Book reviews

a novel contribution to the theory of mind; rethinking psychosis; protecting children from violence; and more

Grasp the nettle to effect real change
Protecting Children from Violence: Evidence Based Interventions
James Michael Lampinen & Kathy Sexton-Radek (Eds.)

Baby Peter was a 17-month-old child who tragically died in 2007, following months of violent assaults and neglect by family members. He was also systematically failed by a range of professionals charged by society with protecting him. Maria Colwell was a seven-year-old girl, killed by her stepfather in 1973. Similarly, this followed months of physical and psychological abuse and neglect. Again she was failed by those charged with protecting her.

In the more than 30 years that separate these cases in the UK alone, many thousands of children have suffered violence and hundreds have died violently. The abuse of children continues at an individual and also a state level. Young children are routinely locked up in police cells, prisons and immigration removal centres in the UK. Children are frequently assaulted in public and in private in ways that, were they perpetrated against adults, would result in arrests and prosecutions. Children from socially unfavoured groups suffer discrimination, poor education, health inequalities and limited life chances. As a society, our attitudes to children remain confused and at times are self-contradictory and actively harmful. They are certainly very far removed from the evidence on ‘what works’.

This book is written, largely, from a North American perspective but the case studies will be chillingly familiar to anyone who has worked with children. The text resulted from an academic meeting of a group of those with strong interests in this area; yet the editors and authors have avoided many of the pitfalls inherent in such publications. They have taken a wider view of the area of violence towards children than is commonly the case, steering away from the pattern of focusing simply on high-profile cases, public inquiries and the structural and organisational changes that may follow. Instead the book is held together by a broader theme: that many of our historical and social attitudes to children are at the root of much of the violence seen. In seeking to address this, the authors have taken a commendably clear evidence-based approach. They have in general resisted the temptation of engaging in the polemics so often seen when discussing violence towards children. They have also adopted a wide-ranging definition of violence. Unusually, this includes the role of some aspects of social inequality, such as lack of access to health care, as a form of violence. The majority of coverage though relates to familial violence, violence within settings such as schools and via indirect routes, such as the internet.

The contributing authors in this book bring a wealth of practice and research experience applying psychology to the long-standing and endemic nature of violence towards children. What unites the authors is a clear sense that applied psychology and psychological research has something important to offer in addressing and reducing what, all too frequently, becomes a cycle of violence and abuse. There is a real sense conveyed from all that children matter and that the currently dominant approaches are simply not up to the task of protecting them.

It is all too easy to scapegoat individuals or to add ever more bureaucratic processes for those working with children, all of which does little for children. More difficult, though potentially much more valuable and evidence-based, are psychological interventions to address what goes on in families and the institutions which we require children to live their lives in. Even more difficult but no less important are efforts to challenge attitudes to children, childhood and the groups that are discriminated against. Throughout recorded history such attitudes have tolerated or even actively encouraged the use of physical violence against some or all children. Commendably, the authors, whilst acknowledging the progress that has been made, at least in developed countries, do not shrink from addressing the serious nature of ongoing problems.

It is of course very easy to say what more could have been included in any book. Though the focus in this book is very largely on North American research, some European research is covered, for example, the work by Graham Davies and his collaborators, on the interviewing of child victims of violence. However, other important work could have been usefully included within the evidence-based focus. Research undertaken in the UK by David Farrington and Michael Rutter would certainly have added to the comprehensiveness of the coverage. Important overlapping research in North America could also have been discussed to good effect. A number of chapters touch on the difficulties in accurately assessing and managing the risk of violence but, surprisingly perhaps, the McArthur Risk Assessment Study led by John Monahan (see www.macarthur.virginia.edu/risk.html) is not mentioned. Likewise in addressing health exclusion and violence, the work by on poor diet and later violent and antisocial behaviour, undertaken by Adrian Raine and his team in Pennsylvania (Liu et al., 2004) is missed.

Notwithstanding such omissions, this is an important contribution to the question of how to use evidence-based practice to reduce violence towards children. It provides a number of directions for future work. Crucially, if we are willing to grasp the nettle and implement evidence-based policies, the authors make it clear that there are good prospects of real and effective change. A chance that we will not look back on the Baby P case in another 30 years and wonder why so little has changed, why children continue to be the victims of violence and why as a society we have continued to fail so lamentably to protect them.

Psychology Press; 2010; Pb £22.50
Reviewed by Professor David Crighton, Durham University



A novel contribution
Mindreaders: The Cognitive Basis of ‘Theory of Mind’
Ian Apperly

Despite a burgeoning body of research over the past 30 years on how humans understand the mental states of others, recent work on ‘theory of mind’ or ‘mindreading’ has lacked a convincing theoretical focus. Mindreaders tackles this issue head-on with a truly cognitive perspective on theory of mind.

Following an extensive and critical review of the existing research from children, infants, non-human primates, neuroscience and a growing body of work on adults, Apperly proposes a ‘two-systems’ account of theory of mind and posits three distinct processes that underpin mindreading (inference, storage and use).
In doing so, Apperly integrates contradictory findings about the efficient mindreading we use in everyday interaction and the cognitively effortful mindreading in complex social reasoning.

This is a novel contribution to the field and required reading for those studying mindreading. In addition, the comprehensive review of the literature provides an excellent introduction for newcomers. While this text does not directly address research on individual differences in theory of mind, it is a welcome theoretical account of mindreading that will provide fruitful ground for research.

Psychology Press; 2011; Hb £29.95
Reviewed by Rory T. Devine, a PhD candidate at the Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge


Rethinking psychosis
Psychosis and Spirituality: Consolidating the New Paradigm (2nd edn)
Isabel Clarke (Ed.)

With contributions from a wide range of authors, this engaging and well-written book offers a stimulating discussion into the onset and experience of psychosis, including areas of psychology, neurophysiology and anthropology. The practical applications of the theories proposed in the book are dealt with in the final chapters and offer session plans and ideas for therapeutic work.

The book opened my mind to alternative explanations of psychosis and highlighted the importance of understanding people’s experiences in the context of their beliefs, values and cultural background. A pre-existing detailed knowledge of the area is not necessary and the case examples and personal reflections of the authors bring the concepts to life.

I found this book enlightening and thought-provoking; it encouraged a personal rethinking of my own beliefs about spirituality. The themes of finding positives in their experiences, the concepts of shared and unshared reality and the ideas of a spiritual journey to help bring positive meaning to psychosis were all ideas that I will certainly take into my work.

A compassionate and reflective text for everyone.

Wiley-Blackwell; 2010; Pb £29.99
Reviewed by Claire Wilson, a clinical and forensic psychologist with West London Mental Health NHS Trust



Recommended read
Evolutionary Psychology: A Critical Introduction
Viren Swami (Ed.)

Why do women prefer tall men? What is the role of familiarity and personality in attractiveness and mate selection? How is parental investment determined? This volume offers a thought-provoking discussion and analysis of the evolutionary influences on human behaviour and aims to address questions such as these.

A coterie of distinguished researchers, including psychologists, anthropologists and zoologists, aim to add to the nature vs. nurture debate by building a strong case for the biological basis of psychology. The book begins with an introduction on the application of evolutionary theory to psychology, and then goes on to cover numerous topics, including culture, cooperation, life history, parenting and families, personality, and mental illness, ending with future research implications.

It is written for undergraduates, graduate students and professionals alike and is straightforward and accessible. Its presentation style, with examples, boxed sections and illustrations, means it is easy to dip in and out. Desired information, therefore, is not buried.

I strongly recommend this book for all clinicians. First, the authors are not zealots and offer a critical analysis of the studies and theories presented. Second, while it is essential to keep up with the clinical literature, we must also keep abreast of 'pure' research. Evolutionary psychology, whatever you stand on the nature vs. nurture divide, offers a useful, illuminative foundation that can inform our therapeutic approaches, whether CBT or psychodynamic. Third, if nothing else, this book can lead to fresh debates that keep our discipline from stagnating.

Only two main quibbles: the cover illustration is for me rather disturbing and there is a chapter about 'human beauty'. I find the use of the word beauty a bit too sensational or journalistic; attractiveness is preferable by far. Quibbles aside, this is a recommended read.

BPS Blackwell; 2011; Pb £29.99
Reviewed by Kristina Downing-Orr, is a clinical psychologist in London


Web-only reviews


Handbook of the Psychology of Aging (7th edn)
K. Warner Schaie & Sherry L. Willis (Eds.)

The Handbook of the Psychology of Aging is a good resource for anybody working with older adults. Researchers working with older adults should have a good understanding of the psychology of adult development and aging. This book provides comprehensive reviews of research on social and health influences that impact on aging, including chapters on age stereotypes, aging in the workplace, disparities in health among different social class and how control beliefs can impact on health and aging. The book also contains a section on neuroscience and cognitive ageing.

I particularly liked the chapter on cognitive interventions looking at training studies such as memory training and component-specific training, as well as looking at the link between physical activity and cognition, lifestyle interventions and even computer-based activities to improve cognitive abilities. However, working at the National Biomedical Research Unit in Hearing, I find it surprising that the book does not contain a section on age-related hearing loss.

Overall, this is a great book for anyone working in gerontological research.

Elsevier; 2011; Pb £60.99
Reviewed by Abby McCormack, who is a Research Associate with the National Biomedical Research Unit in Hearing, Nottingham



Religion that Heals, Religion that Harms: A Guide for Clinical Practice
James L. Griffith

This enlightening book tries to understand the force of religion in clinical practice when it can sometimes be overlooked. It uses aspects of psychological theory in combination with religious ideas and practices, for example how religion can be used as primary caregiver for someone who seeks an attachment figure. It uses finite details of various religions in its overall scope of what religion is used for.

Vignettes are spread throughout the book around the use of religion and implications to the well-being of different people. It explores the spirituality of religion and the constructive and destructive nature in how it works for people. I believe this book provides a personal viewpoint of various arguments about religion as a whole for clinicians from either a biological, therapeutic, existential or even those wanting to find a position.

This is a difficult yet thought-provoking book, not only from a clinician’s viewpoint but a personal viewpoint in how we use religious ourselves. It gives the reader different ideas on the use of religion as well how others might use it in clinical practice.

Guilford Press; 2010; Hb £27.00
Reviewed by Jesvir Dhillon, an assistant psychologist at Hertfordshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust


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