My shelfie… John Hall

Visiting Professor of Mental Health, and Senior Research Affiliate in the Centre for Medical Humanities, Oxford Brookes University

Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates
Erving Goffman
I bought this book in 1966, the year I started clinical psychology training; it was a remarkably prescient buy, as I have continually referred to it, and have directed others to it. Goffman is often viewed as one of the original anti-psychiatrists, and this book has aged better than the others. It really is a collection of four essays, and the first and most frequently cited, on ‘total institutions’, has a core message of the risks of dehumanisation of both staff and inmates in such institutions, which tragically continues to be one that has to be heard. The fourth but less often quoted essay, on ‘the tinkering trades’, is equally valuable in understanding occupational relationships between servers and the served, particularly in psychiatric settings, alongside the more recent sociological analyses, such as those by Nikolas Rose.

The Token Economy: A Motivational System for Therapy and Rehabilitation
Teodoro Ayllon & Nathan Azrin
For six years in the early 1970s I was, with Roger Baker, an MRC Research Fellow on a token economy research project at Leeds University, inspired by this 1968 book. The project was conceived and supervised by Gwynne Jones (who was also my inspirational PhD supervisor) and Max Hamilton, professors of psychology and of psychiatry respectively. It was one of the first well-evaluated research projects in Britain of this form of behavioural therapy and contributed to those heady early days of behaviour modification and behavioural psychotherapy, which with crazy conferences in Wexford and elsewhere laid the foundations of present-day CBT. The experience of those six years has, in many ways, been foundational to my career since.

Madness Explained: Psychosis and Human Nature
Richard Bentall
This book has been criticised as a latter-day anti-psychiatric rant: but it has profound implications for anyone working with people with some form of psychosis. It is comprehensive and authoritative, with a scholarly historical introduction, and notably cross-cultural referencing. It is essentially a humane and research-based plea to view the complaints and experiences of people troubled by psychosis as not discontinuously different from those to which most of us are subject, and to replace treatments for psychosis based on diagnostic assumptions by, for example, preventive and normalising strategies and interventions. Everyone wanting to understand psychosis should read this book.

Psychological Subjects: Identity, Culture and Health in Twentieth-Century Britain
Mathew Thomson
After writing an article with Sue Llewelyn and Tony Lavender on the early history of clinical psychology in Britain, I have become progressively interested in the theoretical and historical background to applications of psychology. I soon became disenchanted with the standard creation myth of modern psychology of Wilhelm Wundt, Leipzig, 1879, and all that. Mathew’s book offers an alternative analysis of how psychological thought and practice has been absorbed into both ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture in Britain, covering the period up to the 1970s. His ‘core proposition is that a history of psychology’s significance extends far beyond narrow disciplinary horizons’. He explores the unfamiliar world of popular practical psychology with its own magazines, such as the modernist journal New Age, with their messages of self-improvement, and the significance of the mental hygiene movement. One section of the book addresses conventional areas of applied psychology, illustrating how teachers were both markets for and disseminators of the New Psychology, and he examines the growth of permissiveness, and a distinctively British ‘social democratic form of psychological subjectivity’. This is a stimulating and critical review of both the unorthodox and conventional routes that psychology has followed to the present public and not untroubled position in Britain.

The Penguin Essays of George Orwell
George Orwell
I have long been a fan of George Orwell, best known through his two major books Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. But from 1934 most of his writing was in essay form – a literary genre now almost disappeared – alongside reviews and journalism. These compelling essays cover a range of topics, from Boys’ Weeklies, Charles Dickens, and P.G. Wodehouse, to the more obviously political such as Reflections on Gandhi, and Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War. They are shining examples of plain writing – on which he prided himself – and perhaps unexpectedly humour, not just black satire. My book is a 1984 Penguin collection, but many of his essays are now available online – a free literary feast!

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