Managing our colourful emotions through connection

My Intense Emotions Handbook: Manage Your Emotions and Connect Better with Others (Jessica Kingsley Publishers) by Sue Knowles, Bridie Gallagher, and Hannah Bromley; reviewed by Jo Kirk.

Emotions bring colour to our lives; the challenge is learning to handle them, Kim Golding says in the foreword, beginning the non-pathologizing and non-shaming narrative that runs throughout the book.

Authored by two clinical psychologists and an expert by experience, the book is aimed at an audience of 14+ and written in a conversational tone. There are four parts: Part 1 starts with psychoeducation about intense emotions and how early relationships can impact on coping; Part 2 explores what can help, presenting a range of emotional regulation and distress tolerance strategies; Part 3 focusses on what helps within relationships, with reference to mentalization and assertiveness, and Part 4 supports the reader to ‘put it all together’, providing information on sources of help and a template self-care plan. These sections are followed by appendices with a template for young people to develop their own psychological formulation, and information about medication. The use of acronyms aids memory and generalisability. 

The authors strive to offer information in an accessible but non-patronising style, and mostly achieve this. Complex topics are tackled with reference to psychological theory e.g., attachment theory, and mentalization. Illustrations and diagrams help break up the text, but the chapters in Part 1 are wordy. Younger readers or those with literacy and /or attentional difficulties might require additional support to understand or work through the content.

Part 1 beautifully mentalizes what the reader might be thinking as they embark on the book, as if the authors are alongside the reader, developing their trust and engagement. It seemed that Part 4 did not pay the same attention to the relationship with the reader. The authors focus on the next steps, and information about other sources of support rather than the experience of the ending / moving on. Given the focus of this book on emotions and the acknowledgment of the importance of relationships I’d liked to have seen a similar chapter to the one at the beginning, mentalizing what might’ve come up during this work and in the ending or transition to other forms of support. 

Nevertheless, this an excellent book with a formulation driven approach; asking what happened to you, focussing on self-regulation through coping strategies, and emphasising the need for connectedness in healthy relationships. It is one that I will hold in mind and suggest to young people who might work through it on their own, or in the context of a trusting relationship.

- Reviewed by Dr Jo Kirk, Clinical Psychologist in CAMHS, in Fostering and Adoption

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