Book Reviews - June 2016

Including a web-only selection.

A snapshot on psychological concepts and ideas
Taking Charge of Your Emotions: A Guide to Better Psychological Health and Wellbeing
Louis H. Primavera & Rob Pascale

If you were considering a guidebook to offer to new clients who could benefit from a first discussion of psychological concepts, this could be the one for you. The writers propose its usefulness as related to self-exploration and -understanding, which in turn could offer the individual more control over life and its challenges.

In many ways this easily digestible book reflects cognitive behavioural therapy principles of observation and exploration of thoughts, feelings and motivations and equally encourages the reader to abstain from unhelpful thinking styles and behaviours that could elicit poor self-care and a general misunderstanding of others and their agendas. On the whole the book focuses on improving interrelational skills, which includes taking responsibility for one’s own behaviour, whilst it equally proposes accepting the reality of difference between individuals.

A useful feature relates to the description of the active processes of acceptance and adaptation to change, which hints there might be a lengthier ongoing process required in order to facilitate essential change. It encourages individuals to build a value-based life and to avoid making use of self-critical thinking styles, but regrettably the ‘how to’ of these and other principles is discussed only in a very limited fashion, leading the book to come across as a series of short snapshots, rather than detailed explorations on the subjects posed. As a result, change seems almost linear and stepwise as opposed to the repetitive and challenging process it might be in real life.

This book might be useful alongside therapy as an early background information-giving tool and may especially be helpful in supporting individuals to become more assertive and reflective about their own conscious and unconscious processes. It offers a number of short exercises to adapt to challenging situations but any consistent requisite change would require further detailed exploration.

Rowman & Littlefield; 2015; Hb £25.48
Reviewed by Dr Levina Smook CPsychol who is a Principal Counselling Psychologist in Clinical Health psychology in Dudley


Life on Mars
Mars One: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure
Various authors, edited by Norbert Kraft

In 10 years’ time a team of four intrepid explorers will set out on a seven-month journey with an aim to colonise Mars, with no hope of ever returning to our green and blue planet. Though it is near-impossible to imagine the emotional toll such a trip would take, in Mars One the practicalities of the mission are explored in depth, including the difficulties involved with group dynamics and cultural gaps.

The ‘first Martians’, 24 of whom will be selected this summer, will be expected to not only have the practical skills needed for making a home on a new planet, but will need to overcome differences in culture, gender and personality to become perhaps the closest team of explorers in history. Never before has humankind started from scratch – on another world entirely.

The Mars One mission proposes an unmanned flight to Mars to prepare a colony in 2020, followed by the first four Martians in 2026 and subsequent crews travelling out every 26 months thereafter. The second section of the book looks at culture, cohesion and compatibility among the astronauts who will be first to walk on Martian soil.

Drawing parallels between Ernest Shackleton’s explorations of the Antarctic and his approach to team bonding, Professor Dr Raye Kass (Concordia University, Montreal) looks at the role of interpersonal and group skills on this mission. Kass writes of Shackleton’s approach to building team morale in difficult times, and writes that humour and group dynamics, but most importantly the building of a sense of community before venturing into the unknown, will be vital.

The Mars One application process was open to all nationalities, genders, levels of education and to those aged from 20 to 61. The 100 people who will take part in this year’s selection process come from across the globe – as far afield as Brazil and the Philippines. Andy Tamas looks into the potential problems that come along with cultural differences and the importance of acknowledging these and suggests strategies for conflict management.

The impacts of age and ageing on Mars are also discussed in a chapter written by Mars 100. Finally, Ronit Kark (Barilan University, Israel), in a chapter entitled ‘Men are from Mars, women are from Mars’, explores how equal teams of men and women travelling to Mars could be difficult, particularly for women in the male-dominated world of space travel.

Beyond the psychological realm the book’s three other fascinating sections look at the technical and medical skills the candidates will need to learn as well as the required levels of health and fitness. The selection process for the first 24 astronauts this summer will be filmed and broadcast around the world – the third section of the book looks at the potential impact of this and includes quotes from some of the Mars 100 candidates’ applications, giving fascinating insight into the minds of those brave enough to leave everything behind to start anew. The fourth and final section looks at the unique political and legal complexities of colonising another planet, as well as the quality of life of living on a planet with 38 per cent of the gravity on earth. The essays presented in this book offer a truly comprehensive yet equally mind-boggling summary of what will be needed to set out on this mission.

BenBella Books; 2016; Pb £16.99
Reviewed by Ella Rhodes who is Staff Journalist for The Psychologist. For more on psychology in deep space, see


A thorough guide
Doing Interview-based Qualitative Research: A Learners’ Guide
Eva Magnusson & Jeanne Marecek

This is a well-written, accessible introduction to qualitative research for students and those interested in conducting interview-based research projects. Starting with the theoretical framework and aiming to merge theory and practice, Magnusson and Marecek have created a step-by-step guide about the research process. It guides the reader from the original research idea, through the development of interview schedules and participant recruitment, to organising the final report, and ensuring a high-quality write up.

Branching into an unfamiliar research area can be daunting, but this is a compressive guide that allows reflection on previous interpretative and qualitative research. There are chapters providing examples of previous research, breaking down the steps and processes the researchers took and highlighting their findings, walking through composing the interview questions, and giving guidance to help select the best data excerpts that display your findings and arguments.

A highly useful part of the book is the authors’ acknowledgement of the range of questions and problems that can arise during the research process: from quiet participants to emotional distress, to the nerves and anxieties that running an interview for the first time can bring with it. The analytical frameworks are well explained, and the guide to writing up projects is concise, breaking down the report section by section and exploring the language and categorisation that is important when considering qualitative research findings. Overall, this book seems like a very useful text for students and supervisors to work through together, and provides a thorough guide to qualitative research.

Cambridge University Press; 2015; Pb £24.99
Reviewed by Amy Zile who is an MSc Clinical Psychological research student at Keele University


Forensic analysis of a scientific life
Revisionist Revolution in Vygotsky Studies
Anton Yasnitsky & René Van der Veer

Lev Vygotsky, the Russian developmental psychologist, is a towering figure in contemporary psychology, but one whose reputation has accrued a number of myths with the passing of time. This meticulously researched volume critically scrutinises Vygotsky’s life and work and presents a more accurate, but also a messier, story than the standard one.

The authors lay out the extraordinary culture of state censorship within which science operated in the early years of the Soviet Union. Entire fields of study could be eradicated overnight, and those that remained were subject to multiple levels of politically motivated interference. Papers would have passages, citations and quotations removed or added, so that it is not always clear who wrote what, or what they really thought.

The authors are also strong on highlighting the many problems with translation and publication. Some of Vygotsky’s major works are only partly (and, they propose inaccurately) translated into English. Others are heavily edited sections from different sources compiled long after his death by his colleagues and students (his Zone of Proximal Development concept appeared only posthumously).

Other chapters, despite being admirable works of scholarship, are less interesting. A whole chapter on people in Vygotsky’s circle, for instance, and a chapter detailing decontextualised snippets from among thousands of loose notes he left behind were both hard-going.

Ultimately, this book does a lot of stripping back, but little in the way of building back up, and left me feeling I knew Vygotsky a lot more, but understood him a lot a less.

Routledge; 2016; Hb £95.00
Reviewed by Dr Mark Oliver who is with the Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust

The Nine Degrees of Autism

Philip Wylie, Wenn B. Lawson & Luke Beardon

The Nine Degrees of Autism is an asset to the field of autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). The current literature on ASD provides medical and psychopathological models. However they do not provide a comprehensive guide on how to help individuals understand and facilitate wellbeing on the autism spectrum. This book would be a good tool for clinicians working with ASD or for individuals diagnosed with ASD or others who wish to understand this spectrum closely.

The backdrop of the book is entrenched in developmental psychology and the power of focusing on strengths and enhancing these to reach higher levels of functioning. This makes the applicability of the book wider. The basic models of the book may also be applied to other neuro-developmental disorders such as dyslexia and ADHD.

The book takes the audience systematically through the journey of understanding and dealing with ASD through a unique model called the ‘nine distinct stages of development”. The stages start from identification of ASD, the lived experience of ASD, self-awareness, acceptance and end with gaining mastery and recognition. The chapters of the book correspond to each of the nine stages. The nine stages model was conceptualised by one of the authors who has been diagnosed with ASD.

To sum, this is a timely book of 2016 which will aid readers to shift their attitude and lack of understanding about ASD. A great tool for the clinicians toolkit and an inspirational bookshelf aid for individuals with ASD.

Routledge; 2016; Pb £16.99

Reviewed by Dr Bijal Chheda-Varma CPsychol who is a registered Practitioner Psychologist and CBT therapist


Mindfulness and the Transformation of Despair: Working with People at Risk of Suicide

Mark Williams, Melanie Fennell, Thorsten Barnhofer, Rebecca Crane & Sarah Silverton

Given the ongoing interest and popularity of mindfulness approaches from mindfulness colouring books proliferating in the bestseller lists to mobile apps, I was looking forward to reading about how this approach has been adapted and used with the some of the most vulnerable in society – individuals who have experienced recurrent depression and previous suicidal crises. This is a comprehensive read that covers how a standard mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) eight-week programme was adapted to address these difficulties and the clinical outcomes of a 10-year research programme investigating its benefits.

What was initially very thought-provoking was the research evidence on the risk to suicide that was reviewed by the authors and highlighted factors leading to suicidal crises, such as the sense of being trapped, sensitivity to signals of defeat and decrease in problem-solving ability. It also brought home to the reader how much sensitivity and consideration is required to address the specific needs and vulnerabilities of this client group, as one chapter describes the development of pre-class interview to prepare individuals fully for the programme.

Although each session of the MCBT programme is described in detail in the book, this was truly brought to life when one of the chapters focuses on how one particular client experiences the group session to session and the challenges and learning throughout. Throughout the book there are helpful summary boxes of key points and examples of dialogue to illustrate examples – this helped immensely to make this book very reader friendly. As someone who has a keen interest in mindfulness, I learned more from this book about useful ways to address difficult experiences and also how to enquire about experiences in a more mindful way as compared to a goal-orientated fashion, as threaded throughout the book are instances of this as well as a chapter focusing on teaching mindfulness. Overall, this book would be helpful for any clinician working with clients who present with these difficulties and offers a new, innovative way to effectively work with people who experience acute distress and suffering.  

Guilford Press; 2015; Hb £30.99

Reviewed by Sue-Mun Tsang, who is a Clinical Psychologist with Southeastern Health and Social Care Trust

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