Books from the December issue (including web-only).

Fear the pseudo-science

The Fear-Free Organization
Paul Brown, Joan Kingsley & Sue Paterson

This book annoyed me from page 1. Had I picked it up in a bookshop I would have frowned and put it down. I persevered, because the title promised much, those ‘vital insights from neuroscience’ that I could use with my clients to ‘transform business culture’.

I hope that most of you would not recognise the bleak picture painted of corporate culture here. They present numerous case studies of dysfunctional people and relationships, all trying to demonstrate their fundamental premise that ‘[f]ear…is what an overwhelming majority of bosses use, deliberately or mindlessly, to keep order’. I would not want to pretend that all is sweetness and light where I work, or in the client organisations I support, but their negative tone, and description of ‘greedy, performance-driven models’ was off-putting for me.

And what of the ‘neuro-science’ offered? An introduction to the limbic system, amygdala, oxytocin, and an updated Hebbian learning theory to say ‘the cells that flow together, grow together’. How do these findings relate to the business world? The authors then rely on the work of others – David Rock’s popular SCARF model and Daniel Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence.  

I did not feel that the authors’ 10-point plan for a fear-free organisation would have much credibility with my clients – the first point suggests that we must ‘have a leader who is good-hearted’. I cannot disagree with this point, but I don’t think this book offered me any ‘vital insights’ into shaping such leaders or transforming business culture.
Kogan Page; 2015; Pb £26.99
Reviewed by Alison Gregory, who is a management consultant


Creative ways to be less sad

How to Be Happy (or At Least Less Sad)
Lee Crutchley

You have to be severely myopic to have missed people’s current insatiable appetite for wanting to feel good. People are hungry for happiness, ravenous in fact. It is no coincidence that rates of depression and general dissatisfaction with life are going through the proverbial roof. So, another self-help book that claims in the title to show us all how to be happy may be greeted with rolled eyes. However, Crutchley, an artist and author, has developed this ‘creative workbook’ not to be more happy, but rather less sad.

The book is a practical, light-hearted, fill-in-the-gaps approach, which does not overwhelm at first glance. He includes many common CBT, mindfulness and values-based exercises within the number-less pages (encouraging us to deal with uncertainty perhaps?), and bite-size chapters introduced by his own personal experiences of depression. The sparkle of this book comes from its being peppered with unique, rather humorous exercises, challenging people to switch off the internet for the day and find analog versions of websites/apps e.g. Google = go to the library, do something spontaneous by only turning left on a walk, listen to an album you hate all day and find something that resonates with you.

Overall, this book brings a unique and creative angle on established techniques that may even inspire the most experienced clinician. However, this book leans more towards the internet generation, and as with any self-help book, it requires a level of self-motivation in order to ‘dive in’. Nonetheless, it is a nice light twist to support people out of a seemingly dark hole.

Ebury Press; 2015; Pb £8.99

Reviewed by Eleanor Parker who is a clinical psychologist with Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust


And we all lived happily ever after?

The Happiness Illusion: How the Media Sold Us a Fairytale
Luke Hockley & Nadi Fadina (Eds.)

This slim, but densely packed volume is a collection of articles from the fields of media studies and psychotherapy. The authors argue that the media has tried to sell us the illusion of gaining happiness by acquiring products reputed to transform our lives. Yet in the West, antidepressant use is on the increase. The mass media have transformed the symbolism of fairytales into commodities to be sold. This has resulted in the loss of their ability to entertain and educate. And even ‘retail therapy’ no longer holds a spell over us.

Given this situation, the book explores what actual sources of happiness are, in our societies. Focusing on different fairytales and their common themes (e.g. Snow White, the ‘Happily Ever After’ endings), the chapters discuss topics such as age, gender, marriage, reality TV and therapy, and how these are portrayed in the media, particularly on television. The conclusion is that we should just be ourselves – ‘warts and all’ – to be truly happy, and not fall under the allure of the fanciful promises of modern-day television and advertising.

The book was indeed interesting, but at times I struggled with the complexity of the flow of narrative, and the terminology used. The in-depth focus on symbolism in some chapters could also be overwhelming. This may be more the failing of the reader, than the writers, with my own limited background in media studies and analysis. With this in mind, I would recommend the book to academics and students in media studies. Those with a background in psychotherapy may also find it of interest. Overall, this is a very thought-provoking book, but perhaps
not for those expecting a bit of a light read!

Routledge; 2015; Pb £29.99
Reviewed by Dr Kate Sparks who is a Chartered Psychologist


An informative detailed summary

Geriatric Depression: A Clinical Guide
Gary J. Kennedy

When planning my review of this book I first asked myself what I would hope to gain from reading a book about geriatric depression. I settled on: an improved understanding of what is different about the aetiology of depression, response to psychotherapeutic interventions and impact of living with depression in this client population compare to others. I have to say I got all this and more!

There is indeed a comprehensive chapter entitled ‘What Causes Depression in Late Life and What Makes It Difficult to Treat’, which as well as acknowledging for example that older people are more likely to be living with a chronic physical illness and loss, also emphasises the possible impact of age-related changes to subcortical white matter that can both predispose an individual to depression in later life and make that depression harder to treat. Another chapter, ‘Effective Psychotherapies’, considers a range of therapies, provides a summary table of their distinguishing attributes and weighs the evidence supporting their use in an older adult population.

There is a comprehensive chapter entitled ‘Reducing the Risk of Suicide in Later Life’, which provides information about risk and prevention of suicide. However, many studies quoted here are not restricted to a geriatric population and the emphasis on the use of firearms as a means is less pertinent to a UK population.

I found the ‘Diet, Supplements, and Exercise’ chapter particularly interesting; although psychologists do not traditionally provide advice on these topics, it includes some valuable information which could be usefully delivered as part of an understanding depression group to help participants consider the potential impact of these aspects of their lifestyle.

Regarding limitations of the book, the author is an American psychiatrist, so a chapter on ‘Pharmacotherapy’ is to be expected; this being of more relevance to prescribers than psychologists. Some UK studies are quoted but the majority are from the USA and at times this may be unhelpful, as previously mentioned. However, overall this is an informative book that is easy to read and provides a detailed summary of current knowledge in this area.

Guilford Press; 2015; Hb £26.99
Reviewed by Dr Claire Pond who is a clinical psychologist with South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust


Behavioural Economics Saved My Dog: Life Advice for the Imperfect Human

Dan Ariely

Based on a wide range of scientific experiments, Dan Ariely’s new book provides an uncommon guide to research and everyday life. The author brilliantly explains scientific insights into the key areas of our lives, from how to complain effectively, why taking risks is beneficial for relationships, how to make use of exercise breaks to recharge at work, and why sticking with what you know is detrimental to happiness. The book illustrates a range of techniques on how to deal with common problems, based on theories in psychology and behavioural economics. In this witty and superbly written collection of advice, Ariely changes the way we think about various scenarios in everyday life, and shows how we can harness our irrational side to help us fulfil our ambitions.

Drawing on his newspaper column ‘Ask Ariely’, he examines real-life problems from readers, such as how to plan a family holiday, whether or not to marry, how to donate money, or whether or not to hire job applicants from the outside. These dilemmas are eloquently used to illustrate general principles of human behaviour and bring an understanding of scientific knowledge to a wider audience. Even more so, they show that irrationality is at the core of human nature and that research offers an important tool for solving problems in the workplace and personal life.

Ariely’s book presents a summary of lessons from research on the inevitable mistakes we make in our everyday lives, showing us how to make better decisions and lead a happier life.

Oneworld; 2015; Pb £8.99
Reviewed by Ursula Blasxzco, who is a third-year PhD candidate at London South Bank University


Psychoanalysis: A Very Short Introduction

Daniel Pick

As Daniel Pick says in the book ‘my aim is to tell a story of present-day practice, while tracing various roots in the past’, and that he does. This balanced approach afforded me an insight into current practice as well as providing me with an understanding as to why and how things have come to be as they are today.

As a student, I found this book to be succinct and of a handy-sized format. I feel that it is an invaluable resource for a beginner on the subject of psychoanalysis, it would also be a great refresher for the experienced psychologist. I intend to keep this for future reference throughout my degree.

Oxford University Press; 2015; Pb £4.99

Reviewed by Jenna Rollinson who is a psychology undergraduate with the Open University


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in the magazine it says that you have a review of Spectre, but I do not see it here. Does it exist?