Book reviews, March 2015

From the March issue, including foreign accent syndrome. Includes online extras.

A rounded introduction

Foreign Accent Syndromes: The Stories People Have to Tell
Jack Ryalls & Nick Miller

What does it feel like to wake one day with a foreign accent of a country you’ve never visited? Foreign accent syndrome (FAS) is arguably commonly misrepresented in both the media and public opinion as a ‘twilight zone’-type transformation. The two expert authors of this book seek to demystify this complex disorder via two approaches.

The first third of the book serves as a scientific overview of the aetiology, diversity and treatment research into the condition. Although FAS can be most simply described as the use of an accent sounding different to the one an individual previously, habitually used, it is evidently far more complex than this. Causes, diagnosis and severity are shown to all vary dramatically between cases, making it extremely difficult to treat. Interestingly, cases are almost entirely restricted to women, with the authors considering both reporting bias and differences in brain anatomy as potential factors.

The diversity of FAS is captured brilliantly by the second, larger section devoted to vignettes from FAS sufferers and family. Monographs, diaries, poems and art from around the globe show a central theme. Accent is central to an individual’s identity, and the swift, dramatic changes to it in FAS clearly leave profound effects on individuals and those close to them. Strained personal and professional relationships are shown during adjustment to this new identity. However, these changes are also shown to motivate, with those affected describing fitness and artistic achievements following diagnosis. A lack of understanding of the disorder in health professionals and confusions in diagnosis are commonly reported, showing an evident need for awareness in texts such as this. Although insightful, I think this section would have benefited from some concluding comments by the authors: identifying themes in experiences and areas for future research.

Reading this as someone with an interest but little prior knowledge in the area, I found this a rounded introduction to research and experiences of FAS. Diagnosed individuals and affected families, as well as psychologists and speech and language workers will gain much from the tales and concise research described.

I Psychology Press; 2014; Pb £28.99
Reviewed by Emma Norris who is a PhD student at University College London and Associate Editor (Reviews)

Highly stimulating

Perverse Psychology: The Pathologization of Sexual Violence and Transgenderism Jemma Tosh

Perverse Psychology provides rare insights into a hugely underresearched area; yet these are all issues that clinicians may be presented with in a day’s work. Human sexuality, gender identity, and sexual violence towards divergent sexual populations are discussed from a psychological perspective, allowing readers to fully immerse in the complexity of this area.

Some of the case studies presented may be so unusual that clinicians may have never encountered anything similar previously; however, this book provides valuable and necessary insight to the complex nature of human sexual relationships and atypical sexual arousal. Particularly thought-provoking are the discussions relating to sexual fantasy, including rape and murder role-play, bondage, discipline and sado-masochism relationships.

Tosh’s discussion of the contemporary problem of the role of the internet in relation to these areas and the devastating effects of cyber-bulling and distress caused by ‘trolls’ is particularly provocative and leads readers to consider the novel nature of grooming and abuse that the internet now all too easily provides. Readers are invited to consider the role of family therapy in supporting transgender children in contemporary discussions. This book is almost ahead of its time, pushing readers to think outside of the box and hauling them into the 21st century.

At last, a book that speaks about the unspoken, discusses topics that society would rather brush under the carpet and makes sense of the disorganised evidence-base. This book serves to instigate discussion and contemplation. Well written, well referenced – a highly stimulating read.

I Routledge; 2014; Pb 25.99
Reviewed by Kirsten Nokling who is a trainee clinical psychologist for South Wales and Vale NHS Trust, Cardiff University

A practical and open message

The Small Big: Small Changes That Spark Big Influence
Steve J. Martin, Noah J. Goldstein & Robert Cialdini

The Small BIG outlines how deceptively small changes can produce big results when influencing others. Social influence is introduced as the way in which individuals are shaped by the perception and actions of others. The title takes a practical perspective, distilling decades of research in persuasion science into easily digested chapters centring on a single factor of influence. The experience of the three authors, all prominent in the field, brings a critical and supportive presence to the bear on the title.

Though the individual ‘small BIG changes’ discussed are highly diverse, loosely these follow Cialdini’s six weapons of influence (authority, reciprocity, scarcity, liking, consistency and social proof). Real-world examples are drawn, both from the writers’ personal experiences and further afield, including: changes that lower tax avoidance rates; developing resilience in the face of failure; and building confident and effective communication skills.

The Small BIG presents a very engaging and accessible read, providing practical insight in a well-supported yet succinct manner. Whilst some may grumble that the book lacks academic detail, this is insignificant criticism in comparison to the overall practical and open message conveyed and fulfilling reading experience.

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

Clear text on difficult issues

The Oxford Handbook of Suicide and Self-Injury
Matthew K. Nock

The Oxford Handbook of Suicide and Self-Injury is a well-structured and comprehensive commentary on this important topic. It contains detailed chapters on systems for defining and classifying suicide and self-injury, with interesting commentary on the origins and development of current methods of classification. This section is followed by some excellent chapters outlining research detailing how these issues affect different sociodemographic groups across the lifespan. One of the highlights of the book is the collection of chapters describing different theoretical approaches to understanding suicide and self-injury. The biopsychosocial structuring of this section and the variety of different theories explored results in an informative and comprehensive read. Particular areas of interest are chapters on information processing and psychodynamic approaches to suicide.

From a clinical perspective, later sections on assessment and prevention of suicide and self-injury, were very interesting. These drew on the information and research presented in previous sections and provided detailed assessment frameworks for use in clinical practice. However, as the book is heavily based on US research studies and guidelines, the utility for clinicians practising in the UK should be considered. Much of the information may be relevant to clinical groups both in the UK and US; however, other sections is more pertinent to US populations, such as the impact of particular socio-cultural contexts and the nature of access to certain means of self-harm. It would therefore be necessary to take into account UK guidance, legislation and research in order to match the framework to a UK population. But overall, this book is a good, clear text on the difficult issue of suicide and self-harm.

I Oxford University Press; 2014; Hb £115.00
Reviewed by Dr Liane Hubbins who is a clinical psychologist

Every contact leaves a trace

Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime
Val McDermid

Since her heroine P.D. James passed away in November 2014, Val McDermid seems destined to be crowned Dame of Crime Fiction. However, her latest book is non-fiction. Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime tells the fascinating, and sometimes gory, story of the development of a wide range of forensic techniques. Every major criminal forensic discipline is covered, including fire-scene investigation, pathology, toxicology, fingerprinting, forensic anthropology, blood spatter and DNA analysis, and, of course, forensic psychology.

McDermid has researched each area extensively, both in terms of its scientific development, as well as how individual cases (and individuals) have contributed. Perhaps due to her high profile, she has also obtained interviews with many of the top scientists in each field.

Some chapters shed light on the historic development of a discipline, such as the origin of facial reconstruction in ‘Lombrosia’, the long-discredited concept that types of criminal face could be identified and categorised (used in court cases in the 19th century). Other chapters give facts that require a strong stomach: some might feel the need to look away from parts of the forensic entomology chapter, which throngs with the maggots and blowflies used to identify time of death.

It’s no surprise that the chapter on forensic psychology is the longest. To date, McDermid has written eight books featuring Tony Hill (aka Robson Green), who is variously described as a clinical psychologist or a psychological profiler. McDermid notes that the forensic psychologist offers ‘the perfect fantasy figure…someone who gets to look at people with an analytical and empathetic eye, but who also gets to be the hero’. McDermid identifies the first offender profile as likely to have been that made for Jack the Ripper; its more modern incarnation started in the post-war hunt for Nazi war criminals. But reliance on any one forensic technique can be problematic, and the murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common in 1992 was a low point in offender profiling in the UK. The psychologist Paul Britton created a profile of the murderer that led directly to the identification of Colin Stagg as the prime suspect, and contributed to the ‘honeytrap’ strategy used against him. The case was dismissed at court and Stagg received over £700,000 in compensation. Ultimately it was a different forensic technique – improved DNA analysis – that led to the conviction of the murderer, Robert Napper.

By the end of this book I’d learnt a lot about forensic science: and McDermid’s skill as a storyteller makes this an easily digestible, if sometimes gruesome, read. For anyone at all interested in the conjunction of science and crime, this is essential reading.

I Profile; 2014; Pb £18.99
Reviewed by Kate Johnstone who is a postgraduate student at UCL

Learning from the patient’s perspective

The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma
Bessel van der Kolk

Dr van der Kolk’s epigraph ‘To my patients, who kept the score and were the textbook’ is almost a mission statement for a career spent learning from both his patients and experts outside his own field who can offer ways to help those affected by traumatic events. This is a fascinating and comprehensive look both at what causes trauma and what its effects can be, not just to the survivor, but those around and involved with them.

It isn’t always a comfortable read – the statistics quoted on experiences of trauma are, frankly, terrifying – and the cases discussed are a painful necessity to illustrate relevant points. However the writing is compelling and pitched both at survivors (at the expert patient level) and those working with them.

The book is split into five parts and uses the device of following van der Kolk’s career as a timeline to weave the history of trauma treatment and development of the field together.

The use of neuroimaging techniques to examine what happens in the brain during flashbacks is intriguing and contributes to our understanding of both why and how people are affected differently by the same events. The final, and largest, part of the book focuses on the treatment of trauma. This section is again explored though van der Kolk’s encounters with each method. Because of the groundwork in the earlier sections and depth of coverage in learning to understand trauma, when each technique is raised and considered the reader is prepared to be more open-minded towards less familiar and potentially less mainstream approaches. A key point of this book is this approach; for example, for the patient user the discussion of mindfulness adds another dimension to the self-help type information currently available.

While Dr van der Kolk’s experiences, and the list of additional resources, reflect that he is based in the USA, this does not lessen the book’s relevance. This book deserves to be widely read not just for the overview it provides of our understanding of trauma, or for the outline of one man’s career, but for the insight it provides into the patient’s perspective.

I Allen Lane; 2014; Hb £25.00
Reviewed by Louise Beaton who is an Open University psychology graduate

A hand-sized ‘handbook’

Introduction to Psychological Theories and Psychotherapy
Andrew Koffman & M. Grace Walters

There are many so-called handbooks one can purchase these days, but very few would actually fit in your hand; however, the aptly named Introduction to Psychological Theories and Psychotherapy is in a rare class of its own being hand-sized, alas it is not called a handbook. The book is in the Pittsburgh Pocket Psychiatry series – a series of small books packed with content but genuinely easy to carry around.

Whoever argued that size does not matter evidently had this book in mind – a well-organised, succinct yet informative collection of theory, research, and contemporary as well as more classical perspectives in psychotherapy. I personally enjoyed exploring each chapter, and reading the interwoven theoretical backdrop alongside the explanatory and illustrative case studies. There is no wasted space or ‘filler’ words, the book is straight to the point and achieves its main aim with aplomb – to provide an introduction to psychological theories and psychotherapy.

Be it a handy revision tool, a useful text to refer to, or a starting point for anyone with an interest, this book would certainly do you no harm. Genuinely easy to navigate and thoroughly informative, Introduction to Psychological Theories and Psychotherapy is surely a must for any student of psychiatry, psychology or any other mental health related discipline.

Oxford University Press; 2014; Pb £38.99

Reviewed by Marie Sara Louis Crooks, who is an Associate Psychology Practitioner and Graduate Member of BPS


Personalising learning

G Is for Genes: The Impact of Genetics on Education and Achievement
Kathryn Asbury & Robert Plomin

Although the booming field of genetics has touched a wide variety of areas, including public health, medicine and law, the same cannot be said for educational practice. This book aims to change that by introducing practitioners and policy makers to a range of behavioural genetics research with serious applications for schooling. In doing so, authors Ashbury and Plomin defy the ‘blank slate’ narrative preoccupying education to date. Instead, a call for widespread awareness and adoption of genetically based personalised learning is stressed. In line with countries such as Finland, the authors emphasise a need for teachers to draw out and reward student-specific talents, in addition to the current focus on basic skills.

A key point made throughout this book is the need for society to recognise and reward a variety of skills and talents, as opposed to rigid curriculum criteria. Mental aptitudes in arithmetic, writing and reading as well as physical capabilities are discussed as largely genetically based, especially in the younger years. This has huge implications for primary school teaching. In PE for example, choice in physical activities is needed to allow matching of an activity to an individual’s genetic disposition. This is described as resulting in greater prolonged uptake of exercise in later years, thus providing support that has effects stretching far beyond typical classroom-based learning and into public health.

A clear vision for future practice in genetically sensitive education is provided. Suggestions to introduce personalised learning in schools include training all new teachers in genetic influences, providing an increased subject range for pupils and installing Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for all students. The authors recognise and reflect on the somewhat contentious nature of these claims and provide a useful implementation plan to install these techniques.

The book provides a great showcase of the work to date from TEDS (Twins Early Development Study), a longitudinal cohort following twins born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996.  It also provides a summary of core genetics concepts in a highly accessible manner for the book’s wide intended audience. In seeking to unite educationalists, policy makers and geneticists with a unified aim, the authors have successfully given food for thought and indeed, action.

Wiley-Blackwell; 2013; Pb £16.99

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


An indispensable resource

Hard-to-Survey Populations
Roger Tourangeau, Brad Edwards, Timothy P. Johnson, Kirk M. Wolter & Nancy Bates (Eds.)

This is an excellent book that fills a gap in the methodological literature. With contributions from some of the most notable practitioners of survey methodology in the world, this collection is exceptionally comprehensive. The book contains discussions of how to survey groups as diverse as people with intellectual disabilities, the homeless, political extremists and stigmatised groups, as well as a fascinating chapter on the challenges of surveying linguistically diverse populations. One should not therefore assume that this is a dry statistical tome; there is much here for the student, applied researcher and clinician who need a jargon-free introduction to this topic.

There are also discussions of sampling methods for the more methodologically inclined, including explanations of location sampling, which has been used to sample the homeless, nomads and immigrants. Some of the explanations of sampling strategies may however be difficult for readers who are not comfortable with mathematics with Part IV on sampling strategies being particularly challenging in this regard.

Each chapter is, however, self-contained with useful references for the reader who wishes to investigate any topic in more depth. A chapter-by-chapter reading of the book isn’t therefore necessary. The book may profitably be read either as a comprehensive introduction to hard-to-survey populations or as a reference text for those who are thinking about surveying a particular group.

In short, an indispensable resource for any psychologist – irrespective of specialism or level of expertise – who wishes to collect robust data about the lives of people who aren't always given a voice.

Cambridge University Press; 2014; Pb £35.00

Reviewed by Paul Webb who is a Research Officer with Praxis Care

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