Book Review: Life Skills for a Broken World by Dr Ahona Guha

A practical guide to good psychological help to bring in the new year.

For any psychology or self-help book, the reader’s mileage will vary. In Life Skills for a Broken World, Dr Ahona Guha lays out a framework for mental health aligned with mainstream Australian clinical psychological practice. There is little new on offer for anyone who’s been to therapy in the last decade or is well-versed in the language of mindfulness and radical acceptance (from contemporary philosophers such as Tara Brach). 

For readers who are brand new to therapy and want a no-nonsense, easy-to-read book without any American gloss or promises of unlimited wealth and happiness, Guha establishes an excellent toolkit and valuable principles for healthy living. The tone is down-to-earth and accessible (one of the chapters is called ‘Realism, not Optimism’) and built on a foundation of prolific evidence-based research. However, the book’s title and introduction promise a more exciting read than this ends up becoming. This is also likely true of the one-paragraph pitch that Guha thanks her publisher for accepting in her acknowledgments.

Guha aims to construct a framework especially relevant to 2024 and the political zeitgeist. Guha reveals her thesis and politics in her introduction:

‘Both America (in 2020) and Australia (in 2022) voted out despotic, disinterested, and cruel governments, paving the way for people (and policy platforms) invested in intelligent thinking, climate change activism, and visions of equity, fairness, and hope. These movements are large and powerful but will require sustained effort, commitment, and the psychological skills needed to manage ourselves and each other as we make big shifts in how we live, with the discomfort and opposition that these will surely bring.’

A practical understanding of how to apply mental health principles to political protest and advocacy in the age of the Internet would be excellent. Guha never quite gets there. The book never confronts the full horror of issues that permeate the news: the existential angst over climate change, the identity advocacy for LGBTIQA+ communities, or the complex web of cross-cultural politics for people of colour. Guha gestures to all these in passing but doesn’t engage with them deeply. Instead, the book is geared towards necessary and valuable personal mental health resilience skills. 

Life Skills for a Broken World is valuable as an introduction to these ideas, and most sections end with suggestions for further reading. One of the recommended reads is Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? by Dr. Julie Smith, a 2022 international bestseller whose popularity swept through TikTok and GoodReads non-fiction communities. The publisher’s desire for Guha’s books to hit the same audience is apparent: the cover of Guha’s book could easily be mistaken as a clone or sequel to Smith’s work. Unfortunately, the direct comparison only highlights a spark present in Smith’s book and is absent in Guha’s. 

Each section concludes with a list of reflective questions, but more practical exercises allowing the reader to apply the theory would have helped the introductory reader. Guha’s psychological approach also shows a bias toward cognitive therapies, with somatic exercises absent beyond the inclusion of a breath exercise. 

However, there is a lot right in Guha’s book for the introductory reader. Guha references Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in passing, but most of her approach rests in Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), and its cousin, Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT). Both approaches avoid a psychoanalytic approach and rest heavily on the individual finding solutions for their distress in the immediate present. They are practical and powerful therapies, and any attempt to proliferate them among the general public is to be applauded. 

Read: Book Review: The Buddhist and the Ethicist, Peter Singer and Shih Chao-Hwei

Guha also hints at a fascinating personal life that we can only hope shows up more in her writing to come. She briefly sweeps past ‘intergenerational trauma and undiagnosed mental health difficulties’ and mentions leaving a cult and a marriage at the age of 23. Her personal history is not mentioned again beyond the second page, but it has clearly informed her deep value and appreciation of therapeutic approaches. 

Life Skills for a Broken World is likely the perfect gift for someone in your life and readers should eagerly anticipate the future publishing career of Dr Ahona Guha. 

Life Skills for a Broken World
By Dr Ahona Guha
Publisher: Scribe
ISBN: 9781922585950
Format: Paperback
Pages: 208pp
RRP: $27.99

David Burton is a writer from Meanjin, Brisbane. David also works as a playwright, director and author. He is the playwright of over 30 professionally produced plays. He holds a Doctorate in the Creative Industries.