, coaches and any other adults that might come in contact with teens. In a nutshell, adult non-parents are important because teens develop near-peer relationships with them-- these are the first more-or-less adult relationships these teens have in life! Teens are just finding out who they are and the context of these other relationships are very important in the developmental process. Because of what Cloud has pointed out in the book, I will never look at my relationship with teens the same way again.
One last little nugget is his discussion about the place of one-another relationships in the church and the potential they offer for healing whatever relational problems a Christian might have. Of course, this can only happen in an atmosphere where open and meaningful personal relationships among Christians are encouraged. And there are plenty of other little nuggets in the book; when you see them you'll know what I mean.
Some might question a psychological approach on spiritual grounds, thinking that God just wants us to obey him and this approach just confuses the issues. However, each of us has certain patterns of behavior-- some things are easy for us, other things are hard for us. Telling people to "just obey" without helping them get to the bottom of why they are the way they are is harsh and unhelpful. But examining how we have learned certain negative behaviors is a key to help us overcoming those tendancies in our lives. There is little difference between spiritual growth and emotional and psychological growth. Changes That Heal helps the reader to make great use of psychological and developmental observations and resources.
Others might think that such a book is only for people who have serious emotional or relational problems. While such individuals will benefit from the book greatly (though it is not a substitute for professional counseling), I don't know anyone who doesn't have any emotional or relational problems. We all are part of a fallen humanity that knows what "should be" and yet is unable to deliver on those ideals because of our sinful nature. Cloud's book helps the fallen parts of our selves be healed and thus helps us make more of the lives God has given us.
Changes That Heal has a wealth of helpful wisdom. It comes with a study guide in the back, and there is also an accompanying workbook for further study. I recommend it both for individuals and as a tool for use in small groups. I hope that each reader motivated to read the book as a result of this recommendation finds the same benefits from it that I and other I know have found.