Book reviews May 2015

Nailing the fundamentals
Listen! Say Yes! Commit! Improvisation for Communication, Creativity, Teamworking and Leadership at Work
Harry Puckering & Julia E. Knight

Listen! Say Yes! Commit!, written by Chartered Psychologist Julia E. Knight and her colleague Harry Puckering, is an introduction to theatrical improvisation specifically promoting it as a tool for use at work. As a Chartered Psych, and long-time improviser myself, I decided to dive in and get to grips with their take.

This isn't the first book to take a more psychological approach towards the artform – see for example Clayton D. Drinko's Theatrical Improvisation, Consciousness, and Cognition (2013, Palgrave Macmillan) – but it's certainly the most accessible, giving a mix of reasons why to practise improvisation and exercises to get you started. On the whole most of these exercises are explained clearly enough that you could have a stab at trying them yourself, although in some cases you might be looking at each other funny and wondering ‘Is this it?’ – a challenge in translating dynamic, often spatial processes onto the page. There is the odd diagram, hand-drawn and with a character that complements the self-published nature of this book.

Harry and Julia nail the fundamentals of why this stuff matters: it teaches collaboration over competition, ‘holding on and letting go’, meaning building on what is there but having the flexibility to turn when circumstances demand it, and the formation of trust through laughter and shared endeavour.

The book contains links to the academic literature, mainly to models of leadership and communication, and the referencing is good if a little spotty in places. I applaud the authors for not over-stretching the connections, but still being able to draw my attention to research I hadn’t been aware of.

Ultimately, this book is aimed at people unfamiliar with improvisation who want to get a handle on how this might liven up an awayday, or introduce some fun habits for team meetings or brainstorming sessions. To my mind it succeeds admirably, providing an evidence base while managing to remain informal and engaging.; 2015; Pb £12.50
Reviewed by Alex Fradera who is a freelance writer and regular contributor to the Research Digest


Informative and interesting
Control the Controller: Understanding and Resolving Video Game Addiction
Ciaran O’Connor

Video game addiction (known as VDA) is often portrayed within media as the cause of various incidents. In Control the Controller Ciaran O’Connor takes a fresh attitude to this subject and offers a multidimensional approach through having experience as a video game designer, psychotherapist and a self-professed ‘hardcore gamer’.   

Interestingly, although internet video game addiction is mentioned within the DSM-5, it is not recognised as a mental disorder in its own right and there are no standardised diagnostic criteria. Consequently, O’Connor has scope to apply his multifaceted experience to explore the interaction between video games and addiction.

The book is principally a self-help guide written for addicts, their loved ones, healthcare professionals and video game developers, with its raison d'être being to help its readers understand the addiction from the point of view of the gamer. It is well structured and discusses the damage, signs, causes and possible interventions of VDA, including a blend of CBT and mindfulness techniques, alongside acknowledging the pleasurable side of video games, which creates an empathetic tone.

Overall, it was engaging and having no prior knowledge of VDA it was both informative for me as a clinician and interesting as a member of Generation Y.

Free Publishing; 2014;
Pb £12.99
Reviewed by Elizabeth Dewey who is an assistant psychologist with the Glasgow Pain Management Programme, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde


Exactly what’s needed
Dementia: The One-Stop Guide
June Andrews

In this book Professor Andrews brings together science, practice and lived experience of dementia into an invaluable resource providing clear answers and practical solutions to the questions and challenges dementia brings. The book is punctuated with insightful quotations from people with dementia, friends, families and carers who tell it like it is.

In a very accessible, down-to-earth and human style, Professor Andrews outlines what you need to know and do to stay well as long as possible. There’s invaluable advice about avoiding hospital admissions, dealing with professionals and planning ahead if you have dementia. The sections on the social care systems are less clear, but this reflects the diversity and complexity of services. The system is far too complex.

I wish I’d had this book on my caring journey. I would have planned ahead; I’d have practical ideas to help my parents live independently for longer with much less stress on us all. I’d have had more confidence dealing with professionals and would have known I was not alone in feeling confused, invisible or frustrated. For someone who may well get dementia, the book has given me clarity, information and options for planning ahead to manage my future if I do get a diagnosis. Professionally, I’ll be using the book in my work with dementia-friendly communities. The book is great for opening difficult conversations about dementia and challenging the stigma and secrecy that make living with dementia even worse.

Dementia: The One-Stop Guide is, as John Humphrys says on the cover, ‘Exactly what’s needed’.

IProfile Books; 2015; Pb £9.99
Reviewed by Sue Northrop who is a psychologist in East Lothian


Reclaiming the human
De-Medicalizing Misery II: Society, Politics and the Mental Health Industry
Ewen Speed, Joanna Moncrieff & Mark Rapley (Eds.)

The first volume of De-Medicalizing Misery was published in 2011 and was written by an impressive cast of leading mental health experts, who together challenged the so called ‘simplistic and pessimistic’ biological model of human distress. This model has, with support from the pharmaceutical industry, dominated the mental health field for a long period. The medicalisation of distress enables the mental health professions to manage the human suffering that they are confronted with while knowing there is little that they can do to help. But the medicalisation of misery and madness also renders people unable to comprehend their experiences in ordinary, meaningful terms. Yet the myth of biologically based mental illness still defines our present.

This new multi-author (20 authors) work derives from a series of conferences arranged by the Critical Psychiatry Network, the Hearing Voices Network and the School of Psychology at the University of East London. Their roots lie in the anti-psychiatry movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Since the publication of the first volume the medicalisation of ordinary human experience nevertheless has continued apace and the use of drugs for mental health problems has continued to rise. Nowadays we even can diagnose and treat people on the basis of there being a possibility they might develop a mental disorder in the future! So we still live in an age when feelings of misery, stress, confusion and fear are likely to be understood as conditions that require medical-type interventions.

Several contributions in this book analyse the process by which psychiatric labelling and treatment colonises ever more corners of modern human life, while others suggest alternative ways of conceptualising human distress and its origins. The criticism that DSM-5 has received is for the authors a sign of hope, for it is seen as a sign that the vision that brain disorders require quick technical fix may have peaked.

This book rethinks madness and distress, reclaiming them as human, not medical, experiences, and tries to suggest alternatives that better represent the complex, socially and historically situated nature of human suffering. It is required reading for all who are wrestling with the one-dimensional way of looking at mental health and pathways of care.

Palgrave Macmillan; 2014;
Pb £19.99
Reviewed by Dr Giovanni Timmermans who is a clinical psychologist working in healthcare in the Netherlands


Bringing Buddhism into the clinic
Contemplative Psychotherapy Essentials: Enriching Your Practice with Buddhist Psychology
Karen Kissel Wegela

The past decade has seen the NHS slowly but surely opening its medicalised iron gates to the influx of Eastern spiritual practices. Within psychology, this influence has taken its form in third-wave therapies (e.g. ACT, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy). This growing interest is reflected in the recent exponential rise in mindfulness papers published. The release of this new book by Karen Kissel Wegela seems therefore very timely.

Wegela – a private practice American psychologist – draws on her knowledge of Buddhism to offer psychotherapeutic ways of working which honour Buddhist traditions from a more secular viewpoint, in other words, without the need to worship any big gold Buddha statues (an audible sigh of relief from the NHS purse-string holders).

Although, unsurprisingly, mindfulness is an imperative feature of the book, it also discusses fostering compassion and insight to oneself and others, alongside recognising what Wegala terms as ‘Brilliant Sanity’, or fundamental goodness, in our clients, as opposed to the more familiar script of psychopathology. This book shines by suggesting a myriad ways to cultivate competencies in this area, offering scripts for practical exercises and even a final chapter detailing a clear ‘Mandala’ visual model to use with clients and supervisors.Interestingly, Wegela stresses the importance of the clinician’s own personal meditation practice, similar to the importance of personal therapy in psychology training, something which may be missing in current mindfulness clinical practices.  

My only gripe with this way of working would be the difference in the duration of therapy (sometimes one to two years) with Wegela’s clients vs. NHS time-limited psychology sessions, possibly indicating the lengthy process of this work. Nonetheless, these competencies can certainly be used as an adjunct to the more traditional techniques to develop an individual therapeutic style.

With compassion being a hot topic in the NHS currently, I would surely recommend this book.

Norton; 2014; Hb £20.90
Reviewed by Eleanor Parker who is a clinical psychologist with Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust


Tracing our roots
History of Psychology 101
David C. Devonis

The novelist Michael Crichton wrote that if you don’t know your own history ‘you are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree’. Regular ‘Looking back’ articles in The Psychologist and history of psychology content in BPS-accredited courses show the interest in psychology’s history, but some textbooks can be heavy-going. Fresh winds are blowing with this small book, which – as if to prove it is from a different mould – won the American Library Association’s 2014 award for Outstanding Academic Title.

Unusually, it starts at the 1920s and each chapter tells a decade up to the 1990s and 2000s. Each weaves developments and figures in psychology into a fast-moving story with that decade’s social, historical and political movements. Each covers trends in science and practice. As is common in the history of psychology now, its emphasis isn’t so much on ‘great men’ as on the influence of the zeitgeist – the changing spirit of the age. To show life for psychologists at the time, stories based around a fictional family round off each chapter, with each generation involved with psychology. Even more unusually, the book is detailed about psychology in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. The story leaves off in the late 2000s – ‘unfinished’, as Devonis writes.

This book’s great strength is the way it weaves psychology between events and trends in society. It shows that psychology isn’t separate, watching through a one-way mirror, but that psychology and society are threads woven together in the same tapestry. Key theories and ‘big names’ fit into a story that makes sense, and become more human than legend. I found the focus on the 20th century more interesting, and many books neglect psychology’s story from the 1970s to now. The writing style is clear and direct; I found myself looking forward to each chapter. However, the American focus is a weakness for readers in the UK: American social, political and historical events are emphasised, and psychology outside the USA hardly mentioned. Yet the book is still relevant, because much of the theory and research we rely on in the UK is part of 20th-century American psychology, or has roots in it.

This is not a book high on detail, but one that gives an epic, big-picture tour of the past 90 years of American psychology. Overall, despite its American focus, this is a highly informative book that would benefit students, psychologists and aspiring psychologists. We all need to know how the jigsaw pieces of our discipline’s story fit together, and how our ‘leaf’ fits into the ‘tree’ that grew us.

Springer; 2014; Pb £25.50
Reviewed by Dr Francis Quinn who is Lecturer in Psychology at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen

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