Thom Rutledge is a psychotherapist and self-help columnist. He has been in recovery from alcoholism and was successfully treated for depression for six years. He is what Henri J. M. Nouwen called a "wounded healer" who understands the addictions and self-destructiveness at the heart of many psychological maladies. Here he tackles one of the most pervasive concerns of our time: fear.

At the outset, Rutledge observes: "Fear is essentially a positive mechanism, an ingenious natural design to keep us safe. And there are plenty of opportunities for that healthy fear to work its magic, guiding us this way and that, alerting us to danger and aligning us with what is good and right in the world." The major challenge we all face every day is separating the voices of healthy fear and unhealthy fear.

Rutledge uses the acronym F.E.A.R. to spell out a four-step process for coping with and transforming our relationship with this tricky emotion. Face the fear means dealing with the "bully." There is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide from fear. We have to confront it face-to-face. Explore the fear involves listening to what it is telling you. Accept the fear means that we must rid ourselves of the notion that we can ever dispel this bully from our lives. He's here to stay. Respond to the fear requires us to make conscious, healthy choices about how to deal with the bully.

Rutledge confesses: "Working with clients as a psychotherapist, with groups in seminars, and with audiences as a speaker, I sometimes think of myself as an energy-efficiency consultant. I help people discover their energy leaks; the ways they are thinking and behaving that drain them of the vitality they need to solve their problems." Fears do drain us of primal energy and they certainly distract us from work and personal relationships. Rutledge discusses some of the recurring fears that hamper his clients. He notes, "I believe that fear has become a bad habit for most of us. Maybe it is a side-effect of our techno-efficient world. In other words, maybe we have too much time on our hands."

Rutledge also talks about one of our favorite films — Defending Your Life. Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep play two characters who after death wind up in a place called Judgment City where they must undergo a life review to determine where their souls will go next. The determining factor is how they responded to fear during various incidents while alive. It turns out, as Rutledge proclaims, that embracing fears is a very salutary way of dealing with them.

The author concludes with a list of 30 aphorisms he calls "Thom's Nutshells." Some of them are quite clever and thought provoking. Here's a sampler:

• All things in turmoil in and around you are evidence that you are still alive.
• God flunks no one, but He sure does give lots of retests.
• Always move toward your demons; they take their power from your retreat.
• Don't let your insights live with you rent free. Put them to work.