Book reviews August 2016

A selection including 'Talking sense about medicine'.

Witty words of wisdom
Talking Sense About Medicine
Richard Asher

Talking Sense About Medicine presents a collection of writings from the renowned physician Richard Asher (1912–1969). Asher is delightfully frank in his writing style and provides advice about good writing and logical reasoning that are as relevant today as they were over 50 years ago when that very advice was written by typewriter.

This book will appeal to psychologists who are interested in organic causes underlying psychological symptoms, as Asher himself was. But that’s not all it has to offer. Delving much deeper into meta-cognition, Asher provides a thought-provoking discussion of how the language we use to describe disease will alter the way we think of it, and the treatment provided.

Well ahead of his time, Asher also discusses the need for evidence-based medicine, and the therapeutic benefits of placebo, including a sense of ‘salesmanship’ from the physician. Some of the topics covered are dense, but Asher leads the reader through, speaking directly to us with a level of clarity to be admired.

Asher is kind enough to share with us his own advice for writing, and as a PhD student in the final writing stage, I found comfort in his wonderfully satirical piece ‘Aren’t I lucky? I can write’, which describes the painstaking processes of revising and editing a piece of writing to share an idea.

His personality really shines through in his writing, leaving you the reader with a sense of having known a truly remarkable man, full of common sense, wisdom and wit.

Psychology News Press; 2015; Hb £14.99
Reviewed by Audrey Henderson who is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews

Intriguing revelations
The Hidden Freud: His Hassidic Roots 
Joseph H. Berke

This scholarly text explores in meticulous detail, the Jewish roots of psychoanalysis. Berke reveals a wealth of material about Freud’s Jewishness, from being steeped in Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, to secretive meetings with the Lubavitcher ‘Rebbe’ (from the Yiddish for rabbi, but referring to prominent, dynastic leaders) Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Berke’s assertion that psychoanalysis emerged from the secularisation of Kabbalah is made convincingly, based upon rigorous documentary research, citing the teachings of the Rebbes and Freud’s colleagues, associates and disciplines.

Freudians and those of a non-psychoanalytic bent will be intrigued by revelations about Freud’s relationships with his close family and religious leaders that explain his reputation as a ‘godless Jew’. What is clear is that Freud’s seeming about-turn from Jewishness was a pragmatic move, designed to smooth his transition to the prestigious psychoanalytic figure he became. His privileged prophetic position would have been hard to attain had he revealed his religiosity.

Freud became (and remains) a godlike figure, with many disciples, to the present day. With multiple rich examples, Berke demonstrates Freud’s deep ties to his orthodox, pious Jewishness (or Hassidism), as if forgetting and remembering it, for example the inclusion of ‘Yiddishisms’ in his writing. This evokes the developmental journey we all take in becoming independent from, yet interdependent with, our childhood and origins. The tensions between mysticism, religion and science remained an issue all of Freud’s life, providing enlightenment for us today, for example in understanding hierarchies of evidence in health care.

For a Freud fan like me the book holds many highlights. I found the chapter ‘Lowness of spirit’ particularly interesting and offering insights on the nature of depression in all its manifestations. Freud’s conception of depression is explicated in connection to his own ill health, losses and trauma, including the deaths of his brother Julius, his daughter Sophie and grandson Heinele. Also illuminating are the connections between psychoanalysis and other sciences including quantum physics, chemistry and mathematics in the chapter ‘Atonement’.

Interesting anecdotes abound, including that of the Hungarian neurologist Sándor Ferenczi, a close associate of Freud who accompanied him to the US in 1909. There psychoanalysis was introduced to an American audience and Freud lectured alongside the Nobel prize winners Ernest Rutherford, a chemist, and A.A. Michelson, a physicist. Ferenczi later wrote about a move away from reductionism towards holism in the field of human relations. His ideas were early forerunners for interdisciplinary inquiry that is now increasingly commonplace.

In discovering more about psychoanalysis and its deep roots, I am struck by its contrast to the predominance of ‘fixing’ in modern mental health, in particular the emphasis on CBT in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT). For those seeking different types of intensive or longer-term therapy there are many barriers, particularly in the nebulous realm of wellbeing. Psychoanalysis refers to soul-analysis, a seeking for self-completion. This requires a long and deep commitment that has concomitant resource implications, a tough ask in our cash-strapped NHS. Yet for each soul analysed and repaired, the benefits radiate from the therapeutic space to the wider world, making a difference and helping others. Surely all of us, whatever our background and means should be enabled, in Freud’s words, ‘to love and to work’ (Lieben und Arbeiten).

This text is highly recommended to those who seek more information on Freud the person and the origins of psychoanalysis.

Karnac Books; 2015; Pb £25.99
Reviewed by Dr Victoria Tischler who is a Chartered Psychologist


A ‘new direction’
Rethinking Excessive Habits and Addictive Behaviors
Tony Bevacqua

Twelve-step approaches to addiction treatment re-enforce helplessness and prolong addictive behaviours. This is the claim in Rethinking Excessive Habits and Addictive Behaviors. Bevacqua’s book argues we have been culturally indoctrinated to believe that 12-step programmes are the only way to treat addictive behaviours. Excessive habits and addictive behaviours are normal human experiences and better understood as learning disorders on a continuum. Thus, he writes, 12-step programmes don’t consider an individual’s unique circumstances. The book’s argument is that people with ongoing addictive behaviours fail to address underlying problems such as poor coping skills, low self-esteem, early developmental difficulties, fear or identity crisis. Themes of celebrity culture, parenting and our learned dependence on others’ love and approval are explored in relation to their influence on addictive behaviours and treatment.

Bevacqua is uncompromising in his criticism of treatment within the USA, particularly 12-Step, so readers new to the field would be wise to take a wider view of the literature regarding addiction and substance misuse treatment. Bevacqua is a life coach and therapist, and the book does have the style of a self-help book rather than a serious academic text. The book’s duel focus is on the criticism of the ‘Establishment’ and what Bevacqua refers to as a “new direction’. Having worked in the UK substance misuse treatment sector for nearly eight years, I definitely found myself engaging more with the latter.

Roman & Littlefield; 2015; Hb £24.95
Reviewed by Malcolm Clayton who is a third-year BSc Psychology student at University of Derby (Distance) and Team Leader in an addictions service in the West Midlands


Short, sharp and informative
The Sheldon Short Guide to Worry and Anxiety
Frank Tallis
The Sheldon Short Guide to Phobias and Panic
Kevin Gournay

Sheldon Press describe themselves as ‘A leading publisher of self-help books on a variety of medical and psychological topics’. Their Short Guide series is a new range of pocket-sized books, and with the Guide to Phobias and Panic being merely 52 pages and the Guide to Worry and Anxiety being 58 pages they really do live up to their descriptions. Each book is written by an expert and designed to provide an overview of the condition, an outline of treatments available and a self-help treatment plan. The self-help methodology is not dissimilar to the IAPT course approach.

Both guides – but the Guide to Worry and Anxiety in particular – take the refreshing and reassuring approach that the subjects they are addressing are not problems in themselves but that it is when these normal processes escalate or get out of control that they become a problem.

Both authors adopt a fairly warm and friendly tone, making the books easy to read. Due to their brevity and step-by-step approach I got the impression that these guides are aimed at the sort of person who wouldn’t normally read a self-help book. With short chapters covering each step of the self-help programme they allow progression at the reader’s own pace and aim to provide practical, easily implemented tools to learn to deal with these issues effectively and rapidly.

Each guide covers two related topics and focuses on dealing with the issues in a general way, but tends to focus more on one area over the other. The Guide to Phobias and Panic concerns itself more with the panic side and panic attacks rather than directly focusing on specific phobias. The Guide to Worry and Anxiety focuses more on worry and how this can lead to anxiety.

The Guide to Phobias and Panic aims to cover a lot of ground in its condensed page count, making it seem a little too concise in places as there is no further information section or details of where to purchase some of the items suggested, such as relaxation CDs. I was also slightly bemused to find a reference to videocassettes, suggesting that this was an update to a previous edition.

Overall these are useful little guides providing succinct, easily comprehensible and immediately applicable information in a user friendly format.

Sheldon Press; 2015; Pb £3.99 each
Reviewed by Louise Beaton who is an Open University psychology graduate 

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