An area in dire need of critical thinking

Patrick Larsson reviews 'Mad or Bad? A Critical Approach to Counselling and Forensic Psychology'.

Vossler and colleagues have produced a timely and informative book that can serve as a gateway for students and practitioners interested in furthering their understanding of critical thinking in forensics as well as mental health theory in general. It covers a wide range of topics relevant to forensic work, but also to non-forensic therapeutic settings.

The book is divided into five sections, which cover areas such as ‘setting the scene’, ‘identities’, ‘sex and sexuality’, ‘treatment’ and ‘dichotomies in forensic and therapeutic practice’. Chapters are well-researched and argued, with useful case studies, ‘pauses for reflection’ and suggested reading included in each.

As the book takes a critical position, it would have been useful to have a chapter introducing some basic ideas and terms relevant to critical theory as they are made reference to throughout but never elaborated upon fully. Critical theory and thinking is not always intuitive to the student, and many professionals for that matter, and it can take a bit of practice to adopt. The authors appear to assume that the reader has at least a working understanding of the language used in critical theory, but if the reader does not some of the more subtle messages included within the text might be lost.  As an example, in the chapters titled ‘Diagnosis and categorisation’ and ‘Paraphilias’ the authors diligently explain how discourse and power determines what is considered ‘pathological’ and what is not, but for a novice reader it might not be apparent why certain mental health diagnoses or sexual behaviours are positioned that way. Perhaps this would help position the authors themselves and their arguments too. Also, the chapter titled ‘Context’ in the final section might have been more useful at the beginning of the book as it provides a useful oversight of psychology and therapy in forensic settings, and would help set the scene for the remainder of the chapters.

These points aside, the book does provide a very helpful, and thoughtful, critical overview of therapeutic matters related to forensic settings. Considering the recent coverage of the state of forensic settings in the United Kingdom, both for service users as well as those who work in them, it is clear that it is an area in dire need of critical thinking. 

- Mad or Bad? A Critical Approach to Counselling and Forensic Psychology. Andreas Vossler, Catriona Havard, Graham Pike, Meg-John Barker & Bianca Raabe (Eds.). Sage; Pb £24.99

- Reviewed by Patrick Larsson, Deputy Clinical Lead, Health in Mind (Mid Essex), Braintree.

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