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Book reviews - May 2016

A selection from the print edition.

13 April 2016

Macroneural Theories in Cognitive Neuroscience
William R. Uttal

William R. Uttal provides a compelling read and captures the reader’s attention as he discusses controversial and complex issues within the field of neural network theories. Despite the title, there are actually three chapters before any detailed discussion of macroneural theories themselves. The first section of the book provides the reader with a useful background on the development of theories in cognitive neuroscience. This would be useful to a novice, helping in understanding the complex discussions in later chapters.

Uttal offers an insightful overview of functional neural networks and succeeds at highlighting the pitfalls of creating network theories from fMRI data. The book could be taken as giving a somewhat negative view of the field. It would have been beneficial to make more of an acknowledgement throughout of the valuable information that can be gained from neural network research and data from other sources (e.g. electrophysiology in animals).

Uttal puts forward an interesting concept, that nodes within a functional network do not need to be localised anatomically. This idea could provide a new insight into brain networks from the perspective of distributed processes as nodes, rather than the heavily studied localisation of function. Each chapter provides well-written and well-supported arguments for the current problems in the development of network theories, specifically relevant to cognitive neuroscientists.

Macroneural Theories in Cognitive Neuroscience is an interesting read and enables network scientists to consider controversial topics in great detail.

Psychology Press; 2016;
Pb £31.99

Reviewed by Stacey A. Bedwell who is at the Division of Psychology, Nottingham Trent University


8 Keys to Forgiveness
Robert Enright

While what is considered fair or just varies across culture and history, humans, across the world, feel peeved, angry or vengeful when injustice is meted out to them. Whether or not we take revenge, in word or deed, most of us are aggrieved when we are wronged. And, very often, angry thoughts simmer in our minds long after the misdeed or offence was committed. In a sense, we then become victims of our own negativity, as bitterness or resentment gnaw at our emotional cores.

In order to break free from our inner turmoil, Robert Enright suggests that we practise forgiveness. In 8 Keys to Forgiveness, Enright explains why and how pardoning our offender can be cathartic. From helping incest survivors cope with depression, to cardiac patients exhibiting indices of healthier hearts, to victims of PTSD showing fewer anxious symptoms, forgiveness therapy has far-reaching consequences. While the author also provides a few case studies to illustrate the transformative power of forgiveness, they are rather short and sketchy. The case studies would have had a stronger impact if they had been etched in more detail.

The author delineates eight keys or steps as one progresses on the forgiveness journey. As the book is part of a larger 8 Keys series, the reader should not take the number eight literally as the chapters have been chalked out to fit into the series format. The author also anticipates how hard it can be to forgive but coaxes the reader to press on and provides exercises that can help a person become ‘forgivingly-fit’. As this book is written as self-help, its touchy-feely tone is unlikely to win over sceptics of the self-improvement industry. But if you are open to the idea that forgiveness can heal, then this book may be the right balm for your splintered soul. The author also explains how forgiveness not only helps the individual, but can affect generations to come.

W.W. Norton & Co.; 2015; Pb £9.99
Reviewed by Aruna Sankaranarayanan who is Director, PRAYATNA, a centre for children with learning difficulties in India


Inside the Mind of a Gambler: The Hidden Addiction and How to Stop
Stephen Renwick

This book offers an insightful vision into the nature of a pathological gambling addiction, successfully exploring the many challenges experienced by affected cases and helpful ways in which to recover.

The book is split into two well-written sections. It begins with a fascinating case of a gambler called Guy, highlighting his subjective experiences, challenges and inspirational recovery. The author then considers psychological theories of gambling, identifying potential predisposing and precipitating factors, an amalgamation of relevant aetiological theories, and an excellent section regarding treatment approaches.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter partly written in the form of an interview between Stephen Renwick and Guy: it was honest and refreshing to read. Having myself only dealt with a theoretical side of gambling addiction, it allowed me to explore gambling truly through the mind of a gambler.

Guy’s moving journey, from devastating situations to a gambling-free life, through self-help and strength, provides a wonderful sense of hopefulness! His advice, along with the author’s depth of explanation, I believe has great potential to provide support to practising professionals, as well as to affected cases on a path to recovery. Overall, an insightful, engaging and well-written book.

Trafford Publishing; 2015; Pb £5.54
Reviewed by Despina Lazarou who holds a master’s degree in abnormal and clinical psychology and is an honorary assistant psychologist


Sugar and Snails
Anne Goodwin

Fiction can be what it wishes – reliable, unreliable, truthful or deceitful – and in the hands of someone with grounding and knowledge, it can do those things with integrity. This is what Goodwin achieves in her penetrative story of Diana’s self-discovery, and it’s a riveting read.

It begins in the middle, proceeding then in intermittent flashbacks reminiscent of PTSD, skimming the peaks of past events, then plummeting into their valleys. You discover Diana alongside Diana herself, although there are hints on the way for the sharp-minded. ‘Dropping the knife, I bring my arm to my mouth: the vibrant colour, the taste of hot coins, the pain as sharp as vinegar spearing the fug of nothingness with the promise of peace.’ The language is raw at times, academically precise at others. Goodwin’s character, a psychologist, questions, denies, and stumbles towards her own truth in a way that exudes authenticity. Where professionals can describe and categorise trauma and evaluate the extent to which individuals deal with it, fiction delivered by a writer who knows not only how to craft her words but also what those words should be communicating can bang it home with vivid, unrelenting imagery.

Inspired Quill; 2015; Pb £8.99. Reviewed by Dr Suzanne Conboy-Hill, a former consultant psychologist with Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, and writer of short fiction.


The Art of Coaching: A Handbook of Tips and Tools
Jenny Bird & Sarah Gornall

As an NHS clinical psychologist, I’d often wondered how coaching might fit in with therapy and other responsibilities (e.g. supervision, mentoring and managing staff). I should say that the book is for coaches and those already familiar with coaching but the authors say that it can be used in leadership, decision making, managing change and supervision contexts. So that’s a shoe-in for adopting it in situations and with people where it might help.

They introduce the book gamely as ‘a book of drawings’ to stimulate visual thinking, help people see the world in different ways and to emphasise relationship at the heart of the enterprise of coaching. So far so good with pinching their ideas! The ‘coachee’ (trainee, client, employee?) is encouraged to express their thoughts and feelings in a diagram or drawing to see things afresh and to develop a plan of action that is relevant and unique to them – the practical visualisation of ‘issues’ intended to clarify where someone is at and where they might go.

The authors encourage boldness and creativity in using the tips and tools, described clearly and succinctly in eight chapters with the same format: what this is, how we use it and putting it into action. They suggest dipping into the book for fun and inspiration, with their overall approach light in touch and generous to readers to choose how to use the book and to let the authors know ‘where it has taken you’.

I’d anticipate this book as probably particularly valuable to coaches but would suggest that therapists, mentors and managers see it as a kind of play-box of interesting ideas (some no doubt already familiar), to help share, clarify and maybe solve what’s going wrong and what might go right. Communication, learning, influencing, facilitation – what’s not to try?

Routledge; 2016; Pb £24.99
Reviewed by Marie Stewart who is a Principal Clinical Psychologist