Dr. Robin Alter - Clinical Practice in Psychology
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Anxiety and the Gift of Imagination

Book published! Anxiety and the Gift of Imagination is now available from amazon.com

I am thrilled and proud to report that my first book has been published:

Anxiety and the Gift of Imagination

I spent many years trying to follow the standards of best practice in the field of child/clinical psychology, which recommends using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with kids. I talked to kids about the thoughts they were having in their heads and encouraged them to change those thoughts, which only resulted in a lot of blank stares or unruly behavior. I then began to use all the knowledge I had accumulated over the years about how children actually think, which is very different from an adult’s thinking, and applied it to helping children with their anxiety. That’s when everything seemed to fall into place and kids began leaving my office transformed. They weren’t leaving a little bit better; they were leaving different— with their heads held high, smiles on their faces, bursting with positive self-esteem and pride. They left with a new understanding of themselves and tools to tackle their wild and crazy imaginations when they spun out of control. After witnessing this extraordinary success with many young clients, I felt compelled to write this book and make this material available to more parents and children than I could ever see individually in my office.

This is the story of how this book was born—

About ten years ago, Melanie, a delightful 11-year-old girl, (name changed to protect identity) entered my office. For all the world, Melanie looked like a happy child, with big curious hazel eyes, a toothy grin and a scattering of freckles. But Melanie was anything but carefree. She suffered from debilitating anxiety, which she experienced in the form of severe stomach aches. Her anxiety was so intense that it was excruciatingly painful for Melanie to get herself out the door every weekday for school. She also missed many social events, such as parties and sleep- overs. Yet her grades were good and she had positive friendships with the other children. She was articulate and most people would have considered her more mature than the average 11 year old.

I really enjoyed my discussions with Melanie. I asked her what else she liked to do, besides spend time with her friends and family. Her eyes sparkled as she told me about her art. She painted with watercolors and oils and she described in great, enthusiastic detail the paintings of which she was so proud. As I listened, I wondered out loud, “Do you think there’s any connection between your incredible creativity and your anxiety?”

Melanie stopped, looked at me, perplexed but clearly interested. I continued, ”Well, Melanie, it seems to me you don’t just have a fear of something. When you imagine something, you imagine it in living color, with loads of detail and it becomes a very realistic and elaborate scene.” She nodded enthusiastically. “Yes,” she said. “That’s how I see things. I can picture all the details so clearly. It’s like I’m really there.”

From that time on, I incorporated new questions into my interviews with parents of children suffering from anxiety. The answer to the question: “Does your child have a highly developed imagination?” always came back a resounding, “Yes!” And often the kids would respond with, “And sometimes it gets me into big trouble. I imagine the most awful things!”

As for my young patients, they were eager to recount in vivid detail how they flexed their imaginations. Some kids have extremely imaginative play, making up wonderfully elaborate scenarios and acting them out with their dolls or action figures. Older kids write stories or plays, some compose songs, often with intricate lyrics. Other kids express their imaginations through art, creating intricate, detailed drawings and paintings. Still others build complex structures with Lego, building blocks or clay. The realm of the imagination really is limitless and takes many different forms, but the children who came to see me for anxiety all typically shared one common characteristic: These were children gifted with highly active and developed imaginations.

Different tools work for different children. These kids are nothing if not unique. Certainly, this book has emerged from what I have learned through my wonderful experiences with all the children and families who have sought help from me. I look forward to continuing to learn from everyone who reads this book and tries the tools. I have dedicated my professional life to children’s happiness. I want to keep learning and growing together so kids can grow up with a carefree enjoyment of their imaginations and we, the adults, can guide them along their paths.

Chapter Titles:

  • What this book is about
  • Chapter 1 When anxiety becomes a problem
  • Chapter 2 Enter the imagination
  • Chapter 3 The mind fills a vacuum
  • Chapter 4 The future tense
  • Chapter 5 Sweet dreams are made of this...
  • Chapter 6 Putting it all together
  • Chapter 7 Give me tools and strategies
  • Chapter 8 Especially for kids, part 1
  • Chapter 9 Especially for kids, part 2
  • Chapter 10 Why it doesn’t always work
  • Conclusion



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(C) 2000–2005 Dr. Robin Alter