A Review of Plum Rains

Plum Rains (Andromeda Romano-Lax, 2018) is a peek into one possible future for modern Japan.

Because of a casual interest in Japanese culture, I wanted to understand the symbolism of the title. Turns out, the titular season is a hazy, wet herald of possibility. The plum tree blossoms in the early Spring, and the plum rains mark the Japanese Spring, ushering in the warm summer months. Plum, we are old, is symbolic of the bittersweet, contrasting with the sweeter cherry that arrives later in the year. This symbolism pops up at various points in the story.

Our adventure begins as a simple story about two women who come to know each other through the use of a technological device. Angelica and Soyoko are of different generations and cultures. Each locked inside herself, resentful and distracted but dependent upon each other. Their dutiful lives erupt in bloom after Hiro, an empathic robot prototype, joins them.

But Plum Rains is more than a book about lonely people brought closer by technology. It is a book about secrets and new beginnings, the Japanese cultural themes of isolation and purity, and the ethics of technology. The events of this story are rooted in modern Japanese history and bloom a century later on the withering stem of a Japanese future.

The world were the events of this story happen gives an engaging look at technology-assisted behavioral health therapies. We see several examples of therapies coming to fruition. There are medical assistance drones connected to government databases. There is an AI-enabled empathic android. There is a virtual reality device used to promote healing from psychological trauma. Readers can observe the potential of these devices for healing or oppression and make their own decisions about where the line exists between good and evil—a fascinating question when considering the future of technology-assisted counseling and psychological interventions.

This book also asks questions about the illusory power of perception, identity, and perspective. It details how we only often see what we want to see, even–maybe especially–in our closest relationships. The power of attention and listening and compassion as change vehicles are on full display, but not where we expect them. In the end, this plum of a story is about relationships, oppression, self-awareness, and change, just as summer follows the rains.

I grabbed a copy of this book on a recommendation from one of those websites listing the “best of” small press offerings and was not disappointed. The author’s mastery of her craft shows in many enjoyable sentences; yet, parts of this book are a tad slow. Genre categorization is a bit tough. Some focus on the technology and the near-future setting to classify this book in science fiction or cyber-mainstream; it does fit there as the book features technology throughout the environment. Some focus on the historical backstory that is still relevant today. For me, this is less a book about then and more a book about now and the impacts of social decisions on real people.

Finally. this book is for those readers confident in their perspective as much as it is for those who are not.

A review of Hayes’ (2019) A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters

Part self-help book, part research report, Steven C Hayes’ A Liberated Mind is an accessible summary of Acceptance and Commitment Theory (ACT) for the lay reader. ACT was developed by Dr. Hayes as a model for increasing psychological health, or flexibility, over his decades-long career. A Liberated Mind presents that story of that development. Sections include an introduction to ACT, descriptions of the ACT tools and techniques, and applications of the model for the adoption of healthy behaviors, improvement of mental health, nurturance of relationships, increased work performance, enhanced spiritual wellbeing, and coping with illness and disability. There is also a chapter describing how ACT principles informed the solution to an international public health situation. This book is recommended for readers who are familiar with applications of psychological research and who want to explore ACT for personal or professional growth. It can be used in the classroom to train counselors, and it can be used by clinicians to complement individual or group therapy.

ACT is a popular, accessible 3rd generation cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that combines mindfulness techniques with a positive, approach-based strategy toward values-based actions that have been found transformational across diagnostic clusters and human cultures. Third generation CBT models build on the work of Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck, who pioneered psychotherapy models focused on changing how we think and perceive our worlds as a path to behavior change, by focusing on the story we tell about our thoughts and behaviors (Hayes & Hofmann, 2017). The ultimate aim of this process is to increase personal freedom from self-restrictive narratives and to build the flexibility to improve life satisfaction. ACT, like many cognitive-behavioral therapies, is especially helpful for resolving the anxiety and depression associated with feelings of powerlessness associated with the substance-affected family.

The ACT model seeks to increase personal psychological flexibility, the “ability to feel and think with openness, to attend voluntarily to your experience of the present moment, and to move your life in directions that are important to you, building habits that allow you to live in accordance with your values and aspirations” (p5). The goal is to turn toward your pain (acceptance) and to live a personally meaningful, purpose-filled life (commitment).  ACT takes an approach-oriented stance to adaptation and growth versus a pain avoidance plan, which can box us into a corner and cutoff escape from unpleasant situations.  It takes the idea of thinking differently to act differently and adds a layer of exploration of our identity, which is a story we created from our thoughts about our thoughts and behaviors.  By tweaking parts of our story we can change the whole.  Think Back to the Future.

ACT dovetails well with SMART Recovery. One place ACT and SMART Recovery fit together is the values orientation. Both models seek an understanding of the client’s values and sense of meaning as the foundation for action. Clarifying one’s values helps illuminate personal guide stars by aligning behaviors with beliefs. The SMART Recovery Hierarchy of Values (HOV) tool allows us to visualize what we care about, in terms of time and money spent on an activity, and direct our behaviors toward our values.

If you are interested in talking about how SMART Recovery or the ACT model can help you, please reach out.