[Interview] Dr Barbara Becker Holstein

Dr Barbara Becker Holstein is a positive psychologist in private practice, licensed in the states of New Jersey and Massachusetts.

She has done extensive research on adult development focusing on how to overcome obstacles and bring pleasure into one’s life while living a life of meaning and purpose. Based on that research and on her experiences working with women who had internalized negative messages they received as children, Dr Holstein has written and published five books which, among other things, help people develop more positive emotions while understanding how to cope with daily living.

Her books include The Enchanted Self, A Positive Therapy (Routledge, 1997); Recipes for Enchantment, The Secret Ingredient is You! (1st Books Library, 2000); Delight (AuthorHouse, 2005); The Truth (I'm ten, I'm smart and I know everything) and The Truth (I'm a girl, I'm smart and I know everything) (The Enchanted Self Press, 2008).

In this interview, Dr Barbara Becker Holstein talks about her writing.

When did you start writing?

I started writing when I was nine. My first efforts were my diary which I faithfully kept three days late for three years. I misspelled tons of words, but persisted and that 'secret' experience really got the juices rolling for me to become a writer.

How and when did decide you wanted to be a published writer?

This happened in various stages. I wrote a Master's Thesis with two other women for my Masters in Education and loved sharing the writing. Then I wrote a workbook based on our research with one of the two gals, Toby Levien, that I had written the thesis with. This workbook was published by Synectics, Inc. a creative thinking company based in Cambridge. The workbook was geared to 4-6th graders, teaching them creative thinking and writing. I really loved this project. However, I was aghast when our names did not appear as authors and realized in one blow how tough the publishing field can really be!

For those interested, the series of workbooks was called, Making It Strange. I was listed as a research associate, which certainly didn't feel like what I was doing -- writing the actual text week after week in the summer of 1965. Ah -- you see how long ago it was.

Then came my doctoral dissertation, again using the Synectics metaphorical ways of thinking to teach creative writing to children. I published a couple of articles based on my dissertation and then gave in to the pressures of life. I worked in the schools for many years as a school psychologist, raised two kids, got my license as a practicing psychologist in New Jersey and kept writing.

Fast forward, in the last 12 years I have published four books, two with two versions each, and also helped my mother publish her first and only book.

My first book is The Enchanted Self, A Positive Therapy. It was published in 1997. My second is Recipes for Enchantment, The Secret Ingredient is You! was published in 2001. The third, in two editions is Delight. This was published in 2005. One edition in paperback and one as a CD-rom with music, art, my voice and the written words. Then came my mother's book, Feel Good Stories, and last, The Truth in two versions. The version for women is The Truth (I'm ten, I'm smart and I know everything), 2007. The edition for girls, tweens, teens and their moms is The Truth (I'm a girl, I'm smart and I know everything), published in 2008.

How would you describe your writing?

All of my writing is designed to be inspirational and uplifting. I want to help people access more joy and pleasure in their lives and be able to find purpose and meaning in daily living. To that end, as a positive psychologist, I have written with slightly different intentions.

My first book, The Enchanted Self, A Positive Therapy is geared to help women and therapists actually go on a positive journey of self discovery. The case studies and suggested paradigm shifts are put in to really change the way therapists practice the art of psychotherapy and to help the reader actually change her perceptions of herself and her life. My self revelations and the exercises at the end of this chapter are all for this purpose. My second and third books use inspirational stories and exercises at the end of each story for the same purpose.

In Recipes for Enchantment, the stories are from real life, including long ago. Many of the stories are mine, but seven other authors contributed stories. In Delight, again stories are the method used. They are all mine and involve spiritual and emotional experiences I have had coming back to my origins as a Jewish woman. The exercises are designed for any woman, regardless of her background.

My mom's book, Feel Good Stories is also inspirational, but very funny, taking the reader from the day my mom was born to her retirement escapades.

And The Truth, well that is a whole new journey for me. Both editions are pure fiction with embedded positive psychology truths. What fun! I can't wait to finish up the second in the series of The Truth books! Of course they have introductions and reader's questions geared to the inspirational nature of the books.

For The Truth (I'm a girl, I'm smart and I know everything) my target audience is girls, tweens and teens and their moms, grandmas, teachers, guidance counselors and of course those interested dads.

Who would you say has influenced you most?

For my new book, The Truth (I'm a girl, I'm smart and I know everything) I would say that the writers of my childhood such as Laura Ingalls influenced me the most. Authors who have know how to capture a pure voice and create a vivid atmosphere.

For my first book, The Enchanted Self, A Positive Therapy I would say that psychologists from the feminist tradition such as Carol Gilligan influenced me the most.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I must challenge you in this question and encourage you to read The Enchanted Self, A Positive Therapy, as I intimately and fully reveal in that book how my personal experiences have affected my growth as a woman, a psychologist and, of course, as a writer.

In a chapter, titled "Singing The Song Of One's Soul", I explain how we tap into our true purpose and finally emerge doing what we are meant to do. For me, part of that is being a writer.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Currently one of the biggest challenges I face is helping my aging mother. It is very hard to see someone slipping away and always having some pain and other issues to contend with. Staying centered while realizing the fragility of life is a challenge!

Another challenge is bringing my new book, The Truth to the public. It is very hard work. I want to just fly with this book and yet everyday I have to take the time to plod along. For example, right now I am looking for schools were I can go in and actually work with the kids around the concepts in the book such as having a crush, being teased, bullies, growing up physically, parents fighting, etc.

Do you write everyday?

I go in spurts. Right now I am not writing every day, but I will again soon as I finish up the second book in The Truth series which takes the 'girl' from age 11 1/2 to almost 14.

I've got the ending already in my mind and just have to get back to daily writing.

I've been back and forth with the second book in The Truth series, as at the same time I've been working on a version for China which has more school vignettes in it than the American version. It has already been translated into Chinese and my translator is a professor in China. This has been very exciting.

How long did it take you to write The Truth (I'm a girl, I'm smart and I know everything)?

I wrote it over a year in spurts. It is published by the Enchanted Self Press and distributed by Blu Sky Media Group.

I wanted to control all aspects of this book, as it is the first in a series and after a lot of advice decided it was most important to find a distributor -- which I did. I'd love to have a major publishing house publishing the book, but then I wouldn't have as much control.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

The most difficult is the editing and proofing. The easiest part is the rough draft. I had two women help me with the editing and proofing. That really helped.

I like writing the rough draft. I guess because it is pure inspiration.

What sets the book apart from others you've written?

This is my first fiction. It has a purity, almost like poetry, that I really love about it, yet as great poetry, there is so much depth to each page.

It is similar to my others in that it inspires and teaches at the same time.

What will your next book be about?

The 'girl' growing older and having a ton of adventures that will strike a chord in most of us. They are universal and yet unique to her.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

My first book, The Enchanted Self, A Positive Therapy, as a pathfinder book in the field of positive psychology, and this book, as I believe the first fiction in the field of positive psychology.


Anonymous said…
Thanks for asking me such great questions! Dr. Barbara Becker Holstein, www.enchantedself.com

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