More reviews…

… from our July 2015 issue.

Ageing – a complex matter
The Aging Mind: An Owner’s Manual
Patrick Rabbitt

Ageing is a subject that affects us all, and Professor Rabbitt recognises this in the way in which he engages with the reader directly. From biological explanations of the senses to social explanations of recognising faces, each chapter thoroughly discusses the influence of ageing with the inclusion of supporting evidence and personal experience. This could be potentially heavy material, but the danger is cleverly avoided in a writing style that makes it an easy read.

The text switches from lay descriptions to detailed discussions for readers with a more developed understanding of science and psychology. The book can be described as a narrative story to read from cover to cover but also as a reference book to dip into. The facts are presented with a blunt honesty; however, it is not all doom and gloom. The hard truths about ageing are counterbalanced with a sense of hope and encouragement for how we can age well.

From a more academic point of view, each chapter presents a useful collection of well-balanced arguments for a number of ageing theories with a vast array of research evidence included within the text as well as plenty of references. Being a researcher into ageing myself, I find the concepts of ageing particularly appealing, especially the information on processing speed. It was refreshing to read a book with such a vast array of topics reflecting all areas of human ability. When one thinks of a book on ageing, it is usually memory and physical changes that spring to mind, but not so much of other more obscure topics, such as how time perception changes with age. After reading this book, you will gain a full and interesting overview of what occurs as we grow older.

Routledge; 2015; Pb £19.99
Reviewed by Anna Torrens- Burton who is a PhD student at Swansea University

Challenging pre-existing ideas
Female Aggression
Helen Gavin & Theresa Porter

The book is co-authored by psychologists from the UK and the USA, drawing upon global examples of female violence and aggression. The authors convey an uncompromising view of female aggression, which challenges the traditional feminist narratives that underpin both the public and, too often, the professional understanding of this topic. The evidence for their position is articulately presented and key points are illustrated with case material that maintains the readers interest. Although comparisons are made to male violence, the authors maintain their position that female aggression requires consideration in its own right, not merely as an adjunct to theories of male violence. It is this stance that is the real strength of the book andrequires the reader to challenge pre-existing ideas about the topic.

The book is a comprehensive review of a broad range of aggressive acts that are committed by women. It begins with a theoretical review of the literature, building upon this with a developmental perspective on the function of aggression for women. Each subsequent chapter takes a particular topic in turn, including sexual violence, infanticide and homicide. The narrative is engaging and thought-provoking as the authors draw upon the evidence but present it in a relatively informal style that makes it accessible to a wider audience than some other academic texts.From a personal perspective, I found the book to be a very interesting read and useful resource for my clinical practice, particularly in relation to intimate partner violence and filicide. I have found the dominant narratives around female aggression to be worryingly lacking, and it is encouraging that there is an increasing focus on developing a more comprehensive multitheoretical perspective that will ultimately lead to more effective interventions to address this issue.

Wiley-Blackwell; 2015; Pb £34.99
Reviewed by Dr Kerry Beckley who is a Consultant Clinical Forensic Psychologist

A beautifully made short film
Joe’s Story
Russell Hurn (Director)

This film, involving CHUMS Emotional Wellbeing Service and Luton and Bedfordshire CAMHS in collaboration with the Big Spirit Youth Theatre Company, was previewed at Queen Mother Theatre, Hitchin, at the end of May.

Joe, like most teenage boys, doesn’t appreciate having to get out of bed in the morning. But it’s much worse than that – he has lost interest in everything, cannot see the point in anything, but can’t tell anyone, because this would be an embarrassing sign of weakness, especially for a boy…

In a pivotal scene of this beautifully made short film, Joe sits slumped on the floor of the school corridor. Will he take up his sympathetic teacher’s offer of a private chat about what’s wrong? His alter ego floats from his body and does indeed take the decision to knock on the teacher’s door in search of a solution to get back on track. But in a cleverly understated shot of Joe remaining unmoving, we can imagine the more unhappy alternative routes that he might have taken at that point.

We were treated to the outtakes at the end of the film, which revealed the verve and perseverance with which these youngsters approached the process. To see this group of young service users grow in confidence, learning skills, making friends, and communicating their crucial message about how to access routes back to being able to ‘have a laugh with your mates on the school bus’ captured perfectly the objectives of the Service User Participation pillar of the CYP-IAPT (Children and Young People’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies ) programme.

Young people who have used CAMHS services, and young actors from the Big Spirit Youth Theatre, developed and acted in this film after a series of workshops and focus groups, facilitated by a psychologist and a systemic therapist who work in local Tier 2 and 3 mental health services. They plan to screen it in local schools across Bedfordshire in the near future. At a question-and-answer session afterwards, the young people involved were asked about their hopes for the film. They believe they’ve made something that breaks the mould of the patronising information videos usually shown in PCHSE at school. And more importantly they hope it will spark useful conversations about mental health, to remove the stigma around it, and enable all those other Joes and Josephines to access the most appropriate help in a timely way. I think it surely will – and more than this too.

It demonstrates the powerful effect that working in a group on a shared project can have on all involved.

- Reviewed by Jenny Doe who is a Clinical Psychologist in the NHS in Luton


Enjoyable bedtime read
When We Were Sisters
Beth Miller

This heartfelt debut novel addresses the complexities of families, friendships, religion and divorce.

Childhood best friends Miffy and Laura are forced to meet again, two decades after their parent's have an affair, and so uncovering the past and the pain.

The story follows the path of the two women from Laura’s present-day perspective and Miffy’s childhood diary from the 1970s. Pieces of the past are slowly revealed during the book, fitting together effortlessly and convincing the reader to not put the book down.

The engaging and down-to-earth characters are well developed, allowing the reader to experience the turmoil, anger and sadness of divorce and the effect this has on the family. Despite the difficulties, there are several laugh-out-loud moments at all-too-familiar teenage dramas.

Glimpses of the author’s background in psychology can be seen, providing more of an insight into the long-term psychological effects of childhood difficulties.

Recommended for a fast-paced, light and enjoyable bedtime read.

Ebury Press; 2014; Pb £7.99
Reviewed by Elise Marriott who is an Assistant Psychologist with the Community Assessment and Treatment Service, Hertfordshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust


Two to tango
Twins Talk: What Twins Tell Us about Person, Self, and Society
Dona Lee Davis

In contrast to the majority of twin studies in psychology, Twins Talk provides a fresh and much-needed voice to the subjects of countless studies. Anthropologist Dona Lee Davis, a twin herself, provides an ethnographic study of twins who participate in major twin festivals in the United States.

While these festivals provide researchers with an invaluable ‘database’ to study the heritability of various psychological traits and medical conditions, Davis critiques Western assumptions made by lay persons and researchers regarding self, personhood and identity. She challenges reductionist views of researchers who see twins either through the lens of their genes and particular body parts or as a series of testable independent and dependent variables.

Through interviews, she elicits responses from pairs of twins on how they navigate their twinscape that includes their experience of body and the bond between the dyad. She also analyses how cultures view twinship and how twins construct and co-construct their lives. By evoking the concept of ‘twindividual,’ Davis questions traditional Western dichotomies between self and other, nature and nurture, and so on.

While this book broadens the scope of twin studies with a unique perspective, it is quite repetitive. As the same arguments are reiterated more than a few times, the steam in them fizzles out.

Ohio University Press; 2014; Pb US$26.36
Reviewed by Aruna Sankaranarayanan who is Director of PRAYATNA, a centre for children with learning difficulties in India


Accessible and thoughtful
Understanding School Bullying: Its Nature and Prevention Strategies
Peter K. Smith

Written by one of the leading international researchers in this area, this relatively compact book is a useful and interesting text. Though primarily written for bullying researchers, I think that anyone from mid-undergraduate level upwards could understand and enjoy it. Professor Smith draws his readers into the topic early in the book by giving an account of his own personal experiences as both aggressor and victim. These are complemented by vivid and engaging examples of individuals’ personal experiences of bullying; again, not just from those who experience bullying, but those who use bullying behaviours too. The human consequences of these dysfunctional relationships are all too apparent.

This text’s breadth of coverage means that it provides a fantastic introduction to the area of study for anyone who is new to it. However, such is Professor Smith’s knowledge of this topic that it also contains information that more seasoned campaigners will value too: I certainly learnt one or two things despite studying this area for almost 20 years! The book covers core issues such as the history of the topic, definitions of key terminology, and a summary of the main research methods used in this area. It also includes up-to-date summaries of the academic literature relating to diverse topics such as cyberbullying, discriminatory bullying, predictors of involvement, and the effects of bullying. It’s topped off by detailing coping and intervention strategies.

Written in a style that is ‘academic’ in as far as it makes extensive use of published research, Professor Smith also takes the time to draw clear conclusions and to add personal thoughts on the progress of the field and its future. I found these particularly interesting because they are the kinds of broad commentaries that research articles seldom have the scope to make and because of Professor Smith’s knowledge of the area. The book is accessible and thoughtful, and sparked fresh ideas for me.

ISage; 2014; Pb £22.99
Reviewed by Dr Simon C. Hunter who is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychological Sciences and Health, University of Strathclyde

Curiously uplifting

Every Brilliant Thing
The Dukes, Lancaster

A visit to the Dukes theatre in Lancaster to see this one-man play proved to be an unusual and unexpectedly cheerful ‘busman’s holiday’ for a psychologist, dealing as it did with depression and suicide as its central topics. The actor had an inventive way of telling the story of his mother’s first suicide attempt when he was six years old, which prompted him to start writing a list of ‘every brilliant thing’ that he experienced in his world, to give her reasons to be happy and to want to live (e.g. ‘ice-cream, me’).

The list continued into his thirties and reached one million (and counting), taking on a life of its own and eventually for the simple purpose of simply noticing ‘every brilliant thing’. His understanding was that ‘you have to believe in a future that’s better than your past in order to be able to live in the present – that’s what hope is all about’.

He involved the audience from the start, easier to do as the play was ‘in the round’, giving people large pieces of paper to read out ‘a brilliant thing’ when he called a certain number. Mine was 1155 ‘Christopher Walken’s hair’. He also chose audience members to participate in moving and funny vignettes about conversations with his father, girlfriend and school teacher at important times in his life – his mother’s suicide attempt (dad), meeting his significant other (girlfriend) and being supported as a child by his teacher (and a sock puppet) at times of feeling emotionally lost.

It was a curiously uplifting show, and he invited the audience to sift through the box left centre stage of some of his ‘brilliant things’. In the end, whether the list saved his mother, who suffered bipolar illness, was perhaps not the point, but instead a reminder that at any given moment, we can notice a ‘brilliant thing’ that inspires or amuses or sustains us. As I left the theatre area, I glanced at the box of lists and noticed one that read ‘here and now’ and later in the café, I decided to notice that the chocolate brownie was indeed ‘a brilliant thing. I’d recommend this play which is on tour for anyone willing to engage in this experience.

Touring production, see and for details
Reviewed by Marie Stewart who is Principal Clinical Psychologist at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals

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