18 September 2014

The psychodynamics of film

Visible Mind: Movies, Modernity and the Unconscious
Christopher Hauke

As an aficionado of cinema and someone with an interest in psychoanalysis, I came to this book with high hopes. It’s a curious mixture of being an introduction both to Jung’s work and to the craft of film making – the latter realised for the most part through an interesting set of interviews with those whose job it is to make films – actor, film editor, writer/director and production designer.

Sadly the interviews and the rest of text don’t complement one another particularly well. While interesting in their own right, the interviews give no great insights into why Jungian psychology in particular or psychoanalysis in general should be indispensable tools for understanding film making, film interpretation or the relationship between the viewer and what’s on the big screen. The impression I was left with was that the author’s attachment to Jung precluded the possibility of a thorough critical analysis of the strengths and limitations of psychodynamic theory when it comes to appreciating the complexity of our relationship with motion pictures.

I came away acutely aware of material that had not been covered. First of all – the cover depicts a seated Alfred Hitchcock – who then barely figures in the book! Perhaps beyond a marketing ploy this was deliberate – what we consciously expect we don’t consciously find! I’m not convinced. Secondly, and a more serious problem, is the repeated (and sometimes tenuous) invocation of the Grail legend to underscore Jung’s notion of individuation and its almost ubiquitous presence in numerous films. What we don’t get is any analysis of how the Grail legend itself has been handled by film makers and what we can learn from this. John Boorman’s classic retelling of the Arthurian legend in Excalibur, which has been praised as ‘the greatest and the richest [...] screen incarnation of the oft-told tale’, sadly receives not a mention. If the quest for the Holy Grail is so replete with Jungian archetypal imagery and its narrative structures, then surely here is the place to examine it. But no, instead we are treated to a review of American Beauty where we are informed that ‘the loss of the anima character is associated with the loss of purposeful aliveness itself’ (p.179). That might be true of American Beauty but it is not true of Excalibur, where, following the death of King Arthur in battle, we are witness, not to the loss of the anima character, but its reappearance, as, in the film’s final visual feast, the hand of the Lady rises from beneath the murky calm of the lake to reclaim what is hers – the mighty sword. It is her presence that bookmarks both Arthur’s rise and his bloody downfall.

Hauke’s book is not without its merits, and does contain some useful insights but ironically, given its subject matter, has settled for a simple narrative ahead of an analysis of substantive depth.

Routledge; 2014; Pb £26.99Reviewed by Ron Roberts who is at Kingston University

No need to panic…
Your Undergraduate Psychology Project
Mark Forshaw

As someone who has both experienced and witnessed anxiety surrounding the commencement and completion of a final assessed project, I can safely say that this book represents the perfect stress-reducing companion.

Set out in four jargon-free sections, the book guides the reader through each key stage of producing an undergraduate psychology project. The author thoroughly addresses the daunting task of planning research, and offers methods of developing meaningful research questions. The book is ordered as any project should be. As such, the reader is supported through the journey of selecting a research question, linking this question to appropriate research methods, collecting data, analysing it effectively, and eventually writing up a masterpiece.

This chronological structure is what I found most refreshing about the book, as well as the essential, time-saving hints and tips provided along the way. Each chapter is presented light-heartedly and with a humorous undertone, setting this book apart from drier books available in this topic area. I felt that the concluding chapter, entitled ‘How to lose marks instantly’, was the perfect end to this highly reassuring and supportive read.

As a tutor, I will happily recommend this book to my panicky students in the future.

BPS Blackwell; 2013; Pb £19.99
Reviewed by Christian Perrin
who is a PhD student at Nottingham Trent University


Cutting-edge content
Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Psychology of Leadership, Change
and Organizational Development
H. Skipton Leonard, Rachel Lewis, Arthur M. Freedman & Jonathan Passmore (Eds.)

Some 20 years ago, the management writer Peter Senge claimed that few of the firms then in existence would last for as long as their employees’ working careers. Since then the increasing pace of economic, social and technological change has created an even more challenging environment for organisations. Occupational psychologists have responded to this challenge by contributing insights on leadership and organisational change, of which Leonard and his colleagues provide a state-of-the-art summary.

The first, and longest, part of the work is on leadership. This begins with a thorough review of the general theories in this area, before examining a number of specific topics in leadership research. The second part focuses on processes of change in organisations; here, the chapters cover theories of organisational change and ways to implement it in practice. Finally, there is a short section covering approaches to diagnosis (or should that be formulation?) and intervention in organisational development.

I thought that, overall, the book had been put together very well, with the chapters covering a diverse but complementary range of topics. Some of these, for example psychodynamic and Lewinian perspectives, have a long history in the literature. Others, such as contributions from mindfulness and positive psychology, are more recent. All, though, are presented in a clear and informative manner. In addition to this conceptual material is coverage of field studies on issues such as the effect of leadership on employee well-being and factors influencing employee participation in change programmes. The reader will get a sense of the eclectic nature of leadership and organisational change research, as well as an understanding of the issues that have yet to be explored. While I found the book generally well organised, I did think that it would have benefited from more cross-referencing between each of its three parts, which seem to be presented in a largely standalone manner.

The book explicitly focuses on the academic underpinnings of leadership and organisational change/development, as opposed to being a ‘how to’ guide. However, its authoritative and cutting-edge content will also inform the work of practitioners in this field.

Wiley-Blackwell; 2013; Hb £120.00
Reviewed by Denham Phipps who is a Research Fellow at the University of Manchester


A cocktail of side-effects
The Bitterest Pills: The Troubling Story of Antipsychotic Drugs
Joanna Moncrieff

This excellently referenced book by Joanna Moncrieff (author of The Myth of the Chemical Cure) fills a much-needed gap in the academic literature addressing the role and effects of antipsychotic medication in psychiatric populations.

Moncrieff starts with a brief tour through the history of treatment of psychiatric patients, examining the belief that antipsychotics freed psychiatric patients from a lifetime of imprisonment in an asylum, frequent restraints, electro-convulsive therapy and possible lobotomy.

The positive role of antipsychotics is examined in this context alongside the negatives, and the most common antipsychotics found available to general practitioners in the British National Formulary are explored. Strong explanations of the drugs used to treat psychiatric disorders, including their brand names and what exactly is currently believed that they do biochemically, provide an invaluable source of information to the psychological therapist. 

Moncrieff defines seven main psychological side-effects of antipsychotics from both a medical and a psychological perspective. First explored are the sedative effects, which service users report as leaving them feeling tired all the time and barely able to get out of bed, a common complaint to GPs. The mental effects create a mental fogginess and inability to focus. Moncrieff then explores the emotional effects, which include leaving individuals feeling like an emotionless zombie, dead inside… a state where the personality is dampened, and all creativity is squashed. 

The next disturbing set of side-effects; Moncrieff terms as the Parkinson effects, leaving patients feeling as though the mind was slowed down… making it extremely hard to move, talk and think. Akathisia is next, and includes descriptions of extreme agitation and ineffable anxiety. Sexual effects are noted by service users as obliterating sexual activity; and Moncriefff’s final category are the metabolic effects, including ravenous, rapacious, unsatisfiable hunger, leading to extreme weight and an additional battery of physical health problems.

This book pays particular attention to the service-user perspective, providing anecdotal information from the experience and testimonials from those who have actually taken these drugs both in the short and long term.

It is not, however, a bedtime read.

Palgrave Macmillan; 2013; Pb £19.99
Reviewed by Kirsten Nokling who is a trainee clinical psychologist for South Wales and Vale NHS Trust, Cardiff University


Only users can tell
HappyHealthy (app)
Ginger Guru

HappyHealthy is a happiness tracker health app. Users rate their overall happiness using an interactive ‘smiley’ rating scale and self-assess their daily lifestyle, exercise, nutrition and sleep habits. HappyHealthy then provides ‘tips’ and information on how to improve these habits. Users can also ask a question to expert coaches and purchase a personalised video for person-centred wellbeing advice. The HappyHealthy team claims that the app increases self-rated well-being by 12 per cent in six days and over 22 per cent in six months.

So as a test I asked 14 users to download and use the HappyHealthy app for a week and self-evaluate its design, functionality and perceived effectiveness. Most users felt that the app was attractive, colourful and easy to use. The interactive ‘smiley’ rating scale function appeared to be most enjoyable and the ‘ask a question’ function appeared to be most confusing. Overall, users felt that the app did not make them feel any happier after six days, but felt that the app was very useful as a resource to improve their daily health habits.

I suggest that HappyHealthy is best used as a supplementary resource in a health and fitness context. For example, athletes recovering from a minor sports injury may find that self-assessing their daily health habits and visualising their progress, is useful to their well-being recovery rates. However, HappyHealthy will need to be tested by mental health professionals before it can be deemed acceptable as a resource to improve well-being or general happiness.

2013; Free on iTunes
Reviewed by Derek Laffan who is a ‘positive cyberpsychology’ researcher at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dun Laoghaire, Ireland

Psychology to the core
Psychology OCR: AS Core Studies and Psychological Investigations (3rd edn)
Philip Banyard & Cara Flanagan

Psychology OCR is a well-written and engaging textbook for A-level students or for those who wish to indulge their interest in psychology. Written by experienced and credible sources, it contains all of the information needed for the OCR specification.

The book follows a chronological structure and guides the reader from what psychology is and how it is used by us all in our day-to-day lives, through the requirements of the exam and how to achieve top grades, to a breakdown of the key approaches, core studies, issues and methods.

The chapters follow a universal format and use a colour-coding system: green for ‘Try this’ and red for ‘Connections/Links to core studies’. Not only does this add coherence to the content and make the book easy to navigate, but it also shows students how psychological investigations link to the approaches and core studies and how the approaches are interlinked, therefore allowing students to apply their knowledge on a wider level.

Brief recaps and exam questions at the end of each chapter allow the reader to check their knowledge, and, unlike other textbooks, model answers with examiner feedback are included – a useful tool for both students and teachers who may not have examining experience. In short, this is a visually appealing and humorous textbook that will benefit students with a range of learning styles – a ‘must-have’ textbook.

Psychology Press; 2013;
Pb £21.99
Reviewed by Pamela Walker who is a psychology lecturer in the Joseph Wright Centre, Derb


Abuse, not pornInternet Sex Offenders
Michael Seto

Seto gives a thorough overview of up-to-date research in the field of internet sexual offending. He covers many complex areas of internet sex offences; ranging from online grooming to possessing child-abuse images. This book provides vital information to practitioners managing risk in an area that is constantly changing at the same speed as technology advances.

My only critique is unfortunately quite pertinent and surprising. Seto continually refers to child-abuse images as ‘child porn’, something that may seem insignificant, but as the term child porn implies consent, it is a shame that the author (a well-known researcher in this field) chose to use it. 
American Psychological Association; 2013;
Hb $69.95
Reviewed by Louise Enderby who is a Higher Assistant Psychologist with Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust


Mixed feelings about mixed traits
Moral Character: An Empirical Theory
Christian B. Miller

In engaging prose littered with lively examples of (im)moral behaviour, Christian Miller effectively unites virtue ethics and personality psychology in an attempt to develop a framework about moral character. His detailed arguments posit that most people have characters that are neither virtuous nor vicious. I initially pondered whether Miller’s thesis was important: does anyone consider others to be wholly virtuous or vicious? Reading on, my scepticism was not dispelled. Miller's argument developed from a largely uncritical review of findings from mostly dated studies about helping-behaviour and how emotions like guilt, embarrassment and empathy can have an effect. The overall picture painted is that we fail to help others when costs are involved, but help if motivated by rewards, such as guilt-alleviation. His idea, that we have a ‘mixed helping trait’ rather than traits of pure compassion or selfishness, is then used to explain research findings about aggression and lying.

To me, the ‘mixed trait’ argument felt obvious and similar to the hackneyed one about whether altruistic behaviour exists. The same idea might have been arrived at intuitively and via an a priori criticism of the referenced studies, in which researchers explored emotions and traits in isolation. In reality emotions and traits are tangled with others, tied to context and, well… mixed.

Although the book has less practical relevance than I had hoped, Miller’s writing is eloquent. I would therefore recommend it to anyone who wants to explore the minutiae of character traits and the controversy around their existence and nature.

Oxford University Press; 2013; Hb £35.00
Reviewed by: Dr Sandi Dheensa who is in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton


A poignant history lesson
The Butler
Lee Daniels (Director)

The opening scene of The Butler represented footage I had recently seen in the Cotton Museum in Memphis, Tennessee – footage of black people enduring hard labour in the cotton fields in 1920s Georgia. In the film this is where we first meet Cecil Gaines, who later becomes trained as a ‘house-boy’ and then goes on to serve in the White House between 1952 and 1986. The film is loosely based on the true story of Eugene Allen, who served eight presidents and witnessed monumental decisions that affected his civil rights as a black American.

Throughout the film, the presence of the now unthinkable southern segregation laws and treatment of blacks as second class citizens were inescapable. For me this was highlighted by overt reference to the signs in the cafes that informed people who were ‘colored’ or ‘white’ where they could sit.

The viewer is reminded of the harrowing truth of the physical and emotional struggle for civil rights by careful interweaving of real news footage taken from the time. The trials and tribulations of Cecil’s family are portrayed in a way that is thought-provoking and left me feeling deeply moved. Fortunately, we know that their struggles were not in vain, and the film brings the story to a close by celebrating the victory of Barack Obama, an African-American, in the 2008 presidential election.

American attitudes towards blacks have been researched and documented extensively by social psychologists, who have found a dramatic reduction in anti-black attitudes since the 1930s. Although explicit and blatant racism, as vividly portrayed in The Butler, is now illegal and morally condemned, more subtle forms of racism today are common, suggesting that it may always remain an unpalatable part of human behaviour.

Owing to what I learnt while visiting Memphis, I felt a strong connection to the places and events featured in the film, which poignantly brought this period in history to life for me. With fantastic performances by Forest Whitaker (the butler) and Oprah Winfrey (the butler’s wife), and an all-star cast (Vanessa Redgrave, Robin Williams), I was captivated from beginning to end and would thoroughly recommend this film.

Reviewed by Dr Louise Bunce who is
a Senior Lecturer in Psychology, London Metropolitan University


Shocking but sensitive

OCD Ward

Mental health issues are captivating the public in current television, and OCD Ward gives an engaging and accessible glimpse into the treatment and management of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) at Springfield University Hospital. OCD is exposed at its most extreme and shocking, and yet the show demonstrates sensitivity and preserves dignity.

The therapy used in the ward is a very behavioural approach, almost appearing uncouth at times, though the staff acknowledge that ‘for the patients, the therapy can seem worse than the OCD’. Those in the ward must confront their fears head on, allowing viewers to witness the immense emotional turmoil experienced by OCD sufferers.

Nevertheless, as the OCD Ward Manager elucidates, many of the patients are here for a last resort, some suffering so severely that they are cut off from their world: ‘They’ve tried medication, they’ve tried psychotherapy, they’ve tried psychology… and they’ve failed. Then they come to us.’ We are allowed a glimpse into the intensive and all-encompassing programme that is needed to treat these most severe cases. We observe what those suffering from OCD go through to get better; however, the programme retains honesty about the trajectory of the disorder, with one sufferer dropping out of treatment saying, ‘OCD will always find a way, always.’

One particularly resonating part of the programme was the opportunity to observe the emotional journey of sufferer Edward and his parents, whom he had been unable to hug for fear of contamination. The effect of mental health disorders on family relationships was made starkly clear in this informative programme. Although uncomfortable to watch on occasion, it taught about OCD within a ward, and its far-reaching effects.

Reviewed by Jacki Rutherford who is a Research Assistant with
the UCL Dementia Research Centre and North East London NHS Foundation Trust


extra web reviews


How to Think about Caring for a Child with Difficult Behaviour: A Handbook and Workbook for Adoptive Parents, Foster Parents, Carers and Therapists

Joanna North

This encouraging handbook is predicated on the notion that it is the adults in the lives of children with marked emotional and behavioural dysfunction arising from early relational deprivation and trauma that can facilitate positive change, given appropriate advice and support.


The candid opening chapters contribute to such advice by facilitating key adults in reflecting on their own personal and interpersonal armoury, with carer ‘self-care’ an explicit aim.  North, a psychotherapist specialising in looked-after-children, offers economical, accessible explanations of extremely complex intra-psychic and interpersonal processes rooted in attachment theory and developmental psychology.  She does so with a warm, empathic first-person narrative replete with striking metaphors and practical tools such as checklists of behaviours, scripts for ‘wondering aloud’ and diary templates.


Rather than dwelling on the within-child deficits of children who have been severely damaged psychologically in childhood, this book is an uplifting contribution to our management of their needs in the context of the dyadic vehicle for recovery promoting, for example, a relationally focused form of functional analysis for difficult behaviours.  It will serve as an invaluable guide to substitute parents and a useful tool for those supporting them, including social workers in the field of foster/adoption care and clinicians supporting looked-after children and working in post-adoption therapeutic services.


Watershed Publications; 2009; £25.00

Reviewed by Dr Sheila McConnellogue, who is an educational psychologist


Autism and Challenging Behaviour

BBC Four

Fascinating watching, this television documentary was less about challenging behaviour and more the differing perceptions of applied behaviour analysis (ABA). It focused on Treetops, the only UK state school using pure ABA protocol and followed a private ABA practitioner through his work. Great successes resulted at high staffing cost but seemingly little stress to the client. However, it was made clear that the cost of these successes had not always been benign.


Although ABA is now almost entirely reward-based, and children appeared to be enjoying receiving the one-to-one attention and the precisely applied rewards of praise, toys and sweets, ABA had started, like other behavioural programmes, using both reward and punishment. An analogy was drawn between ABA and Skinner’s pigeons. This appears to have left some professionals concerned that ABA would negatively affect their trust relationship with the client and Daman, a representative of the ASD Community, concerned that attempting to change a person’s behaviour is an attempt to change their very being.


Film of a child in distress being desensitised to different foods left me feeling comfortable that the adults had shown the child that anxiety does not destroy us and tolerating it opens us up to a wider life. The family of a 16-year0-old cried when they watched videos of his ABA as a two-year-old although it had helped steer him from severely disabled toddler to a mainstreamed national-level badminton player. Daman felt that such ‘compliance’ leaves children with ASD vulnerable to adults.


Reviewed by Dr Sally Austen, who is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist