Book reviews

The globalisation of the Western mind; stories of loss and growth; the myth of autism; and web-only reviews
Imposing ideas

Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the Western Mind
Ethan Watters

‘Cultures become particularly vulnerable to new beliefs about the mind and madness particularly during times of social anxiety or discord’, notes Ethan Watters in this compelling book. Watters sees social discord as making cultures ‘vulnerable’ to new beliefs, rather than simply ‘receptive’, and this sentence captures both the depth of insight in Crazy Like Us and its main theme – that sees the spread of Western ideas about mental illness as a form of psychological imperialism.

‘Imperialism’ is perhaps too strong a word, as Watters is neither overtly political nor tiresomely polemic in his analysis, which results in one of the most engaging, accessible and well-researched non-academic books about culture and mental illness available. But in summing up he does tend towards suggesting that Western ideas about the disordered mind are imposed on other cultures, when occasionally there are more subtle stories in the details.

Not unlike the adoption of Western music and fashions by young people in traditional cultures, the shift toward new ideas is as often driven by local enthusiasm for concepts of wealth and sophistication as by deliberate outside forces. The book gives several examples of how changes occur by a combination of the two, as, for example, aggressive drug company campaigns to market the Western concept of depression to the public in Japan relied on the fact that these ideas had been already adopted by Japanese psychiatrists, many of whom trained in Europe and America.

Watters discusses culture as a powerful determinant of how we express psychological distress and mental illness. This influence is not always positive, and the book notes how Western models of mental illness may be detrimental over traditional ideas of coping, for example by silence or even spirit possession. The clearest example is how disasters and emergencies often draw in well-meaning ‘experts’ who clumsily apply Western concepts of psychological trauma and pathologise local reactions that may be psychological helpful but don’t fit the model.

I was left with a few minor quibbles, including the reliance on WHO data on how schizophrenia outcomes in developing countries are better than in developed countries, when more recent work has shown that there is so much variation between countries that this generalisation really means very little. These, however, remain minor concerns in the overall scheme of things. The book is not an academic tome and the approach is narrative, but Watters has clearly mastered the scientific research where it counts. As an introduction to (and perhaps even a revelation of) how culture and mental illness are intertwined, you are unlikely to find a more engaging and thought-provoking book.

Robinson; 2011; Pb £9.99
Reviewed by Vaughan Bell who is with Médecins sans Frontières, Colombia, and the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London


Milgram’s mind at work

The Individual in a Social World: Essays and Experiments (3rd expanded edition)
Stanley Milgram, edited by Thomas Blass

‘This book requires that you read it. You have no choice.’ As it happens, Milgram studied a lot more than just obedience. He also studied such diverse subjects as the influence of social norms on behaviour, the ethics of science, the influence of the built environment on behaviour and even the impact of computer-mediated communication – social networking – on social relations.
Milgram explores these issues with exciting experiments and essays, reported with an elegance of prose that makes him a joy to read. This is where the true value of this book lies. Through the essays and commentaries, we can get a glimpse of Milgram’s mind at work, we can see the issues that excite and fascinate him, and see how he explores their ramifications for science and society.

Milgram is not perfect – sometimes his research seems paradoxically limited in scope, restricted to a specific sociopolitical and cultural context. Yet despite this, the general scope of Milgram’s vision, and ease of his prose make this an essential book for anyone with an interest in (social) psychology.

Pinter & Martin; 2010; Pb £19.95
Reviewed by Bryn Coles who is a Research Associate in the Division of Health Research, Lancaster University

 
Left wanting

Children of Divorce: Stories of Loss and Growth (2nd edn)
John H. Harvey & Mark A. Fine

This accessible book is based on the ‘commentaries’ of 1200 ‘children of divorce’ following a course on divorce imparted by the authors. It opens with a comprehensive review of relevant literature and a discussion of the theoretical perspective and methods of the study. Thereafter, each of the principal themes identified, including ‘Voices of Hope’ and ‘Family Chaos and Resilience’, are presented and illustrated with representative commentaries, with intermittent analysis. Finally, the themes are discussed in relation to existing literature.

With professional and personal experience of the subject matter, I offered to review the book with enthusiasm but was ultimately left wanting. The stories aren’t generalisable to anyone but American university students (studying divorce),  and as the authors notably comment:  ‘Incidentally, by the end of the course, many of the students had changed their position on this topic…’ Incidentally?

In short, the book makes interesting light reading and the stories shared are varied and rich. However, I would not recommend it to those looking for a more robust exploration of this population. 

Routledge: 2010; Pb £17.50
Reviewed by Kelly Lewis-Cole
who is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist in private practice in Andalucia, Spain
 

A valuable lesson

Peer Groups and Children’s Development
Christine Howe

The influence of peer groups on children’s development is a commonly debated topic in contemporary literature. This book focuses on children’s experiences with their peers within an educational context, highlighting how they have the potential to influence their personal, social and intellectual development.
A number of issues are considered, including classroom structure and variation in pupil ability and learning style. The importance of pupil interaction, group status and friendship is also discussed. Throughout the text, both the positive and negative effects of peer group experiences on development are highlighted.

The book also presents arguments from both educational and psychological perspectives, emphasising the need for an interdisciplinary approach to the topics in hand. The structure of the text is easy to follow, and the opinions included are supported by the presentation of relevant theory and research. However, a focus on development within education does mean that little information is provided about peer group experiences beyond this context.

Wiley-Blackwell; 2010; Pb £27.99
Reviewed by Dave Heavens
who is Research Assistant/
Assistant Psychologist with Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust

 
‘Analytic contact’

Love, Hate and Knowledge: The Kleinian Method and the Future of Psychoanalysis
Robert Waska

Psychoanalysis, according to Waska, faces significant challenges for it to survive as a method of therapy. His argument is that the field has become embroiled in internal arguments about theory and technique, to the extent that it has lost touch with current public needs. To address this situation, his book promotes the concept of ‘analytic contact’ – the consistent exploration of transference and phantasies, which for him defines psychoanalysis rather than criteria such as frequency of sessions, use of the couch or duration of treatment.

Throughout the book Waska uses interesting and informative case studies to illustrate how his analytic contact principle works to inform practice. Reading his studies, I am left with the impression his concept is sensible and useful. However, I feel that it needs to be incorporated within a containing and structured therapeutic environment, which did not come across strongly in his writing.

Overall, this is an interesting and informative book, particularly the sections about patient relationships to self-knowledge, which will appeal to a select audience.

Karnac; 2010; Pb £24.99
Reviewed by Mark Wylie
who is a clinical psychologist with Suffolk Community Healthcare

 

An alternative voice

The Myth of Autism
Sami Timimi, Neil Gardner & Brian McCabe

Just looking at the brief biographies of the authors of this book, I could not help but be intrigued, and a little bit excited. Written by a child psychiatrist and two adults who have received a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder, the book is an exploration of the conditions that have constructed a spectrum, one that they claim is ill-defined and unsupported by evidence. The authors waste no time in making their beliefs very clear within the preface of the book with the bold statement that ‘there is no such thing as autism and the label should be abolished’. This is a brave statement indeed, given the inevitable emotions attached
to such a subject. What follows however, is an in-depth analysis of the scientific, social and political conditions that contribute to the construction of the concept of autism.

The book sometimes loses balance, but you cannot help but be moved to intrigue throughout. As an example, a discussion of dominant social structures that value service industry, and thus social communication skills, implied that there is nowhere for people who are ‘different’ in this respect, to hide. Fundamentally, this book caught my imagination. There were many facets of the book that I have no doubt will feel challenging to a variety of readers, but there were parts that also put words to my own concerns as a practitioner. Writing on autism tends to be heavily weighted towards the contrary view, and as the literature around the apparent genetic contribution to autism continues to gather momentum, it is refreshing and I feel, necessary, to hear an alternative voice among the clamour.

Palgrave Macmillan; 2011;
Pb £19.99
Reviewed by Ian Smillie
who is an educational psychologist with Newport Borough Council

 
Web only reviews

Psychotherapy and Culture: Weaving Inner and Outer Worlds
Zack Eleftheriadou (Ed.)
This book provides a fascinating discussion of the ways in which cultural issues can influence clinical work. It offers an interesting and varied collection of writings from different authors all with extensive experience of this field.

Initial chapters provide a discussion of psychosocial constructions of culture and identity. Later chapters go on to provide ideas about how issues of culture can present at different stages of therapy. The experiences of first, second, and third generation immigrants and asylum seekers are discussed in relation to therapy, consultation, and service development. I found that the authors’ use of case studies and clinical reflections brought the ideas to life.

The book draws heavily on psychoanalytic approaches and presupposes some knowledge of psychoanalytic concepts. Therefore, I feel that this book would be most suitable for people with some background knowledge of this area. Due to the focus on culture in psychotherapeutic settings, I feel that it would also be of particular interest to clinicians involved in offering psychological therapy. I certainly found that it provided a wealth of ideas for my own practice.

Karnac; 2010; Pb £20.99
Reviewed by Dr Liane Hubbins, who is a clinical psychologist


Diagnostic Measurement: Theory, Methods, and Applications
André A. Rupp, Jonathan Templin & Robert A. Henson

This book is for ‘any student, educator, scientist, or professional interested in learning about the theory, methods and applications of [quantitative approaches to the] DCMs [diagnostic classification models]’ (p.ix). DCMs are at both the conceptual heart and the daily professional practice of members of the British Psychological Society – and many other professions.

The Series Editor rightly highlights the multidimensional context of many assessment tools designed to produce information that can classify accurately, and facilitate the valid identification of patterns of relative strengths and limitations. The reader was stopped by the assertion that identification involved ‘where and in what way a respondent is deficient’ (p.v). Distinguishing between ‘different’ and ‘deficient’ is conceptually and operationally problematic. The perennially challenging issue of parameter complexity is helpfully analysed.

Arguably, the distinction between institutional decision making (based on information concerning a group of individuals) and individual decision making (based on the centrality of individual uniqueness) merited deeper consideration. On balance, this is a thought-provoking and professionally enriching book.

Guilford Press; 2010; Hb £51.00
Reviewed by Peter D. Pumfrey who is Emeritus Professor of Education of the University of Manchester, and Visiting Professor of Education at the University of Worcester Institute of Education, Centre for Education and Inclusion Studies

 
Telling Stories? Attachment-based Approaches to the Treatment of Psychosis.
Sarah Benamer (Ed.)
As a first-year trainee trying to absorb as much information as possible, I was thrilled to receive this intriguing and thought-provoking read through the post. I was not disappointed!

Benamer successfully introduces the reader into the world of attachment-based approaches for psychosis providing both extensive academic and clinical insights as well as inspirational and creative service-user stories.

I found this a highly accessible text with short succinct chapters smoothly leading the reader through rich research, discussions, debates and personal accounts of the politics, theories, assumptions and concealed elements of the meaning of a psychosis diagnosis.

This book has given me fresh and inspiring insights into how to approach working with the distressing effects of psychosis, the impact of repercussions of observations and decisions made by professionals whilst also, and arguably more importantly, given me more strength to wonder ‘why’ for the client who may not be able to do it for themselves.

What a true gem!

Karnac; 2010; Pb £16.99
Reviewed by Hannah Butler, who is a trainee clinical psychologist, University of Manchester


Coping with Work Stress – A Review and Critique
Philip J. Dewe, Michael P. O’Driscol & Cary L. Cooper

Many psychologists working within the public sector at the current time will have personal experience of ‘coping with work stress’ relating to the specific stressors of ‘organisational change’ and potentially ‘job insecurity’.

As well as exploring these, and other, work-related stressors, this authoritative text sets out in great detail the theory and research around individual and organisational coping strategies and highlights best practice in relation to stress management interventions. It also considers difficulties inherent in conducting and reaching conclusions within coping research alongside exploration of new and future directions for research and approaches to intervention.

The style of the book is academic, and the prose could be enlivened by the use of additional visuals and layouts to highlight key points, themes and conclusions. However, the authors have set out to provide a ‘review and critique’, which necessitates the level of detail and debate within it.

The book may be of primary interest to organisational psychologists but provides a fascinating exploration of this (sadly) growing area for all those interested in coping – whether this is for personal or professional reasons!

Wiley-Blackwell; 2010; Pb £31.00  
Reviewed by Katinka Bryan, who is an educational psychologist

 
Anatomy and Physiology for Psychotherapists: Connecting Body and Soul
Kathrin A. Stauffer

This accessible work from Kathrin Stauffer carries the potential to influence training courses and also develop the understanding of psychological professionals of the role of the body–mind dynamic in their work. In it she helps our understanding about the human condition as experienced in our body–mind through an exploration of its integrative nature.

It is a good text for those who know little of anatomy and physiology and an excellent review for those of us who need it. At the same time the book allows the reader to think and reflect on the body–mind dynamics by the judicious use of case material. Stauffer originally trained as a biochemist and is now an experienced body psychotherapist she manages to bring the rigour of both these disciplines to her work.

By exploring each of them in turn, she shows how paying attention to the systems of our bodies can develop the art and craft of psychotherapy. One example of importance is the chapter on fluids and connective tissue, illustrating the paradox of boundaries in psychotherapeutic work and a new way of thinking about these.

The integration of body–mind illustrated by Stauffer’s book is also an integration of psychological understanding, clinical application and appreciation of the complexity of the human body–mind.

Ultimately the question that requires answering is does she achieve a contribution of worth to a unifying theory and understanding of the practice of body–mind integration in psychotherapy?

From my reading of this textbook, she does.

W.W. Norton; 2010; Pb £25.00
Reviewed by Carmen Joanne Ablack, who is an Integrative Body Psychotherapist, Supervisor and Trainer

 
Sample titles just in:

‘Adolescence’, Pregnancy and Abortion Catriona Macleod
Sex, Murder and the Meaning of Life Douglas T. Kenrick
The Oxford Handbook of the Self Shaun Gallagher (ed.)
Consumer Culture, Identity and Well-being Helga Dittmar
Freud on Coke David Cohen
Deception: A Young Person’s Life Skill? Rachel Taylor and Lynsey Gozna
Narrative and the Politics of Identity Phillip L. Hammack

For a full list of books available for review and information on reviewing for The Psychologist, see www.bps.org.uk/books

Send books for potential review to The Psychologist,
48 Princess Road East, Leicester LE1 7DR



BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber