Book reviews January 2016

Minding children mindfully
Mindful Parenting
Susan Bogels & Kathleen Restifo

Stress in families can often set off a vicious spiral, with one member triggering vulnerable buttons in another, who in turn exhibits more negativity, thereby setting off a chain reaction. And when parent–child relationships fall into this tiresome trap, the onus typically falls on the parent to change the pernicious pattern. However, when children present difficult temperaments or parents themselves have their own issues to contend with, it is not easy to envisage a peaceful household. Further, when we are confronted with intractable problem situations with no simple solution, often the only option we have is to change our perception of them. A mindful orientation, where we simply observe what is happening within and around us without being judgemental, can stem the floodgates of negative emotions before they cascade and cause further havoc in a household.

In Mindful Parenting, the authors provide a resource book for professionals who work with distraught parents. The book provides a step-by-step programme that may be conducted with a small group of parents over eight weeks to help them cultivate mindfulness in themselves and in their relationships. The book is a useful manual for professionals who are interested in introducing mindfulness to parents as it provides a course curriculum and includes relevant handouts. The goal of the programme is to help parents respond thoughtfully instead of giving in to their usual automatic reactions.

As the authors themselves point out, mindfulness cannot really be taught but has to be practised. Thus, the book is ideal for mental health professionals who have been practising mindfulness meditation themselves and would like to share this ancient technique, which has its roots in Buddhist thought, with parents who would like to repair their relationships with their children. The book is not meant for professionals who are unfamiliar with mindfulness as it does not provide a rationale on why we should practise this form of meditation. While Mindful Parenting is an excellent ‘how to’ book, it is not meant for novices or for those who are sceptical of the concept of mindfulness. Further, the book could have been edited with a more mindful eye as it is replete with typos.  

Norton; 2014; Pb £17.99
Reviewed by Aruna Sankaranarayanan who is Director, PRAYATNA, a centre for children with learning difficulties in India


No little homunculus
Intelligence in the Flesh: Why Your Mind Needs Your Body Much More Than It Thinks
Guy Claxton

Intelligence in the Flesh takes on a currently very topical theme, the embodied mind. This is in the light of growing scientific interest in mind–body connections – for example, possible links between inflammation and depression, anxiety and gut bacteria, parasites and schizophrenia. Claxton’s treatment of embodiment is both comprehensive and engaging; a colourful tour of the human form, illustrated throughout with lively metaphor, which demonstrate the central point that our brain-minds are thoroughly enmeshed with and indivisible from our bodies.

Some might think such an argument unnecessary at a time when our familiarity with neuropsychology is growing, due to frequent stories in the press complete with colourful brain ‘images’. However, as the author shows, dualistic notions of mind as disconnected from and superior to the body, with a little homunculus calling the shots, still pervade much of our everyday and even scientific thinking. These ideas, when unacknowledged, can influence our attitudes and behaviour, so that we value desk-work over physical labours or craft, become disconnected from and neglect our bodies, and measure intelligence chiefly by an ability to complete abstract logical tasks.

This is a thoroughly good read for all those who wish to understand the brain–body network more deeply – how emotions influence our decisions, perception is shaped by our goals, and how the evolution of intelligence is rooted in our ability to move. Claxton concludes with advice on how we can re-establish a connection with our bodies, for the betterment of society, education and ourselves.

Yale University Press; 2015; Hb £20.00
Reviewed by Helen Foster-Collins who is currently at the University of Exeter studying for an MSc in Psychological Research Methods.


A lot of bang for your buck
Cognitive Psychology: Revisiting the Classic Studies
Michael W. Eysenck & David Groome (Eds.)

You don’t normally expect a textbook to make you laugh out loud, but the author profiles in this one did. The quirkiness of an author’s self-description sets the tone for this book; this is not a dry and dusty textbook, but a dynamic and animated discussion of how key works continue to shape the field of cognitive psychology.

Each chapter, written by leading researchers, looks at one of 15 landmark studies. Most of which will be familiar to students of cognitive psychology as they include the Stroop test, prospect theory, the cocktail party effect and more besides.

The chapters are short, sharp and succinct providing historical and background detail for each study, a detailed description of the work itself and its impact on its field and psychology as a whole. This overview doesn’t do the book justice; while it is a slim volume in relation to other cognitive psychology textbooks, it packs in a surprising amount of information.

The various authors’ passion for both their subject and their research really jumps off the page, grabbing the reader and bringing them along for the ride. Considering some of these studies are over 50 years old, making them seem so relevant and engaging shows why the studies included are classics. The main brief of the book is to ground these studies in the context of what was happening in psychology at the time and why these works were so groundbreaking.

The chapters’ authors expand on the basic outlines to encompass what the impact of each study has been on the subject at large – in some cases launching whole new areas of study. It also moves us on, detailing work the studies have led to since. This not only allows but also positively invites the reader to think more deeply about each study and even explore beyond this book. I can see now why each chapter contains not just a list of references, but also further reading. There is much worth following up on and many questions to investigate. In two of the chapters the original researchers themselves are asked to comment on the review of the impact of their research, which adds an extra dimension.

While this book will appeal to those already in the field, sufficient information is provided to give a good overview of each of the studies, enough to bring the casual reader up to speed, or provide further discussion than standard textbooks for those studying psychology.

There are two other volumes in this ‘Revisited’ series, covering social psychology and developmental psychology which, based on this entry in the series, I will definitely be looking forward to reading.

Sage; 2015; Pb £18.99
Reviewed by Louise Beaton who is an Open University psychology graduate


Good, but at times hard to swallow
Solution-Oriented Spirituality: Connection, Wholeness, and Possibility for Therapist and Client
Bill O’Hanlon

While not partaking in Marx’s proverbial ‘opium of the masses’ but holding a spiritual practice and also liking solution-focused therapy, I eagerly awaited reviewing this book. Acknowledging that some will disagree, the author gives his view of spirituality as the practice of connection, compassion and contribution. After describing the context of religious and spiritual practice in the USA – the former notably high – he takes us through raising the subject, assessing and intervening, all peppered with vignettes. He also sets out a spirituality-based intervention that – even if you do not see the areas defined as spiritual – gives a great way of drawing out strengths from the client.

Religion, despite being identified as different from spirituality, has a dedicated chapter. And here, like inadvertently taking a mouthful of pure wasabi during an otherwise pleasant sushi meal, the beliefs expressed were less palatable for me. Being invited to challenge clients’ views such as religion being ‘irrational or nonscientific’ or that ‘God doesn’t exist’ as ‘distorted beliefs’ did not sit well with me.

So, with acknowledging differing views on science, I still appreciated exploring ways of widening my therapeutic practice in this area but was left a little disappointed.  

Norton; 2015; Pb £11.99
Reviewed by Matthew Selman who is with Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust

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