Book reviews

gifted lives; basics of psychotherapy; the psychology of sailing; and more, including web-only reviews

Young, gifted and… surprisingly unpredictable
Gifted Lives: What Happens When Gifted Children Grow Up
Joan Freeman

Since 1974 Joan Freeman has been researching a large sample of young British people identified at an early age as being highly able, now mainly in their forties. Major scientific findings from this unique longitudinal study have been published in previous books and articles. This latest book contains no numbers or statistics. Rather, Joan Freeman has presented 20 in-depth portraits, drawing on extensive interviews with participants and their parents, collected over many years.

Each of the vignettes in this book is written in the form of a biographical sketch, interspersed with substantial extracts from interviews with the participants and their parents. These are not, however, impersonal accounts. The author writes: ‘I’ve played much more of a part in most of the participants’ lives than researchers usually do – something between a mother confessor and a watchful god-fairy…’

This means that the stories are written with real empathy and affection, and one gets a real sense of the author as an interlocutor, bringing her own personal judgements to bear. Only a few of her sample have achieved adult eminence, and Freeman provides graphic examples of the multiple factors which impact on life out-turns for individuals. She writes: ‘The complexities, interactions and unexpected turns of these life stories are all here… – the put downs, the strivings, the doubts, disappointments and depression, the highs, the parents who pressed too hard, the myths, the unstoppable urge to create, conflicting career choices, and strokes of luck seen and taken.’
In particular these stories show the enormous value of tracking the same set of individuals over decades. Without this long-term study we would never have known that a brilliant young woman, who got a scholarship to Oxford University at the age of 16 was then beset by depression, fell into a disastrous love affair, barely scraped a third class degree, and eventually found fulfilment in traditional family life (bringing up children and supporting her husband’s career).

Another was identified as musically gifted in childhood, suffered consistent bullying at school, which caused him to underperform at A-levels. He scraped into university to study philosophy, contracted AIDS during a brief love affair, began a successful career as a project manager for a computer company in Holland, but illness forced him to come back to the UK, where he has now gone back to university and is studying for a degree in physiotherapy, notable as one of the longest-surviving adults living with AIDS.

Again and again in this book, the stories surprise and confound. No one reading this book could possibly come away with simple prejudices unchallenged. Do most gifted people have easy lives? No. Does the career direction for most gifted children become obvious in childhood? No. Does intellectual maturity go along with emotional maturity? No.

In many ways, this book is written for anyone, not particularly psychologists. It shares some of the characteristics that has made the work of Oliver Sacks so popular. These are rich, idiosyncratic case studies, where individual differences are as compelling as the similarities. One could perhaps criticise a certain over-involvement with the material – which leads to some blurring of observation and judgement. There is also, perhaps, insufficient explanation regarding why these 20 individuals were selected from the larger sample. But these are minor quibbles when set against the sheer scope and depth of the enterprise. Previous work by this extraordinarily dedicated and humane scholar reflected the orientation of scientist and educationalist, the current volume reflects the biographer and advocate, determined to show that each life has extraordinary worth and richness. These true stories contain lessons for us all about what it is to have, and respond to, special qualities. These are qualities that both enrich, but also challenge, their possessors and those who care about them.

- Routledge; 2011; Pb £9.95
Reviewed by John Sloboda who is Research Professor at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Keele University


Psychology in the Real World: Community-Based Groupwork
Guy Holmes

This lively and thoughtful book describes the community-based groups and courses that clinical psychologist Guy Holmes and colleagues have developed over the last 10 years. Founded upon the central of insight of community psychology – that personal distress owes most to the kind of world in which people live – these projects have brought mental health service users and lay people together with the aims of helping them to better understand their toxic mental environments, to combat stigma and to seek stronger representation in the health services, and beyond. The author sets out the clinical framework for these groups by way of an accessible and entertaining discussion of the relevant scientific and philosophical literature. All of it interwoven with a refreshingly candid discussion of the practicalities, rewards and challenges involved.

So much more than just another group work ‘cookbook’, this volume will be invaluable to mental health service users, health and social care professionals and local people who are interested in putting community psychology ideas into practice, and to anyone who has ever asked themselves about the causes of unhappiness in our society.

- PCCS Books; 2010; Pb £19.99
Reviewed by Paul Moloney
who is a counselling psychologist in Birmingham


Enlightening easy read
The Basics of Psychotherapy: An Introduction to Theory and Practice
Bruce E. Wampold

This short volume was commissioned as the first in a series of 24 books exploring different theories of psychotherapy. Here Wampold succinctly reprises some of the ideas and evidence he put forward in ‘The Great Psychotherapy Debate’. His core argument: In psychotherapy, theory matters in terms of its function but not its content.

Clients (and therapists too) need a cogent and adaptive explanation of their difficulties and a set of procedures consistent with that explanation. Theory provides these. Without it, he argues, there isn’t therapy. However, for Wampold, the explanation and set of procedures adopted is a matter of preference not a matter of truthfulness or effectiveness.

As in his earlier volume, his constant appeal is to the empirical evidence – here updated but essentially confirming previous findings.

For those still baffled and bemused by the proliferation of therapies and their claims, this easy read may be enlightening. It acts as a provocation, both to those who are wedded to particular techniques and to those who only consider the therapeutic relationship divorced from a theoretical base.

- American Psychological Association; 2010; Pb £23.50
Reviewed by Jonnie Raynes
who is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital

Unaccustomed as I am…
Public Speaking for PsychologistsDavid B. Feldman & Paul J. Silvia

As a newly minted lecturer with a fear of public speaking, I eagerly awaited the publication of Feldman and Silvia’s book Public Speaking for Psychologists: A Lighthearted Guide to Research Presentations, Job Talks, and Other Opportunities to Embarrass Yourself! – and I was not disappointed.

Although light – weighing in at 160 pages – this book is filled with essential information for graduate students or early-career academics. The first part deals with general principles of public speaking – designing your talk with your audience in mind, how to deal with difficult questions, how to manage pre-talk anxiety, etc.  – alleviating many irrational fears we hold. 

The second part provides guidance for specific situations. Are you looking for your first academic post, and fear the interview presentation? Are you a graduate student presenting a poster? Or are you an early-career researcher who has  realised you can’t present posters at conferences for ever – and submitted an abstract for a talk!? (I can sympathise with the latter.) If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these, get this book – Feldman and Silvia write in an engaging manner, and their practical advice will more than repay an afternoon’s read.

- American Psychological Society; 2010; Pb £28.50
Reviewed by James A. Grange
who is a lecturer in the School of Psychology, Keele University
Highly practical
The Psychology of Sailing
Ian Brown

Written by a chartered sports psychologist who himself participates in sailing boat racing, this book aims to teach dinghy and keelboat sailors the mental skills to help them improve their performance and win. It achieves its aims admirably in an unobtrusive way, keeping psychological jargon to a minimum so that, reassuringly, much of what he writes reads like enlightened common sense. The reader of this book is helped to develop the skills that constitute a winning mindset in addition to the more self-evident requirements, such as physical fitness, rig adjustment and boat handling skills, knowledge and application of the racing rules.

Racing in sailing boats is arguably one of the most complex sports to master. No two races are ever the same, the sea state, tides and wind are constantly changing, and success in the sport requires the competitor to analyse a multitude of ever-changing data from the meteorological and geographical to what others in the race are doing, and to respond appropriately in a wide variety of ways. Championships consist of several races held over a number of days so maintaining focus, staying in the here and now during a race, a professional approach and confidence are crucial, just some of the skills this highly practical book aims to teach. The author's knowledge of the demands unique to sailing as a sport are clear from his use of apposite illustrations in the exercises with which each chapter ends.

I now have a book to recommend to sailing friends who ask 'Can psychology help me improve my racing results?'

- Adlard Coles Nautical; 2010; Pb £14.99
Reviewed by Colin Newman
formerly Executive Secretary of the BPS, who since retirement has achieved several sailing successes, including 2006 European Champion, in the International Canoe, one of the fastest single-handed sailing dinghies

Web-only reviews



Forensic Psychology

Graham J. Towl & David A. Crichton (Eds)

In a foreword, Mark Johnson (User Voice ) says: ‘…ex-offenders…we aren’t used to being included. We live at the margins of society…look[ing] threatening on street corners. But…we leave prison, there is no one who cares…to meet us at the gate, we have nowhere to go, and we wander straight back to the only life we know. … Stop telling us what’s good for us and start giving us some responsibility. Stop designing programmes for us and start asking us what works.… Only offenders can stop reoffending… Please listen to our voice…’  


This moving account underscores the editors’ philosophy of partnership.   In 27 chapters, we get a truly comprehensive in-depth overview of the UK civil and criminal justice system, with contributions from international scholars. This key resource for trainee forensic psychologists with specific learning aids and guides for further study is an excellent update for experienced practitioners. Take one example: think you know all about risk assessment? Crichton’s critical comprehensive risk assessment chapter even covers rare events (black swans) and the recent economic meltdown in 11 pages!


BPS Blackwell; 2010; Pb £34.99

Reviewed by Waseem Alladin, who is Consultant Clinical & Counselling Psychologist/Forensic Clinical Neuropsychologist, Centre for Cognitive Neuropsychology Therapy, N. Lincs.


Overcoming Anger in Your Relationship

W. Robert Nay

This book is aimed at those who are in a relationship with angry partners. There are lots of books addressed to those with problems controlling anger, but less common is to find a book intended to help their partners.


The author emphasises that the aim of the book is not to try to change the angry partner but to change the way ‘the victim’ reacts to put-downs, criticism and hostility within the relationship.


The book is based on CBT techniques and is described as a 6-steps strategy to reach well-being. The author uses a lot of examples and the structure of the book (subtitles, tables, etc.) makes it easy to read. However, support from professionals, in my opinion, would be essential for a good outcome. Dealing with angry partners could turn risky despite the author’s warnings to put your own safety first in cases of physical violence or other abuse.


This book could be helpful for the new IAPT services. Professionals could use it in assertiveness groups or also during individual therapy.


Guilford Press; 2010; Pb £10.99

Reviewed by Antonella Tomasin, who is a Chartered Psychologist



Islands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the Autistic, Acquired, and Sudden Savant

Darold A. Treffert

This book is an important volume on all aspects of the autistic, acquired and sudden savant. Divided into five sections, which progress in a logical manner. Starting with theories, such as quantum processing, neurological rewiring, and genetic memory; moving on to case studies of various savants, and then progressing to new dimensions of the onset of savant syndrome, to strategies of training innate savant talents, and finally, to developments in neurological imaging techniques, ‘cosmetic neurology’, and the integration and acceptance of savant culture into society, with respect, appreciation and love.


Dr Treffert has researched this rare condition for 50 years, and has worked with savants, so his writing is authoritative, intriguing and insightful. His writing covers artistic and sculpting abilities, musical genius, mathematic and calendar calculators, phenomenal memory, and linguistic brilliance. The author recommends establishing a ‘Savant Syndrome Institute’ in order to allow a better understanding of savant skills, including persons with other forms of disability, neurotypicals, prodigies and geniuses.


The book is a valuable resource, which I can recommend, as it is well written, clearly structured and most informative.


Jessica Kingsley Publishers; 2010; Hb £18.99

Reviewed by Gregory M. Westlake, who is a third-year MSc student studying Consciousness and Transpersonal Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University



Feelings and Emotions: Social Emotional and Behavioural Skills

The Film Clip Collection

Our MDT who work with clients with acquired brain injury reviewed this pack.  On the whole, we liked it. It consists of an information booklet and DVD with 30 short film-clips, representing emotions (e.g. anger, boredom, irritation, happiness). Each clip is shown at three speeds – slow motion, stills, normal. There is also a CD ROM containing the information booklet, student worksheets and stills for each clip, so you can print these. There are suggested discussion ideas and DVD links between emotions, thus easing session planning.


We thought this would complement basic CBT or emotional awareness work. Our main criticism is that the film-clips are from a library, so the format is rather American, middle-class and understated. For example, ‘aggression’ consists of two suited parents arguing, with the wife giving the husband a small shove at the end. We have a range of clinical experience between us, but could not identify the target population who would relate to many of these. I called the publishers to ask and they suggested schoolchildren.


Our conclusion: A fabulous concept which needs some commitment to a clinical population, then it would fill a very deep gap in the market.


Loggerhead Films; 2010; DVD £75.00 + VAT

Reviewed by Consultant Clinical Psychologist Lorraine Childs, Occupational Therapist Sophie Drage, and Speech and Language Therapist Caroline Cope, who are all at the National Brain Injury Centre, St Andrew’s Healthcare, Northampton 



Dyslexia in the Workplace: An Introductory Guide (2nd edn)

Diana Bartlett, Sylvia Moody and Katherine Kindersley

Using case studies to provide a ‘real’ account of problems encountered by those with dyslexia in the workplace, this book takes a multidisciplinary approach. Guidance and advice is provided on assessment and identification of dyslexia, tackling issues within the workplace, emotional responses as well as legal issues.  Other related syndromes are also discussed including dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder and visual stress.


Stereotypical beliefs about dyslexic workers are challenged.  Suggestions for adjustments and interventions by both the individual employee and the employer are provided to aid the individual to perform to the best of their ability. The benefit of this book over others is that it assumes joint responsibility of employer and employees for managing and making adjustments for dyslexic workers.


The basis of the book is to provide a better understanding of dyslexia and strategies that can be put in place to overcome issues that arise.  The authors achieve this by explaining terminology and providing examples understood by the lay person. Contact information is also provided for advice organisations, assessment and legal services. 


Wiley-Blackwell; 2010; £27.99

Reviewed by Gail Steptoe-Warren, who is a Senior Lecturer, Coventry University


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