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Book Reviews, December 2007

Mental fitness; interpersonal psychotherapy; clinical psychology and heart disease; cognitive dissonance; statistics; and more

18 December 2007

Mental fitness for all

Manage Your Mind: The Mental Fitness Guide (2nd edn) by Gillian Butler & Tony Hope (Oxford University Press; 2007: Pb £14.99) Reviewed by Rachel Lee 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this very accessible and inspiring book. This is the second edition of the popular Manage Your Mind, written for the general population and covering a myriad of strategies that can be used to improve general well-being, or 'mental fitness'. It is mainly based on cognitive behaviour therapy, but also incorporates ideas from other approaches, for example interpersonal psychotherapy and positive psychology. The authors propose that mental fitness is based on two core principles: valuing oneself and recognising that it is possible to change. They initially outline seven basic skills that can be used to make positive changes and develop helpful attitudes. Further sections of the book focus on different areas of difficulty and can be selected as appropriate. The topics covered are broad ranging, and vary from the quite general (time management and study skills) to more problem-specific chapters which give advice on, for example, how to improve low mood, tackle various forms of anxiety and break bad habits and addictions.This second edition contains two new sections. The section on improving relationships is informed by ideas from interpersonal therapy, systemic interventions and transactional analysis, and helps readers identify the specific problems in their relationships and recognise how past experiences can impact on current relationships. The chapter on sexuality and intimate relationships is particularly interesting, and does a great job of normalising difficulties and uncertainties relating to sexual feelings and relationships, while also offering a number of helpful suggestions.

The second new section, which focuses on traumatic experiences, is also an excellent addition, and will help the reader to understand, and start to recover from, their reactions to recent or past traumatic experiences, loss and bereavement.

Manage Your Mind is well-written and contains a wealth of psycho-education and practical strategies. I like the way that it is informed by a number of approaches. The strength of this book is the way that one can easily dip into the various chapters, once familiar with the seven basic skills. The presentation is excellent, with plenty of headings, coloured tables that reiterate the main points and strategies, and concise chapter summaries. Helpful metaphors and anecdotes are used throughout to illustrate the key ideas and bring life to the book. I would expect that everyone would find something useful within its pages. Highly recommended.

- Dr Rachel Lee is a clinical psychologist with the South West Yorkshire Mental Health Trust.


A successful distillation

Clinician's Quick Guide to Interpersonal Psychotherapy by Myrna M. Weissman, John C. Markowitz & Gerald L. Klierman (Oxford University Press; 2007; Pb £19.99) Reviewed by Tanvir Rana

Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) is a structured and time limited (12–16 sessions) therapy which was initially developed for patients with major depressive disorder but later adapted and used for other disorders as well. It is based on the work of Harry Stack-Sullivan, who emphasised the significance of studying patients' interpersonal relations, suggesting that patients have often received inaccurate and overly negative feedback from others such as parents in the past, resulting in a distorted sense of self ('parataxic distortions').IPT assumes that the origin and perpetuation of some psychological symptoms occur in a social and interpersonal context, and the interpersonal relations of the patient not only precipitate the onset of these symptoms but also significantly influence the response and outcome of the treatment. IPT is aimed at resolving problems in the domains of grief, interpersonal role disputes, role transitions, and interpersonal deficits. The overall goal is to alleviate the psychiatric symptoms by addressing the patient's social environment and improving the quality of current interpersonal relations and social functioning.

The authors of this book are pioneers of IPT and have already published an official manual, Comprehensive Guide to Interpersonal Psychotherapy in 2000. They have now written an accessible guide for busy clinicians which complements the manual. As well as discussing the use of IPT with major depressive disorder, they devote major sections to the adaptation of IPT for mood disorders and to succinct explanations of the application of IPT for substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety disorders and borderline personality disorder. The authors also go on to address training issues and IPT resources.

The book is very comprehensive and practical in scope. It is written in an interesting and stimulating style in which the authors have successfully distilled the core skills and principles of IPT.

Simulating style in which the authors have successfully distilled the core skills and principles of IPT.

- Dr Tanvir Rana is a psychiatrist, and a Visiting Senior Lecturer at Staffordshire University.


A heart for psychocardiology

Clinical Psychology and Heart Disease by Enrico Molinari, Angelo Compare & Gianfranco Parati (Eds.) (Milan: Springer; 2007; Hb £140.50) Reviewed by Alex King

First off, don't bristle at the price. You would spend double that on a pair of similar quality shoes, in the Harrods sales. Grasp it and be reassured by the quality, this is an Italian job. And on the inside, the good people of Milan have put their minds to 'giving psychocardiology a heart', with priceless results.

What we get is a weighty tome that does not neglect the basic psychophysiology chapters, approaches the relationship between depression, anxiety and cardiac disease from several angles, and travels all the tourist trails of cardiac-prone personality  patterns. We get impressive-looking graphs of heart rhythms of bus drivers in Milan, and we even have a hardcore stats section, including a chapter on neural network modelling for cardiac risk, in case yours feels understimulated by your Nintendo's brain training.

I am sure the above is done competently, and perhaps with more UK-relevant data, elsewhere. Where this book's worth really lies, though, is in the broad and engaging chapters on the interpersonal, relational aspects of adjustment to cardiac disease, of fundamental clinical significance but easily overlooked amidst the spurts of psycho-endocrine excitement. We get systemically oriented chapters on 'the art of listening to the patient and the family', on emotionally focused therapy with families, and even one on that Cinderella of therapies, IPT. We even discover an interlude chapter where the editor indulges in an imaginary conversation with a seminal figure in the field.

Go on, spare some change, if you have a heart (clinic).

- Alex King is at The Hillingdon Hospital, London.


The athlete's secret… revealed?

Developing Mental Toughness: Gold Medal Strategies for Transforming Your Business Performance by Graham Jones & Adrian Moorhouse (Spring Hill; 2007; Pb £12.99) Reviewed by Phil Johnson

Mental toughness (MT) in common parlance may well evoke individually different meanings and interpretations. This publication builds on previous work by Jones, a leading sport psychologist and Moorhouse, Olympic gold medallist as they successfully set out to formulate definitions and applicability of MT.The conversational style is unusual for a psychology text, and indeed the book is aimed at the business sector; but it will be useful to sport psychologists and athletes in their quests to improve performance. Both authors surprised me early on by discussing not their apparent mental strengths but their vulnerabilities. This was courageous as well as illustrative and raises yet again the need for coping mechanisms in dealing with emotion for athletes, which consultants in sport and in this specific context of people in the business environment would do well to acknowledge.

The layout of the book is well defined early on and facilitates 'dipping' in to chapters, but the 'time-out' sections which are designed to be experiential, might for some interfere with the flow of the book and might have been better placed as appendixes.
The central working model of MT developed by Jones are the 'four pillars':
1.    Keeping your head under stress
2.    Staying strong in your self-belief
3.    Making motivation work for you
4.    Maintaining focus on the things that matter
Subsequent chapters evaluate and illustrate these four pillars.

Whilst the book has its share of case studies, Adrian Moorhouse boxed commentary, and 'time-out' experiential opportunities, they are presented in dark grey, which for me interferes with attention and is not the best colour to inspire clarity and performance!

Gold Medal Strategies for Transforming Your Business in this format does ultimately meet its objective. It sits well in establishing understanding and the use of the concept of mental toughness. Whilst the presentation lacks some clarity, the content shouldn't be overshadowed by it.

- Phil Johnson is a Chartered Sport & Exercise Psychologist, lecturer and freelance consultant in business and professional football based in Bristol.


Identifying with inconsistent cognitions

Cognitive Dissonance: Fifty Years of a Classic Theory by Joel Cooper (Sage; 2007; Pb £21.99) Reviewed by Nicola Davies

Cognitive dissonance – 'the holding of two or more inconsistent cognitions' as defined by Festinger in 1957 – 'is experienced as uncomfortable tension'. This is a universal experience and one that I am sure we can all identify with. Perhaps you choose to smoke whilst also believing smoking is bad for you. Perhaps you choose to eat that cream cake whilst also believing it will do your cholesterol problem no good. We have all been there, behaving in contradiction to our beliefs. That is what makes this text so immersing; the reader is absorbed into a world that they can identify with.

Whilst Joel Cooper pays homage to Festinger by exploring the journey that cognitive dissonance theory has taken over the past 50 years, this book is in no way a book about history. In fact, cognitive dissonance is approached in a way that maintains its exciting future within psychology – the theory does not seem old as it becomes evident that its journey is far from complete.

The chapters commence with the birth of cognitive dissonance, moving on to the criticism that propelled the theory forward. We then explore how cognitive dissonance changed as it became of interest to psychologists in various fields, with data being provided from these psychology disciplines. The book, sadly and yet excitedly (there's one of those inconsistent thoughts again!), concludes that the theory is no longer Festinger's inconsistency model – it now includes a whole host of factors, such as individual responsibility, behavioural consequences, and self-views, as offered by Festinger's followers and as illustrated in the presented data.

How better to celebrate 50 years of a theory than to look at its future? With this in mind, I would highly recommend this book to those with an appreciation of cognitive dissonance and also to those who are new to the theory.

A word of warning to the former is that this book represents one view of the theory, as admitted by the author himself. Since cognitive dissonance has been a controversial concept, some may not appreciate the perspective taken by the author, especially since there is little in the way of a balanced argument. Nevertheless, even if you fundamentally disagree with the theory or the author's perspective, why not read the book anyway? After all, maybe it will give you some insight into your own inconsistent cognitions and behaviours…

one view of the theory, as admitted by the author himself. Since cognitive dissonance has been a controversial concept, some may not appreciate the perspective taken by the author, especially since there is little in the way of a balanced argument. Nevertheless, even if you fundamentally disagree with the theory or the author's perspective, why not read the book anyway? After all, maybe it will give you some insight into your own inconsistent cognitions and behaviours…

- Nicola Davies is a PhD researcher at Cranfield University.


Understanding educational testing

Educational Testing: A Competence Based Approach by James Boyle & Stephen Fisher (BPS Blackwell; 2007; Pb £24.99) by Reviewed by Christopher Boyle

This publication is designed to be primarily the manual for the BPS's Certificate of Competence in Educational Testing (Level A) and also contains the full information pack regarding the certificate as an appendix. However, the publication has a wider remit than this as it proves an overview of educational testing that is well researched, evidenced, and useful for students, practitioners and academics of educational psychology. Boyle and Fisher's book contains chapters that detail (always with very accessible worked examples) the systematic processes involved in educational testing. For example, the reader is taken from 'Defining the Assessment Needs' through, 'The Importance of Reliability and Validity', to 'Making Appropriate Use of Test Results….'. A common theme is the thorough and clear explanations of statistical and mathematical terms that, by the end of the book, should make the reader feel that they actually understand the concepts of educational testing. In short, Boyle and Fisher have managed to produce a very detailed and accessible book that covers all the topic areas of educational testing.

-Christopher Boyle is an educational psychologist with South Lanarkshire Council.


Responding to real need

Beyond Fear and Control: Working with Young People Who Self-harm by Helen Spandler & Sam Warner (Eds.) (PCCS Books; 2007; Pb £15.20) Reviewed by Fred Gravestock

This 12-chapter book has two strengths – an ability to stimulate thinking about self-harm, coupled with the application of a wealth of resources to compel this thinking. The chapters explore the exercising of power and control, counterbalanced by the autonomy and independence needs of young people. Consequently, alternative means of engaging young people in a cooperative and person-centred approaches are considered from both service-user and professional perspectives. Although mainstream services are adjusting their approach to the challenges presented by those who self-harm, the books highlights practice implications and associated ethical questions. This is a useful book.

- Fred Gravestock is with New Horizons Childcare.


Stolen yesterdays?

Stolen Tomorrows: Understanding and Treating Women's Childhood Sexual Abuse by Steven Levenkron (W.W. Norton & Co.; 2007; Hb £16.99) Reviewed by Ali McKeown

I believe 'Stolen Yesterdays' would be a more appropriate title for this book. Undeniably, childhood sexual abuse has effects that can last long into adulthood, but many people go on to live fulfilling lives, including those mentioned in this book. It is the past which has been stolen away, whereas the future can be recovered.The case studies presented provide useful insight into living with childhood sexual abuse. However, Levenkron has presented 17 cases in succession to illustrate various points about the implications for recovery. His style of writing means that it is easy to become engaged and to lose sight of the weight of these stories. The result is somewhat overwhelming for the reader.This leads on to the wider question: Who is the reader? Despite a chapter written for survivors, this book appears to be aimed at professionals. The result is a somewhat voyeuristic, prescriptive presentation that pathologises difficulties and lacks substance for a professional who is approaching work in this field.

I also feel this book might possibly be overwhelming for a survivor due to graphic accounts presented in the case studies.

Finally, I would like to have seen more reference to peer-reviewed research. I found it interesting to read about the practice of another therapist but would be reluctant to apply some of his techniques without further evidence of efficacy.

- Ali McKeown is a trainee clinical psychologist at the University of Sheffield.


Witty and cheery

Understanding and Using Statistics in Psychology: A Practical Introduction by Jeremy Miles & Philip Banyard (Sage; 2007; Pb £21.99) Reviewed by Helen Henshaw

'Understanding and Using Statistics in Psychology' is a relatively undistinguished title, which could easily portray yet another standard introduction to statistical analysis. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to adopt this stance. In reality, Miles and Banyard have not only covered the basics requirements for the topic area, they have also introduced a number of pressing ideas and concepts within statistics with a cheery tone and an abundance of witty anecdotes.Miles and Banyard do not take a 'cookbook approach' to statistics, to use their terms. Instead, each test is thoroughly explained prior to presenting the SPSS analysis, giving the underpinnings of each test in detail. Furthermore, with the use of data sets taken from published research papers, students are free to go back to original papers should they wish.

Each chapter of this book is cleverly strewn with self-test questions and further information, which, although not crucial to the understanding of the chapter, is provided nonetheless for those who want a little extra from the text. The ease at which this book conveys even the most pressing issues within statistics gives an enlightening approach to what some students see as a rather tedious area of undergraduate psychology training.

- Helen Henshaw is a PhD student at Nottingham Trent University.


Empathy for the Devil: How to Help People Overcome Drugs and Alcohol Problems by Phil Harris (Russell House; 2007; Pb £24.95 99) Reviewed by Cathy Wood

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it is a great read. Harris discusses the complexity of drug and alcohol problems with more reference to cultural and social aspects than previous work that I have read in this area. I found his account of the involvement and hypocrisy of the American government in relation to drugs particularly interesting.

The focus of the book is explicitly and empathically on helping clients to establish and achieve their own goals to overcome their addiction. However Harris does not treat people as living in a vacuum, but as living within and being part of an extremely influential cultural context.

I particularly enjoyed Harris's astute reflections upon the therapeutic relationship, something not always talked about, and found the chapter on solution-focused therapy so inspiring that I wanted to rush out and try it.

- Cathy Wood is a trainee clinical psychologist at Liverpool University.