Writing a Self-Help Book: The Inspiration
Lynn Welch: What inspired you to write the self-help book Gifts From a Challenging Childhood?
Jan Bergstrom: I wrote my self-help book for the purpose of giving individuals and easy, understandable way to begin to investigate and process their family of origin work. [A pioneer in the recovery movement, my mentor,] Pia Mellody, initially wrote her books 40 years ago and I wanted update and add a more experiential and practice aspect to her concepts.
Lynn Welch: How long were you in practice before you realized the enormity trauma plays in the lives of not only your clients but humanity? Did you feel a certain weight on your shoulders to lift with this book?
Jan Bergstrom: I have been a therapist for 25 years and am very aware of the amount of family of origin trauma that all of us carry in our lives. When I was introduced to Pia Mellody back in 2003, I was a participant in her workshop which changed my life. I knew that her work had immediate impact and created change within months of using her model. So, I decided as I practiced her model with my clients that a book, like a user manual, needed to be written.
Lynn Welch: In what way has your own work departed from Pia Mellody’s?
Jan Bergstrom: My work has departed from Pia’s by incorporating some the of pioneering work of today like mindfulness, attachment theory and body-based somatic work into her model. I use a user-friendly language that relates to younger generations. Some of the words like co-dependence are not so commonly used today and redefining it as “childhood developmental and relational trauma” makes it easier to understand.
The Self-Help Book Writing Process. Tweet This
Lynn Welch: Gifts From a Challenging Childhood holds a wealth of information, how does one even begin to select the material that appears in its pages?
Jan Bergstrom: The best place to start is at the beginning of the book. By learning and using the information of the Five Core Practices for Well-Being. These core principals/practices of loving the Self, protecting the Self, knowing the Self, caring for the Self and moderating the Self are life changing and if practiced can improve your experience of your life. The rest of the book takes you into deeper aspects of your family of origin trauma and can be useful individually or a group setting with a facilitator.
Lynn Welch: With a thriving private practice, it muse have been challenging to write such an impressive manual.
Jan Bergstrom: It was a difficult process to figure our what needed to be included in the book. It was helpful to have my editor/ghostwriter help me structure it. However, since this self-help book is about the work of Pia Mellody back 40 years ago called co-dependency, I needed to update terms and put together her concepts in one book. Pia Mellody wrote three books and each book contains pieces of her model and none of them covered the sequence on how her model works. So, putting that all together in one book, updating terms and adding additional modalities like mindfulness, attachment theory and body-based intervention in an easy-to-read method, was quite a task.
Lynn Welch: Did you work from an outline or on specific sections or chapters?
Jan Bergstrom: I worked from an outline and created specific chapters. [Editor and writer] Janice Harper, rearranged the book so that the first part was informative, and second part was practice.
Lynn Welch: Start to finish, how long did it take you to complete Gifts From a Challenging Childhood?
Jan Bergstrom: It took me two years and two months from the idea and conception of the book to it being published on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. At one point I wanted to go with a traditional publisher and struggled with that whole process. It was so challenging because publishers today do not do a lot of marketing for your book. The publishers [asked] for my reach on social media and with the public. I got discouraged realizing that I had not much presence. So, I published on Amazon, own my material and plan in the future to make a workbook. Today I use most of my material in all my therapist trainings without worry of copyright infringements.
Lynn Welch: What was it like working with a writing coach and ghostwriter to write a self-help book? What did you like about the process? How did it help?
Jan Bergstrom: I loved working with my writing coach and ghostwriter. She was patient, kind and thorough and never gave up on helping me get a book that I loved out the door.
Lynn Welch: How much input did Janice have with your text? Were there some aspects of the book that you were adamant about keeping?
Jan Bergstrom: I wrote all the chapters of the book and Janice edited them in a very relational and genuine tone. She did some re-arranging of the chapters, so it flowed better—the educational part was first with the practice part in the second half of the book.
Lynn Welch: Did you omit some material because it may be too overwhelming for readers? Did you worry that some readers may be more worried and triggered by the instruction yet not seek help and the resources needed?
Jan Bergstrom: Yes, I did omit some material regarding trauma in the ages of birth to four years of age. This is a very difficult time for individuals who had trauma in this age range as it comes in pre-verbal and mostly somatically [physically] through the limbic system [the part of the brain concerned with emotions]. I recommended they search out a trauma therapist at the beginning of the book and mentioned again to seek help if any individual got dysregulated [unable to manage emotional intensity] during any process. The book ended up being longer than I envisioned. However, there was so much necessary information and exercises that needed to be covered that I could not leave them out.
Lynn Welch: Gifts From a Challenging Childhood has spiritual undertones along with the message it carried. Do you find that in addition to the therapeutic information within the book that some type of spirituality has curative properties? Do you discuss the Law of Attraction and spirit as part of the healing process with clients?
Jan Bergstrom: I believe that this kind of work is a type of spiritual practice for healing. I talk about this in the last chapter of my book, which addresses the importance of having a higher power or believing in a divine presence. There is something greater than we are and we are all a sliver of that divine presence in the world. [Understanding] this helps in healing our trauma, realizing that life has some purpose and we as human beings are meant to be connected. As we heal our woundedness, we experience the wholeness of our being and are better able to connect and relate. I talk to my clients about this belief, which gives them hope, rather than looking at their trauma as futile.
Applying the Lessons of the Book
Lynn Welch: My favorite quote in Gifts From a Challenging Childhood is when you’re asking parents to “embrace their beloved children for who they are, not for who they are imagined to be.” Do you find this more often than not—that parents project onto their children this imagined being? How do you help parents to actually see children and accept them for who they truly are? Do you do therapy with parents and children together?
Jan Bergstrom: I do not do therapy with parents and children together. I only work with adults. So, I teach adults through the process outlined in the book, to tap into their own sense of Self or reality. What are they thinking, feeling and noticing in their body? As they learn to navigate their own inner sense of Self, it helps them, in return, work with their children as they grow up.
Being a parent is hard work. Unfortunately, due to so much stress in our lives, parents are in a hurry and too busy. They are not able to reach into their children emotionally and be curious about who they are and help them navigate their world of emotions and thoughts. So yes, kids are like sponges and they adapt and figure out what parents want them to be if a parent isn’t consciously reaching into their child to see who they are. Many parents have their projections of what their child needs to be to make them [the parent] feel comfortable…. sad as the child goes unexplored in what gifts and talents they have.
Lynn Welch: What has been the response from other clinicians? Are they finding it effective in working with their clients who have struggled with ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences)?
Jan Bergstrom: First, ACES is a good questionnaire for assessing abuse, not neglect. Neglect is more difficult to treat than abuse. Most of the therapists that use Pia Mellody’s model treat both abuse and neglect. We use a DART Assessment which gives us a sense of how much abuse and how much neglect our client has had from their family of origin. DART stands for Developmental and Relational Trauma. My book has been a big hit for all the therapists using Pia Mellody’s model. I created back in 2008 a Healing Trauma Network Directory of about 100+ therapists that use Pia’s model. I have heard from many of them that their clients are benefiting from my book.
Lynn Welch: Pia Mellody’s work has been phenomenally successful, yet many people remain confused about how to apply her work to their own lives. In what ways does your book clarify those confusing areas?
Jan Bergstrom: Yes, Pia Mellody’s work has been extremely successful for many and is used as the foundation for treatment at the Meadows in Wickenburg. I wrote the book more as a user manual with easy-to-follow language in hopes that it is accessible to all.
Lynn Welch: Describe your procedure for finding a coach and editor and other resources to help make your book a success?
Jan Bergstrom: I found my coach and ghost writer through Lisa Tener. My writer and coach, Janice Harper, was an incredible resource for me.
Lynn Welch: How did working with a writing coach help you to clarify your ideas and the overall book structure?
Jan Bergstrom: Janice did most of the heavy lifting of organizing the book’s structure as well as writing in a relational tone.
Lynn Welch: How has your work changed since publishing Gifts From a Challenging Childhood or what opportunities are opening up? Any surprises?
Jan Bergstrom: My work is constantly changing, and my training business and consultation business is booming now. I have a small private practice and plan to search for more qualified speaking engagements and podcasts.
Lynn Welch: What do you hear from therapists and other readers? What’s some of the most fulfilling feedback you’ve gotten?
Jan Bergstrom: I’m getting feedback from other clinicians that it’s helping their clients deepen their practice of this work. My favorite piece of feedback from a client is, ”Your book has brought all aspects together in a very understandable way that helps me continue to heal.”
Lynn Welch: Can you share any insights about the self-publishing process?
Jan Bergstrom: Even though it took longer than I realized, it was worth having the power to make my own decisions about everything from the title to the book cover and design.
Lynn Welch: How are you getting the word out?
Jan Bergstrom: I am looking for more speaking engagements. However, I am finding podcasts even more fruitful. Podcasts focused specifically around addictions, trauma, healing are much more productive than speaking generally at a big conference. Podcasts have a designated and focused listener base.
Lynn Welch: How about Social Media?
Jan Bergstrom: I’m on Facebook, Instagram, Linked In and Twitter. I have three websites, my personal one, my training website and my directory site. We send out a newsletter on a quarterly basis. I am working on a portal for graduates from my training program as they are a big source for recommending my book. I have a YouTube channel that focuses on the 5 Core Practices and am working to create an Audible book as I am getting feedback from readers who want to listen on their way to work! It is a never-ending job of marketing….
Advice For Authors
Lynn Welch: What advice do you have for individuals in a specialty area such as trauma to write their book and share their knowledge with the world?
Jan Bergstrom: The best way to get your book out to your specialty area is to have a community that believes or uses what you are talking about to promote it. This has worked well for me. [In addition to colleagues’ support, being associated with Pia Mellody, who is successful already, and wrote my foreword [helped tremendously].
Lynn Welch: That makes sense that involving colleagues can make a huge difference in reaching readers. Do you suggest any time management skills to be mastered for those who like you have a thriving practice to publish a book?
Jan Bergstrom: To write a book [requires] skills in many areas: Time management, computer expertise, website and social media knowledge, marketing, networking and passion to create what you want to say. I used to work in marketing computers and technology before I became a therapist. It helped.
Lynn Welch: How would you suggest budding authors set themselves apart from others in their field through written word?
Jan Bergstrom: Be real, authentic and know that you are offering the world some type of healing.
About Author Jan Bergstrom, LMHC
Jan Bergstrom, LMHC has been 25 years in practice as a counselor and trainer in the field of codependency, developmental and relational trauma. She studied extensively with Pia Mellody, a pioneer in treating childhood trauma. Jan also practices Susan Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Therapy, an attachment model for communication as well as Terrence Real’s Relational Life Therapy model for couples. Jan is a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, which uses a body-oriented approach for healing, a method developed by Peter Levine.
Jan’s childhood trauma set the stage for a lifelong interest in the impact of childhood trauma. It also sparked her passion for healing others. Based on a framework created by best-selling author and trauma expert Pia Mellody (the pioneering author of Facing Co-dependence ©2003), Jan wrote the new book, Gifts from a Challenging Childhood: Creating a Practice for Becoming Your Healthiest Self.