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Book Review: FEAR LESS - Real Truth about Risk, Safety, and Security in a Time of Terrorism
by Mark Sichel, LCSW

Gavin De Becker alerts us that he is a security expert and not a therapist, and that the main aim of Fear Less - Real Truth about Risk, Safety, and Security in a Time of Terrorism is to inform, educate and unearth the real truth about the dangers of terrorism in America today. I'm a therapist, not a security expert, but I am grateful to Mr. De Becker for helping me to bridge some crucial gaps in my education - bridges that have helped me to offer a more grounded perspective to the many clients who have come to me in the wake of September 11th for help overcoming fears engendered by the surprise attack on America.

For example, a client I'll call Sylvie* is a marketing executive who must travel frequently on business and who has had a lifelong fear of flying. Slowly, over the years, she's made progress in overcoming this fear as, through therapy, she has come to connect her fears of losing control, being trapped and annihilated to early childhood experiences, memories and emotions created by parents who abused and abandoned her. However, after September 11th, all the therapeutic tools and insights she's amassed suddenly seem like pretty lame bromides next to the apparent real danger the media tells us we still face every moment of our lives. The fact that Sylvie's living room window afforded her a bird's eye view of the World Trade Center, and that she and her husband saw the second plane hit and both towers implode, obviously didn't help. In fact, the trauma compounded her already severe phobia to the point where she could barely walk outside of her apartment house -- much less face the prospect of boarding a plane for another business trip.

Even with more tractable fears than Sylvie's, the impact of September 11 has been devastating. The prospect of traveling anywhere for any reason inevitably cranks up anxiety. How much of this anxiety is warranted? We simply do not know - and the media's often wild speculations about nuclear bombs transported in attaché cases, chemical warfare waged in suburban shopping malls, and exploding trucks on major highways do not help. The need is great for some kind of grounded rational perspective about the real risks we face. He offers real reassurance to me as an average guy who travels for pleasure, as well as a therapist who seeks to reassure clients like Sylvie that repeats of anything like the World Trade Center and Pentagon air crashes are very distant and improbable prospects. The true test of any self-help book is whether it gives the reader an immediate sense of empowerment and relief. The tools and information De Becker offers in Fear Less help the book to pass this test with flying colors.

De Becker espouses the same tools of empowerment through education and information that any therapist advocates in overcoming a phobia. His comprehensive explanation of why there is a virtual impossibility post 9/11 of an airliner being hijacked and used as a weapon of mass destruction greatly eases the readers' anxiety about flying. De Becker's detailed explanation of the impossibility of slaying vast numbers through biological and chemical warfare was new information to me, and served as a wonderful antidote to the hysteria and misinformation I gleaned from the network news broadcasts.

Ultimately, the conclusion I reached from reading Fear Less is that the greatest danger to any of our well-being comes from the sensationalism of the news media, and the mass anxiety and hysteria misinformation can engender. De Becker clearly explains how sensationalism draws viewers in ways that reality cannot. He points out how NBC News on-air medical expert, Dr. Bob Arnot, was removed from their website because his responsible evaluation of the situation would simply educate and reassure rather than act as a glue to keep viewer's immobilized in front of their televisions. Arnot's exact words, which would have been of great reassurance to the public, were that anthrax infection is "not that big a deal in terms of an illness. It is usually recognized it's easily treated with antibiotics, it is not spread from one person to another, it is not a major public health concern."

Flying back to New York City on the six-month anniversary of 9/11, on a United Airlines 767, did I feel reassured having finished reading Fear Less? The answer is yes, unequivocally reassured. Do I intend to recommend the book to Sylvie and other clients still fearful about flying and other safety and security issues? Again, the answer is yes. De Becker's book suffers from the minor flaw of repetition - he does tend to belabor his central theses - but even this may end up serving his purposes. Repetition makes us remember important lessons, and Fear Less provides us plenty of those.

*The names of all clients have been changed to protect their identities.

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Fear Less: Real Truth About Risk, Safety and Security in a Time of Terrorism
by Gavin De Becker
Our Price: $13.97

"Fear Less offers specific recommendations that can enhance our national security and our individual safety -- and help put fear into perspective. Nobody in the world understands risk and safety better than Gavin de Becker. At a time of uncertainty, terrorism, and a whole new set of rules, it is hard to imagine a more important, more reassuring, and more necessary book than Fear Less.-- Book Description

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