Book Reviews - April 2016

A selection.

Applied Leadership Development
Al Bolea & Leanne Atwater

I spend a lot of my time coaching senior leaders within organisations and I am currently involved in designing a leadership development programme, so was eager to find out what I could learn from Bolea and Atwater’s book on leadership development.

The short answer is quite a lot. This book is packed with a useful mix of theory, case study examples and practical advice. It is structured around a ‘J-Curve’ Leadership Model – nine elements that the authors consider leaders need to learn to be effective: both what leaders need to do, and how they need to lead.

I read the book thinking of client organisations that I have worked with and found the concepts easy to relate to. All the theories and models that I would expect to be included were (e.g. positive psychology, neuroscience, Brene Brown’s research on vulnerability), but there were also some that were new to me. It is strongly evidence-based and thorough academically with extensive referencing.

The fact that it goes into practical areas such as strategy and performance management, as well as the qualities needed as a leader, means that I think that this book would appeal to quite a wide audience – leaders at all levels, and those supporting their development. There are even a few formulas, which I know would appeal to a lot of my clients (engineers!).

There aren’t that many books that I feel that I want to go back and re-read – but this is one of them. Or if time doesn’t allow, I will at least check through all my multiple underlinings and notes in the margins.

Routledge; 2016; Pb £26.99
Reviewed by Emily Hutchinson who is Director, ejh consulting ltd

Feeling Lonesome: The Philosophy and Psychology of Loneliness
Ben Lazare Mijuskovic

This book ardently rejects the materialist and behaviourist view of loneliness as merely produced by biological mechanisms of the brain or caused by external conditions, and therefore as temporary, avoidable and curable. This characterisation fails to provide for Mijuskovic an adequate theory of consciousness that he sees as vital to accounting for how our mental activities interact with our brain and physical body. Instead, he contends it is our self-aware and reflexive nature that is the active source of our unhappiness. Universally doomed to a world of our own making, our loneliness is innate, incurable and inherently unpleasant.

The philosophical discussion of self-consciousness is thus explored early on in the book and deals with the cognitive roots of loneliness. Equally engaging is the chapter presenting the psychological roots of how loneliness is ‘birthed’ through our three primary traumatic separations: birth itself, the realisation of a separate ‘self’, and the separation from the primary caregiver. Mijuskovic goes on to suggest that the opposing poles of loneliness are intimacy and friendship.  He champions insight treatments that focus on ‘reviving and reliving the past’ and the intrapsychic dynamics of intentionality that are essential to our ability to connect with others.    

The themes of this book are exciting and will be of interest to most psychologists, even if some see its conception of loneliness as too broad and its depiction of the human condition as overly dreary. Clinicians of all persuasions will gain much insight from the therapeutic measures and strategies gathered in the final chapter that can alleviate and console us against the inescapable drag of our existence.

Praeger; 2015; Hb £38.00
Reviewed by Alan Flynn who is a counselling psychologist in training, University of East London

Practical exercises – photocopiable(ish)
The Therapist’s Notebook for Families: Solution-Oriented Exercises for Working with Parents, Children, and Adolescents (2nd edn)
Bob Bertolino

Here we have, just as described, a no-nonsense series of solution-oriented exercises for working with families. It is suited for the practising clinician with knowledge of the approach as there is neither provision of theoretical background nor exploration of skills needed to incorporate it in therapeutic practice.  

Each of the practical exercises comes with a clear succinct explanation, with the majority taking the form of a handout with questions for family members to complete and reflect on. And with 72 exercises there is plenty to draw from.

For a second edition of a photocopiable book (a selling point emblazoned on the cover), I was frustrated with the layout, which, like the face of a celebrity with one too many plastic surgery procedures, does not fit together as well as it could. Exercise forms cross pages, have limited space for writing, and include the rationale for the therapist. I could not help but think Arggh! maybe the typesetter would benefit from some solution-oriented practice.  

Minor gripe aside, a great resource for the practising clinician and one I will continue using – but probably not photocopying!

Routledge; 2016; £29.99
Reviewed by Matthew Selman who is with Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust

Introducing embodied cognition
How the Body Knows Its Mind: The Surprising Power of the Physical Environment to Influence How You Think and Feel
Sian Beilock

What is the relationship between mind and body? This book tackles the age old philosophical debate by taking the road less travelled, from body to brain. How does the way we move and use our bodies influence the way we think? From laughter yoga and action therapy, to math dance and power poses, this book explores the connection in a way that is informative and accessible.

How the Body Knows Its Mind professes to contain advice to help individuals become ‘happier, safer and more successful’. This is a debateable statement; however, any advice is grounded in scientific evidence: classic psychology studies such as Milgram and Harlow are presented alongside more recent groundbreaking research in embodied cognition. The book reads as a collection of evidence supporting a key argument – body influences mind.

Beilock is an engaging and passionate author who attempts to introduce the exciting field of embodied cognition to a more mainstream audience. The book provides a good layperson’s account of scientific research but despite there being some interesting examples of research in embodied cognition, it doesn’t reveal any new information and Beilock can be repetitive in terms of delivering her key message. It is, however, a very readable book, which presents scientific research in a non-challenging way.

Robinson; 2015; Pb £12.99
Reviewed by Charlotte Jewell who is an Assistant Psychologist at Community Lives Consortium, Swansea

An important contribution
Art, Aesthetics, and the Brain
Joseph P. Huston, Marcos Nadal, Francisco Mora, Luigi F. Agnati & Camilo José Cela-Conde (Eds.)

The psychology of art has been at the margins of the discipline even though aesthetics was a specialism of Fechner, a founding father of the empirical approach to the study of the mind. You might find this surprising given the huge audiences for visual art, music and dance – the three art forms that are the focus of this volume – with their long history, their presence across cultures, their interest to other scholarly disciplines. Following Fechner, a behaviourist approach that sought correlations between artistic ‘stimuli’ and audience ‘responses’ held sway for many years; but as experimental psychology took cognitive and neuroscientific turns, these paradigms have embraced aesthetic phenomena so that we now see the emerging fields of neuroculture, neuroaesthetics and the neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience of art. These developments were encouraged by seminal studies that identified activation in specific brain areas during aesthetic appreciation and production tasks. The volume edited by Huston and his colleagues effectively serves as a handbook for a substantial body of this theory and research and in doing so represents an important contribution to these fields.

It is a large, appropriately well-designed and illustrated volume of 545 pages, comprising 25 chapters presenting original contributions by international researchers from a range of disciplines including art history, biology, cognitive science, computer science, electronic engineering, neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology. It provides a valuable resource for specialists in the psychology of visual art, music and dance, for teachers and students in other disciplines who take an interest in these art forms (although it would be challenging for readers who lack technical knowledge of brain research and its terminology and will send many who have some knowledge back to our textbooks) and for cognitive scientists interested in applications of their field. I don’t imagine it being widely used as a course textbook since there are, to my knowledge, regrettably few courses on the psychology of art. Yet the book outlines fascinating research that deserves to be better known, including, to take only a few examples, the effects of brain injury upon artists’ work; dementia and creativity; neuroimaging studies of creativity; eye movements in the perception of paintings; hemispheric specialisation; individual differences in preferences for music genres; the co-evolution of art and brain.

Perhaps books of this quality this will influence university courses in cognitive science and neuroscience to extend their sights to include the study of products of the human mind that have such cultural significance.

Oxford University Press; 2015; Hb £95.00
Reviewed by Raymond Crozier who is Honorary Professor, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University

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