More reviews from our January issue

Including Caitlin Moran, Broadmoor, Elizabeth is Missing, and more

Mystery and memory loss
Elizabeth Is Missing
Emma Healey

Elizabeth Is Missing takes you into the world of Maud, an 82-year old lady, who may have dementia, we are never explicitly told. The novel combines the present day and a time around 70 years ago, linking the disappearance of Maud’s friend Elizabeth with the still unsolved disappearance of her sister.

So how do you solve mysteries when your memory is poor? Maud’s strategy is to write everything down, but the only problem is she can’t always remember what her notes mean. Maud’s frustration, combined with the exasperation of those around her, documents the impact of dementia on the whole family.

Throughout the book, we see Maud’s memory deteriorating: she goes from shopping for herself, although her purchases seem to revolve around tinned peaches, to being unable to recognise her own daughter. This novel successfully intertwines two mysteries and the fear and confusion of an elderly lady whose memory problems mean that as she is providing clues for the reader, she is forgetting what has just happened. Maud’s feelings are a clear focus throughout the book as she doubts her own memories based on the reactions of others: at times, her self-blame can be rather distressing to read.

Anyone who works with elderly populations, has a family member with memory problems, or would simply like to learn a little more about the experience of living with dementia, should be advised to read this well-researched book. Key lessons to be learned include the need for patience and humour when interacting with people with dementia.

Penguin; 2014; Hb £12.99
Reviewed by Alys Griffiths who is a PhD student at the University of Manchester and Research Assistant at Bradford Dementia Group, University of Bradford

 

Much to offer
Towards Organizational Fitness: A Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment
Gerry Randell & John Toplis

the theory and practice of organisational diagnosis and treatment for decades. In Towards Organizational Fitness they propose that: ‘Work organizations can lose their fitness and become sick, just as people can’ (p. 1). This useful metaphor is perhaps taken too far in the final chapter, however, in which a proposal is made for the creation of a Manual for Organizational Diagnosis, a putative equivalent to the DSM series produced by the American Psychiatric Association. Given the manifest differences between a human individual and an organisation, the analogy may break down when subjected to careful analysis.

Nevertheless, Randell and Toplis provide extremely useful background information on the need for organisational diagnosis and treatment, explaining the importance of a thorough approach and evaluation of possible strategies and treatments when organisations get ‘sick’.

The book is intended for managers in organisations and it is highlighted as not being an academic text. Clearly though, the book may be of interest to organisational consultant practitioners and occupational psychologists who might very well recommend the book to managers who seek their services.

The authors are to be commended for their concrete examples and checklists of actions to be considered in each of the phases of diagnosis and treatment options. In addition, a particularly useful pro forma is provided to follow up after an organisational change intervention has been implemented in order to conduct the often omitted but crucial evaluation stage, which provides the answer to the ultimate question: Was the intervention effective? This book has much to offer the manager motivated to learn more about why their organisation is not as fit as s/he would like it to be.
 
Gower; 2014; Hb £59.75
Reviewed by Dr Renée Bleau CPsychol, AFBPsS who is an independent organisational consultant

 

Gritty, crude and joyful
How to Build a Girl: A Novel
Caitlin Moran

The irrepressible writer and journalist Caitlin Moran continues ‘putting the fun into feminism’ in her first adult novel. Described by Moran as effectively written to ‘give the Big Sex Talk to my 13-year-old self’, this charts the self-discovery of teenager Johanna Morrigan in 1990s Wolverhampton. It is semi-autobiographical (as is typical for Moran) and asks the question; ‘What do you do in your teenage years when you realise what your parents taught you wasn’t enough?’ Cue a voyage of exploration and hilarious yet catastrophic errors.

Johanna emerges as a teen from a large, eccentric family in a cramped council house into the convoluted world of music journalism. The book centres on her quest to ultimately rebuild herself, from a ‘fat’, awkward teen who ‘talks like Elvis’ to something else, something better. Things do not go smoothly. After quitting school when offered a music critique role, she develops a fast-talking, fast-drinking, Slash lookalike writing alter-ego ‘Dolly Wilde’ and quickly finds herself acting up to this adult persona. What follows is a modern teenage cautionary tale in every sense: from lighter aspects of embarrassment, male idolisation and music obsession to darker tales of underage drinking, risky sex, experimental drug use and self-harm. Throughout all these experiences, Johanna is constantly learning and reshaping herself. Although set in post-Thatcher 1990s Britain, the experiences and angst experiences absolutely still resonate in the 21st century.

This is not a book for the faint-hearted! Although it describes teenage experiences, it is billed as an adult novel and is definitely suitable for an older age-group. It is gritty, crude and you will feel immense feelings of embarrassment, frustration and joy at the situations Johanna gets involved in. However she is extremely likeable and zany, living and learning throughout her experiences. Overall, it is about the two most important words a girl or woman can ever say ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. Although she may make choices that she may regret, they were her choices, and isn’t that what counts?

Ebury; 2014; Hb £14.99
Reviewed by Emma Norris who is a PhD student at University College London and Associate Editor (Reviews)

 

A historical snapshot
Broadmoor
ITV

With film cameras allowed in for the first time, this two-part series gives a glimpse into the Berkshire high-secure psychiatric hospital: Broadmoor. Widely reputed as ‘Britain’s most notorious institution’, it is home to the most dangerous and violent male offenders, holding grave or immediate risk to the public or themselves. Unlike with a prison sentence, Broadmoor patients have no set release date. It hosts 15 wards of varying security levels to reflect patients’ current mental state and to gently rehabilitate them towards discharge. However, relapse is common, according to behavioural events and medication lapses.

The sensational nature of the crimes and criminals concerned is emphasised throughout. Anonymity is a prominent feature throughout and key to the filming negotiation, with ‘front-page news’ criminals interviewed with blurred faces and pseudonyms. Background stories are discussed in depth by patients, with horrific stories of childhood sexual abuse, extensive time in care and self-harm.

The series does make positive efforts to represent the turbulent lives of patients to aid understanding for the viewer. However, I feel that an over-focus on past crimes and illness is at the cost of raising awareness of drug and talking therapies used in Broadmoor. Whilst physical restraints and patient rejection of medication is presented, therapies are not shown at any length by psychologists and workers.

Although the second episode was billed as showing how workers prepare inmates to leave, no strategies are actually shown in any depth. Given this unique access to the institution, more emphasis could have been given to rehabilitation efforts practised across support staff. However with Broadmoor scheduled for relocation to a brand new facility, this series does still unarguably provide a historical snapshot of the institution’s closing phases. [See also our ‘Looking back’ article a tinyurl.com/lszx7d3]

Reviewed by Emma Norris who is a PhD Student at University College London and Associate Editor (Reviews)

 

Coherent and accessible
Change Your Story, Change Your Life: Using Shamanic and Jungian Tools to Achieve Personal Transformation
Carl Greer

Change Your Story, Change Your Life, by Carl Greer, offers a unique insight into a unified psychological and spiritual approach for personal growth. The book combines mystic shamanism and Jungian analysis to produce a fascinating take on the influence of the unconscious mind. Greer argues that the narrative of an individual’s life can be used as a mechanism for reflection and mindful change. Through the use of Jungian strategies such as journalling and dialoguing with the self Greer argues readers can better choose the path their life takes. The book’s fascinating form of mystic psychoanalysis is genuinely enjoyable, and remains accessible to psycho-savvy academics and less experienced readers alike.

Greer begins by thoroughly introducing the concepts of shamanism and the personal narrative, before highlighting to readers how their current life may be being influenced by themes and patterns of experience. This section sets the reader up well, creating a palpable understanding of the book’s message, which leads smoothly into ways in which the future of this story can be changed.

The book takes this concept beyond assisting individuals, moulding a vision for entire societies which can shape their collective futures. The novel material and depth of thought creates an engaging text that challenges more stringently academic interpretations of real-life experiences, and offers a consistent alternative through transcendental thinking. The arguments laid out are not demanding, and Change Your Story, Change Your Life is unoffending and unapologetic in its more spiritual approach to personal growth. Whilst the language of spiritualism in Greer’s book may disagree with more ardent academic standards, it remains coherent and accessible; and even experienced psychologists can be ensnared by the novel interpretations and interesting arguments presented.

 Findhorn Press; 2014; Pb £11.99
Reviewed by Rory McDonald who is a writer and researcher at the University of Central Lancashire

 

Where in the world is therapy?
The World Within the Group: Developing Theory for Group Analysis
Martin Weegmann

For many psychologists, taking context into account is taken for granted. This is also true for most applied psychologists. However, this was not always the case and powerful reductionistic theories, whether to the brain, instincts or drives, still exist.  There have been powerful critiques of reductionism from philosophy for almost a hundred years. Some of this has entered psychology, while some of it has not.

Group analysis had its origins in psychoanalysis, which would in its worst form reduce everything to the unconscious. Yet group analysis did not do this and embraced social theory in the broadest sense. However, it has also mostly steered clear of philosophy.

Martin Weegmann, in this engaging and penetrating book, challenges group psychotherapy to look again at itself and renew itself through philosophy.As such, the themes are not surprising. What is the human subject and how are they formed? As humans we may be social beings, but does this stretch to the very fibre of our sense of self? Equally if we are formed by the social, how do we respond to the social? Thus politics is not something that merely happens in Westminster and affects our services and pensions. It is there in our clinical spaces, in the ways we conceptualise problems and it is also buried in minutia of the symptoms we see and respond to both in ourselves and in the individuals we seek to help.

Weegmann devotes an entire chapter to those who are excluded by society and in the past by psychotherapies. So homosexuals, addicts and the homeless are given attention, and the social matrices that surrounded these exclusions are explored. While it might horrify us now that our theories denounced and avoided these individuals, the more important and challenging questions are: Who are we excluding now? Who do you or your service reject and pass to others? Who do you think can’t be helped? These are difficult questions, but they are the challenges of this book.

So although this book is about group analysis and group psychotherapy, it is really a challenge to all psychologists to consider who they are, where they stand and how they want to conduct themselves in a complex world. For Weegmann argues, the world is not out there, it is right here and in all of us. I would add that it is also an excellent introduction to some complex philosophy.

IKarnac Book; 2014; Pb £24.99
Reviewed by Ryan Kemp who is a clinical psychologist at CNWL NHS Foundation Trust

 

Labelling children
Debunking ADHD: 10 Reasons to Stop Drugging Kids for Acting Like Kids
Michael W. Corrigan

In Debunking ADHD Michael Corrigan sets out his stall very quickly in a polemical style by quoting ADHD-related figures such as ‘41% increase over the last decade’ of the diagnosis (page xi). He links with the current ‘medicalisation of childhood’ debate by noting that ADHD is one of a stable of ‘highly questionable’ labels that are either misdiagnosed or over-diagnosed. Many researchers are in agreement with Corrigan that childhood is being pathologised and that we are increasingly looking at children with a ‘clinical gaze’ further exacerbated by the DSM-5.

This book is written for parents and details pertinent issues such as the side-effects of the medication prescribed for ADHD (e.g. high blood pressure, diabetes, facial ticks, depression, etc.).For a progressive practitioner in the UK, what is disappointing about the book is that he references IQ as a way of highlighting normal distribution when discussing what is standard behaviour and uses language such as ‘mentally challenged’ (p.11). If labelling children is the central issue that we are discussing, IQ has to be part of that debate as does the language that surrounds those children who require support to access the curriculum or their social context better. It is worth noting that Corrigan states later in the book that educators cannot solely rely on standardised tests to aid the support of young people (p.171).

Writers on education topics acknowledge the importance of whole-school approaches to supporting mental health, emotional and social development as well as school achievement and how these can be used to work with children and young people with a variety of profiles. Corrigan in parallel with this notes the need for good relationships within schools and particularly in the classroom setting. He further suggests schools want a reflective leadership team that influences the ethos coupled with a well-rounded curriculum.

Corrigan’s book strikes the right note by moving away from a ‘within child deficit’ understanding of children and young people but possibly needs to consider the bigger picture of labels.

Rowman & Littlefield; 2014;
Hb £18.95
Reviewed by Maura Kearney who is a Depute Principal Educational Psychologist in Glasgow

 

 

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