The Barnabas Ministry
Book Review

Changes That Heal: How to Understand Your Past To Ensure a Healthier Future
By Dr. Henry Cloud (Harper Paperbacks, New York, NY. 1990, 1992, 1995.)

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.

The Main Ideas
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.

Little Nuggets
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.

Personal Reflections
Personally, I found the book to be freeing, helping me to deal with my own frustrations and aggravations towards others, as I used to consistently  get aggravated about things I couldn't change and get angry at people while trying to change them. The book's discussion of "boundaries" was very helpful, and the accepting of good and bad in things I cannot control freed me to love those who irritate me or those with whom I disagree. Cloud's discussion of adulthood has helped me to quit playing games in my relationships. After reading the book I found myself more at peace and more able to love others.

Suitable for Small Groups
Being a leader of a small group of men in my local congregation and having read numerous books on topics of spiritual growth and maturity, I was looking for a book that would meet the needs of the men in my group. After much prayer and consideration, I realized that Changes That Heal would be ideal for our group. It has several things going for it that make it useful in such a setting: It discusses relevant issues from a developmental point of view, with plenty of case-histories to help drive the ideas home. Plus, it it written in a clear and organized style that supports group settings like that which I was contemplating.

I presented the idea of going through the book to the other men in my group. They went along with the idea, and we went through the book in a course of four months. We would read a chapter a week (sometimes two), and meet on a weekly basis for sixty to ninety minutes to discuss the book and what we came away with from that week's chapter. 

Going through this book with the group on a consistent basis with others multiplied the benefit of merely reading the book. Though we had known each other pretty well over many years, we got to know each other much better. We were able to put into practice many of the "one another" passages that are part of God's plan for helping us grow-- teaching each other, encouraging one another, loving one another. But many of the one-another passages require one fundamental "one another" that people don't often talk about: "know one another." As we went through the book, we not only connected as a group of men (a difficult thing to do for men whose average age is about 40), we had a basis to open up about issues close to the heart-- frustrations and disappointments, large and small. This book is a great tool for use in such a group, as we had a small-group experience that was truly impacting, memorable and helpful.

Leading the Small Group: Not Routine
In leading the group, I had my standard "I"m not a psychologist" disclaimer, and it bears repeating here. This book is not intended as a substitute for necessary professional counseling, especially concerning severe or urgent issues. But using the book in a supportive group setting can identify areas where professional counseling may be necessary while helping in areas more common and less severe.

Leading such a group doesn't automatically make someone a psychologist; in fact, I found myself feeling on the verge of being way over my head on more than one occasion. Leading a group well requires great sensitivity, maturity and closeness to God. Not everyone can have the insight and skill of a trained and licensed counselor, but hopefully every leader of a group going through this book will be spiritual, mature and sensitive to the subject matter and lead the group accordingly.

A key element in leading a group is creating an atmosphere where members can share how their experiences connect with concepts presented in the book. A leader guides the process and helps members know where to go next, knowing that members' own awareness of important issues is one of the most important parts of the growth and healing process.

Changes That Heal also comes with a study guide in the back, and there is also an accompanying workbook for further study. I recommend Changes That Heal, 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 the men in our group and I found.

Copyright 2002 John Engler. All rights reserved.

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