Book reviews, September 2016

Including grief, the app generation and much more.

A selection from our September edition, including web extras.

Bereaved

Understanding Grief
Richard Gross

Death is the only certainty in life, yet most of us feel unprepared when the bell tolls. The thought of death, of our loved ones and eventually our own, is so unsettling that most of us don’t dwell on it until the final hour. The death of our nearest and dearest can reorient the compass of our lives in many ways.

Here, Richard Gross provides a comprehensive overview of the research literature on grief. As the experience and manifestation of grief involves personal, social and cultural factors, he explores bereavement and the concomitant emotions it unleashes through myriad lenses. For a developmental view, Gross looks at stage theorists and explores the links between adult grief and early attachment relationships. The book also discusses models of grief and examines how familial, social, religious and cultural dynamics impact its expression. Gross explains how our unique kinship with the deceased could result in different experiences and also examines gender differences and ‘disenfranchised’ forms of grief that do not necessarily have societal sanction or support. A final chapter is on the loss of pets and our ubiquitous fear of death.

In a reasonably concise volume, the book lives up to its name by trying to understand grief in its entirety. Written in an accessible style, it provides a holistic sweep of past and recent research. This book would be an asset to those who work with bereaved individuals, but it may have been enriched by some first-person accounts, as a purely academic view cannot quite convey the intensity of emotions that can engulf a bereaved individual. Even if we are extremely sensitive and have excellent perspective-taking skills, being bereaved is very different from how we might imagine it to be.

IRoutledge; 2016; Pb £24.99
Reviewed by Aruna Sankaranarayanan, Director, PRAYATNA, a centre for children with learning difficulties in India

 

Apposite and appealing
The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World
Howard Gardner & Katie Davis

Most readers of this text, I expect, will belong to the so-called ‘App Generation’. As one who is well past it, I was curious to see what the authors had to say. Basically the argument is set out in the preface to the second edition (published in 2014) (not the first edition) where the authors have had time to reflect on what they have achieved and what the critics have made of it.

The text weaves its way through three main issues: (a) the effects of technology on our modern lives – contrasting the experiences of an older person (Howard Gardner), a younger one (assistant professor Katie Davis), a much younger one (Katie’s sister, Molly, aged 16 at the time of writing and, occasionally, an even younger one – Oscar, Howard’s grandson, aged six; (b) the nature of different kinds of apps – labelled app-dependent and app-enabling; and (c) the roles of apps in relationship to personal identity, intimacy and imagination.

For a person like myself who, like Howard Gardner, has lived through the development of personal computers from their origins in the 1970s, to the mobile phone and the all-encompassing apps of today, it was good to reflect on both the positive and the negative side of what has been achieved. Seen from the point of view of the four protagonists – Howard, Katie, Molly and Oscar – we get a picture of the beginnings of the new technology, its mid-point and its ubiquitous nature today.

As noted above, two main kinds of apps are distinguished. App-dependent apps are used when we (children and adults) use their apps as ‘a starting point, endpoint and everything in between’. Such apps are what we use to look up the weather, to find a restaurant, to search for the answer to a question. Such apps imply that everything can be answered immediately and efficiently. Enabling apps are used to develop new experiences and areas of knowledge, meaningful relationships and creative expression.

Gardner and Davis explore app-dependence and app-enablement with respect to three areas of experience that are particularly salient for young people: their sense of personal identity (Chapter 4), the intimacy they experience in their relationships (Chapter 5), and the ways they express their imagination (Chapter 6). Apparently, the youth of today ‘take care to present a socially desirable, packaged polished self on line: many students identities are prematurely foreclosed because they don’t allow themselves space to explore alternatives’, but, intriguingly, communicate with their parents more. Apps allow children to take shortcuts in how they carry out their interpersonal relationships; these shortcuts make interacting with others much quicker, easier and less risky.

Today, apps that support art, music and photography are readily available – but, according to these authors, ‘an app mentality can lead to unwillingness to stretch beyond the functionality of the software and the packaged sources that come with google search’. However, in another chapter, the authors compare children’s artwork and short stories produced today with that produced in the 1960s. Here they find more complexity in the artworks of today, not only in how they are painted but also in the techniques used to produce them but different changes are reported for children’s fiction. Here there is a shift to more conventional texts, despite an increase in less formal wording.

As expected, any book by Howard Gardner and colleagues is a pleasure to read. Many points are further expanded and discussed in end-of-chapter notes. Nonetheless, I have some criticisms. The arguments outlined in this text are based on data drawn from the authors’ studies of teachers and students with different-sized samples – mainly in New England and ‘a smaller sample’ in Bermuda - together with brief one-sentence summaries of other relevant publications. An appendix outlines the procedures and the sample sizes, but it provides no data. Thought-provoking? Readable? Yes – in spades. But without the data it is hard to judge the validity of the conclusions.

Yale University Press; 2015; Pb £8.99
Reviewed by James Hartley, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Keele University

 

A holistic approach to sex offending
Sex Offenders: A Criminal Career Approach
Arjan Blackland & Patrick Lussier (Eds.)

Current literature takes a clinical approach to sex offending by exploring how individual pathologies, childhood trauma, cognitive distortions, low victim empathy, deviant sexual preferences, poor attachment style and sexual regulation create a typology of patterns linked to sexual offending. This text, however, merges biopsychosocial and criminological perspectives, raising the debate that current theories and methods of research are outdated. It draws on evidence that considers the individual offender’s etiology and the developmental precursors that a criminal career involves, to determine why and how such individuals partake in sex offences. Longitudinal studies are used to build a holistic view that challenges the differences used to separate the ways in which sex and non-sex crimes are managed today.

The criminal career approach aims to conceptualise the development and offending trajectory of each individual in order to merge preventative strategies of sexual offending with those of non-sexual offence crimes. Typographical theories aimed at early prevention and maturational theories are combined in order to modify sex offenders’ criminal careers at certain ages and career stages, in the pursuit of building guidance on policy as to where efforts should be targeted and how current interventions can be revised.

The authors of this text request further research aimed specifically at understanding the commonalities between sex and non-sex offending and propose refinements in risk assessment and treatment in this area. This book offers new insights into sexual offending in an accessible, informing and engaging style and is highly relevant to students, practitioners and researchers in the fields of forensic and criminological psychology alike.

Wiley-Blackwell; 2015; Pb £36.99
Reviewed by Louise Mullins who is an undergraduate psychology student and volunteer sex offender treatment programme worker

 

A comprehensible darkness?
The Psychology of Radicalization and Terrorism
Willem Koomen & Joop Van Der Pligt

Images of terrorism are present daily, with the questions ‘What causes it?’ and ‘How can we prevent radicalisation?’. A complex, emotive subject that challenges beliefs and feelings on individual and societal levels, where explanations are often simplistic, inaccurate and biased. For example, the psychological literature shows there is no evidence that terrorist acts can be explained by mental illness or by some form of psychological deviance. Koomen and Van Der Plight’s book definitely provides us with explanations and answers.

Highlighting the difficulties and inconsistencies describing ‘terrorism’, the authors use the Global Terrorism Database definition: ‘the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence to attain a political, economic, religious or social goal through fear, coercion or intimidation’. They use a multifactorial model to describe the polarisation, radicalisation and terrorist violence pathway, and subsequent chapters examine each variable in detail. Organised using helpful chapter sub-headings, results from a wide range of interesting studies are summarised to support their model, with a reference list at the end.

Whilst reviewing the book, broadcast and social media went into commentary overload about radicalisation and terrorism links to the Orlando shootings, the murder of Jo Cox and the EU debate. I became aware just how much the book’s content was relevant and explaining this for me, particularly chapters on stereotyping, threats and social identity.

The book’s key message is the importance of psychological understanding. The role of context, beliefs and emotions in shaping behaviour is clear. Counter-terrorism strategies must be guided by our knowledge of individual, cultural, social, political and economic factors.I would definitely recommend this book to psychologists and related disciplines. I’d also strongly suggest it should be on the bookshelves of policy makers, as well as police and security specialists.

Routledge; 2016; Pb £31.99
Reviewed by Ged Bailes who is Lead Consultant Forensic Clinical Psychologist, Secure & Criminal Justice Services, Norvic Clinic, Norwich

 

Memory in context
Contextualizing Human Memory: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding How Individuals and Groups Remember the Past
Charles Stone & Lucas Bietti (Eds.)

Is there such a thing as context-free memory? Can memory function in a social vacuum? Whilst it may be simplistic to claim that cognitive psychologists have traditionally viewed memory as being context-free, the role of context has tended to be seen as little more than an additional factor. In Contextualizing Human Memory Stone and Bietti have drawn together a collection of work that asserts the central role context plays in human memory.

Stone and Bietti recognise that ‘context’ can be an unhelpfully vague and amorphous concept: a term that can be invoked to describe anything and everything. This volume attempts to examine just what this thing ‘context’ is. What does it turn out to be? Lots of different things. Amongst other issues, the chapters focus on: cultural and socio-historical contexts; social interactions; joint activities; linguistics; nonverbal communication; and even the context of silence.

This is not simply a miscellaneous collection of essays. The chapters are organised in three main parts: cognitive and psychological perspectives on context; social and cultural perspectives; linguistic and philosophical perspectives (with emphasis on scaffolding). Although several different facets of context are examined, the overall themes are coherent and there is a common focus on the social context of remembering. The volume’s emphasis in this regard serves to promote what one of the contributors (William Hirst) refers to as ‘the social turn’ in memory research.

In drawing attention to the importance and ambiguity of context, Stone and Bietti are building on the work of figures such as Frederic Bartlett and Susan Engel. There is also a strong Vygotskian influence, but this book is concerned less with reviewing historical issues and more with the present and future of interdisciplinary memory research. It highlights the scale of what context represents in memory research but also provides a strong case for its serious examination and indicates the kind of vital insights such an endeavour can yield.

IRoutledge; 2016; Hb £95.00
Reviewed by Andrew Hart who is a Lecturer at the University of Bradford

 

An excellent introduction
Free Will and the Brain: Neuroscientific, Philosophical and Legal Perspectives
Walter Glannon (Ed.)

A compilation of chapters from experts across a range of fields, Free Will and the Brain provides an array of insights into defining free will, determining its existence, implications and clinical relevance.

Glannon begins with an introductory chapter, in which he puts across his own views and opinions of the existence of free will, primarily based on conclusions of the chapters that follow. This overall summary gives the reader an easy-to-digest and informative entrance into the quite complex and somewhat deeply philosophical later chapters. Glannon’s claims do often seem to be based greatly on personal opinion, and the introduction feels relatively biased against neuroscientific explanations of free will.

The main body of the book consists of multiple chapters from different authors, each focused on discussing free will from a different perspective. Specific chapters discussing the implication of the notion of free will in neurological, psychological and mental disorders are particularly insightful and thought-provoking. Such real-world impacts provide an area of common interest to wide audiences from neuroscience, philosophy, psychology and law. Clinical and pathological examples of possible deficits in free will, as well as the consequences of lack of free will in terms of the law, make for a compelling and real-world relevant read.

Throughout many of the chapters, the authors focus heavily on the famous investigations of neuroscientist Libet into the existence of free will. It would have been refreshing to read about some of the many more recent neuroscientific findings in this field, which perhaps would have provided greater support to some of the biological arguments that are repeatedly criticised.

This aspect again points towards a general bias against neuroscientific evidence throughout Free Will and the Brain. Free Will and the Brain is an interesting and thought-inducing read, relevant to readers from a wide range of backgrounds. The unique structure breaks down what would otherwise be a very dense and complex discussion of a deeply philosophical debate. Although it only touches on the available biological literature, Glannon provides an excellent introduction to the notion of free will from multiple perspectives.

Cambridge University Press; 2015; Hb £65.00
Reviewed by Stacey A. Bedwell who is at Nottingham Trent University

 

Memory in context

Contextualizing Human Memory: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding How Individuals and Groups Remember the Past
Charles Stone & Lucas Bietti (Eds)

Is there such a thing as context-free memory? Can memory function in a social vacuum? Whilst it may be simplistic to claim that cognitive psychologists have traditionally viewed memory as being context-free, the role of context has tended to be seen as little more than an additional factor. In Contextualizing Human Memory Stone and Bietti have drawn together a collection of work that asserts the central role context plays in human memory.

Stone and Bietti recognise that ‘context’ can be an unhelpfully vague and amorphous concept: a term that can be invoked to describe anything and everything. This volume attempts to examine just what this thing ‘context’ is. What does it turn out to be? Lots of different things. Amongst other issues, the chapters focus on: cultural and socio-historical contexts; social interactions; joint activities; linguistics; nonverbal communication; and even the context of silence.

This is not simply a miscellaneous collection of essays. The chapters are organised in three main parts: cognitive and psychological perspectives on context; social and cultural perspectives; linguistic and philosophical perspectives (with emphasis on scaffolding). Although several different facets of context are examined, the overall themes are coherent and there is a common focus on the social context of remembering. The volume’s emphasis in this regard serves to promote what one of the contributors (William Hirst) refers to as ‘the social turn’ in memory research.

In drawing attention to the importance and ambiguity of context, Stone and Bietti are building on the work of figures such as Frederic Bartlett and Susan Engel. There is also a strong Vygotskian influence, but this book is concerned less with reviewing historical issues and more with the present and future of interdisciplinary memory research. It highlights the scale of what context represents in memory research but also provides a strong case for its serious examination and indicates the kind of vital insights such an endeavour can yield.

I    Routledge; 2016; Hb £95.00
Reviewed by Andrew Hart who is a Lecturer at the University of Bradford

 

An excellent introduction
Free Will and the Brain: Neuroscientific, Philosophical and Legal Perspectives
Walter Glannon (Ed.)

A compilation of chapters from experts across a range of fields, Free Will and the Brain provides an array of insights into defining free will, determining its existence, implications and clinical relevance.

Glannon begins with an introductory chapter, in which he puts across his own views and opinions of the existence of free will, primarily based on conclusions of the chapters that follow. This overall summary gives the reader an easy-to-digest and informative entrance into the quite complex and somewhat deeply philosophical later chapters. Glannon’s claims do often seem to be based greatly on personal opinion, and the introduction feels relatively biased against neuroscientific explanations of free will.

The main body of the book consists of multiple chapters from different authors, each focused on discussing free will from a different perspective. Specific chapters discussing the implication of the notion of free will in neurological, psychological and mental disorders are particularly insightful and thought-provoking. Such real-world impacts provide an area of common interest to wide audiences from neuroscience, philosophy, psychology and law. Clinical and pathological examples of possible deficits in free will, as well as the consequences of lack of free will in terms of the law, make for a compelling and real-world relevant read.

Throughout many of the chapters, the authors focus heavily on the famous investigations of neuroscientist Libet into the existence of free will. It would have been refreshing to read about some of the many more recent neuroscientific findings in this field, which perhaps would have provided greater support to some of the biological arguments that are repeatedly criticised.

This aspect again points towards a general bias against neuroscientific evidence throughout Free Will and the Brain. Free Will and the Brain is an interesting and thought-inducing read, relevant to readers from a wide range of backgrounds. The unique structure breaks down what would otherwise be a very dense and complex discussion of a deeply philosophical debate.

Although it only touches on the available biological literature, Glannon provides an excellent introduction to the notion of free will from multiple perspectives.

Cambridge University Press; 2015; Hb £65.00
Reviewed by Stacey A. Bedwell who is at Nottingham Trent University

Structuring a complex past

Enlivening the Self: The First Year, Clinical Enrichment, and the Wandering Mind
Joseph D. Lichtenberg, Frank M. Lachmann, & James L. Fosshage

Enlivening the Self is split into three essays, charting the processes that are involved in developing a psychological sense of self. The text is beautifully fleshed out with what is evidently great experience from all three authors.

The process of self-experience is ‘about feeling enlivened’, and the book begins specifically with the authors detailing what they term are 12 qualities important in the early development of the self. It makes sense that the book chronologically presents the material starting with early developments. The structure of chapter 1 lends itself to giving a clear foundation on which subsequent case vignettes are based. I am particularly intrigued by a discussion of not only the personal sense of autonomy that the person develops, but also the interaction and processes in those early experiences with the environment around them that may be supportive or be a hindrance.

Of particular usefulness was the manifestation into adult life, seen in the book through descriptions of enactments in the therapy space. The idea of therapy process as a reflection of the person’s process in day-to-day life draws attention to the importance of looking at the person as a whole, a way of creating a meaningful formulation.

As a counselling psychologist in training in the midst of developing a working knowledge of psychoanalytical concepts, this book provides clear concise material to give an overall understanding of the concept without economising on the necessary vignettes that never fail to bring an example to life. In the same breath, this also encourages the reader to evaluate their own clinical work in this way; certainly for a starting psychologist, this structure provides one very useful way of making sense of human complexity.

A deeply thought-provoking,  challenging, yet enjoyable book.

Routledge; 2016; Pb £28.99
Reviewed by Candy Wong, who is a Senior Mental Health Practitioner, Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, and counselling psychologist in training, University of East London

Online extras…

Finance Is Personal: Making Your Money Work for You in College and Beyond

Kim Stephenson & Ann B. Hutchins

Like Kim’s first book (Taming the Pound: Making Money Your Servant Not Your Master, 2011, Matador), this fascinating book is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and will educate you in ways you did and didn’t expect! However, this book has a tighter and much more focused aim (and audience) than the first.

Whilst it is, first and foremost, aimed at teenagers and is about preparing yourself for leaving home and going to college and making the most of your money, it also sneaks in a lot about the whole discipline of psychology. What Kim and Ann do very effectively is provide a very comprehensive route map and action plan to help you (or your child) understand the implications and impact of going on to further education. 

Chapters focus on goal setting, the costs associated with living on/off campus, borrowing and saving(!) as well as budgeting. Scenario-type examples are used throughout to explore the different approaches (effective and less effective) that may be taken and the impact of each choice.  Each chapter ends with a summary and reference notes.

Not only will you put this book down much wiser about your attitude and approach to leaving home you will also understand how, and what, you can and can’t do to have a more appropriate and healthy relationship with your money.

 

Praeger; 2015; Hb £25.00

Reviewed by John M. Fisher CPsychol, AFBPsS, PMABP, FITOL

 

Neuropsychology: From Theory to Practice (2nd edn)

David Andrewes

Neuropsychology is growing, and as a result a range of different psychological disciplines have been interlinked to the field and its clinical applications. As the name suggests, the book gives a broad, yet comprehensive overview of the theory and practical applications to clinical populations within the neuropsychology discipline. Andrewes provides an excellent outline of the main important topic areas dominating the field (both past and present), with the addition of the advancements in cognitive neuroscience.

Each chapter has a range of clinical case studies and brain-imagining investigations to support theory and clinical practice. However, those seeking for more specific in-depth information about brain-imaging techniques, may need to seek other texts.

The primary target audience of the textbook will be undergraduate students, but the layout of the chapters and the clear, intelligible writing style make it inviting to all audiences with an interest in the field. With study questions and example flash cards provided throughout each chapter, accompanied by great illustrations, this book would be a valuable resource to any undergraduate studying the discipline, although students with an understanding of biological psychology at an undergraduate level may not need to cover the first chapter.

Psychology Press; 2016; Pb £49.99

Reviewed by Timothy Eschle, who is a PhD researcher at Northumbria University

 

Changing Behaviour in DBT: Problem Solving in Action

Heidi L. Heard & Michaela A. Swales

Having previously worked with dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), and seen its positive effects in changing behaviour, I have strong faith in the power and utility of such therapy. This book in many ways highlights why I hold such a belief in the effectiveness of DBT. The authors have categorised the book into eight informative and well-written chapters, all of which are grounded in clinical examples and effectively explore the many principles of DBT, including problem-solving. The strength of this book lies in its ability to effectively highlight common errors and challenges faced by professionals adopting the therapy, and offers constructive and practical advice in which to ameliorate the practice of DBT. It has allowed me to become vigilant of potential challenges that may arise in my future use of DBT principles and practices. Chapter 5 is a particularly good section, with its dedication to aiding skill acquisition in clients, and providing readers with helpful strategies in which to do so.

This book provides a great basis and guide for therapists, and offers a hope for changing maladaptive behaviour within therapy. Further, I feel clinicians, trainees and students could benefit from reading this book. It has been written by true experts, and I would recommend it to anyone wishing to enhance their knowledge of DBT. Overall, an informative, practical and great book, a ‘must read’!

The Guilford Press; 2015; Hb: £23.99

Reviewed by Despina Lazarou BSc, MSc

 

 

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