Reviewed Books & Films

Thursday, November 20, 2014

We Will Age, But How Well?


We will all age and we hope to age well; however, we will carry health and mental health issues into that process and may also experience new issues. In his review of The Evergreen Guide: Helping People to Survive and Thrive in Later Years, Alan Swope notes the aging of our population and the lack of preparation to deal with its mental health needs. The Evergreen Guide describes a program, based on efforts initiated in Ireland a decade ago, that focuses on psycho-education designed to promote mental health and successful aging.

Swope highlights the strengths and weaknesses of the book:

The strengths of The Evergreen Guide are its clarity and the applicability of the psychoeducational modules. Its glaring weakness is its lack of any coverage of older adults' sexuality. The sex life of people over 65 seems to be the last taboo of geropsychiatry. (last para.)

The reviewer’s comments point to another area where biases may affect not only the care that we provide, but also our ability to identify concerns that are potentially important to the people we serve. We explore many issues of diversity in our training, but do we pay sufficient attention to aging stereotypes and myths? As a profession, are we doing enough to retain the wisdom of older psychologists, recruit older adults into training programs, and ensure a workforce that reflects the population that we will serve?

Finally, although the The Evergreen Guide considers cross-cultural issues, Swope offers some critique of the coverage. I am led to wonder to what extent we understand issues of aging in diverse communities, particularly the issues of diverse aging in the United States.

Read the Review
ReviewAn Agenda for Positive Aging: Lessons From Ireland
By Alan Swope
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(41)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Psychologists’ Academic History


Psychological science traces its history to academic institutions mostly in Europe and the United States. Much of that history is documented in research reports and biographies, but the academic context of that activity also is of great importance.

In his review of Essential Documents in the History of American Higher Education, Bruce Henderson describes that context broadly in U.S. colleges and universities. The documents in the book include curriculum reports, memoirs, and speeches by people who were not psychologists. Henderson points out that  psychology also has an academic history that goes beyond its research. His examples include James McKeen Cattell’s conflict with the president of Columbia University, John B. Watson’s scandal at Johns Hopkins, and “Edward Tolman’s response to the University of California’s imposition of a loyalty oath in 1950 (Carroll, 2012), a landmark in the history of academic freedom” (para. 12). I would add a European example in Wolfgang Kohler’s stand against the Nazis (Henle, 1978).

As students and faculty, psychologists have their own experiences that illuminate academic life in the last century. Several psychologists have been presidents of universities. That includes Robert Sternberg, the previous editor of PsycCRITIQUES’s predecessor journal, Contemporary Psychology—APA Review of Books. They should have some interesting stories to tell and perhaps some worthy speeches. Many departments have written their history, which may be mostly of local interest but are likely to contain incidents of more general interest.

What are your suggestions for documents that might be included in psychology’s academic history? Perhaps someone who enjoys editing books could put together our field’s volume.


Henle, M. (1978). One man against the Nazis: Wolfgang Kohler. American Psychologist, 33, 939-944.
Read the Review
ReviewGlimpses of American Higher Education’s Past
By Bruce B. Henderson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(42)

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Truth Will Set Whom Free?


In reviewing James T. Hansen’s new book Philosophical Issues in Counseling and Psychotherapy: Encounters With Four Questions About Knowing, Effectiveness, and Truth, Milan Pomichalek offers a critique of Hansen’s postmodern stance toward counselling:

Adopting such a stance leads to the conclusion that counseling is most effective when the counseling  situation is characterized by the contextual factors common to all healing paradigms and when interventions are "judged by the degree to which they bring beneficial consequences to clients, not according to whether, in the practitioner's judgment, they accurately correspond to the intrinsic nature of some client reality” (p. 128). (para. 6)

But Pomichalek argues,

[T]he beneficial consequences of counseling interventions are not completely independent of “the intrinsic nature” of a “client's reality” (p. 128). True, it is not the reality represented by theoretical constructs of, say, id-ego-superego, but a reality nonetheless. Otherwise, how could the interventions be judged as meaningful or emotionally resonant (p. 127)? (para. 9)

Do you think it matters whether a therapist uncovers some actual truth about a client, or is it sufficient that the client benefits regardless of whether what is uncovered is literally true?

Read the Review
ReviewEncountering Encounters: Psychotherapy and the Challenge of Humanism
By Milan Pomichalek
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(41)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Is ADHD a Valid Disorder?


Robert Furey and Colleen Furey, reviewers of The ADHD Explosion: Myths, Medication, Money, and Today’s Push for Performance by Stephen P. Hinshaw and Richard M. Scheffler, describe the “ADHD explosion” in stark and alarming terms: in 2011, there were 2 million more children aged 4 to 17 in the United States with an ADHD diagnosis compared with 2003; an estimated one in nine youths (6.4 million) currently has an ADHD diagnosis; 19 percent of adolescent males in the United States have received the diagnosis at some point in their lives; an estimated 9 million U.S. adults have an ADHD diagnosis. The financial costs of ADHD can be measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars, including both cost of treatment services (direct costs) as well as “hidden” costs such as unemployment, underemployment, loss of productivity in the workplace, and costs incurred in the criminal justice system through higher rates of criminal behavior.

The diagnosis of ADHD, and its medication treatments, has not been without controversy—some say that ADHD doesn’t exist at all, that the symptoms can be better explained by other syndromes. Others maintain that ADHD exists, but it is overdiagnosed due to cursory assessments and failure to adequately distinguish it from other syndromes. There is also controversy about the medications used to treat ADHD—children are commonly treated with central nervous system stimulants, like Ritalin, that work on the neurotransmitter dopamine and carry potential for abuse.

What is your view of the ADHD explosion—is it “an epidemic of ADHD misdiagnosis” as recently characterized by neurologist Richard Saul (2014) (cited in the review, para. 7)? Is it a valid disorder? Is there need for concern about the safety and long-term impact of the stimulant medications used for treatment?

Read the Review
ReviewThe Economics of Inattention
By Robert Furey and Colleen Furey
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(40)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Are The Obese Negatively Portrayed in TV and Film?


In her review of The Weight of Images: Affect, Body Image and Fat in the Media by Katariina Kyrölä, Marianne LaFrance discusses the images of obese persons in different types of media and the emotions that they elicit from the audience including fear, disgust, shame, pride, and laughter. The review made me consider some of  the images in current television programs—programs such as Mike and Molly (a comedy about a  married couple, both of whom are large) and (as mentioned in the review) The Biggest Loser (a weight loss competition). In films, I was recently reminded of the (negative) character Dudley in the Harry Potter films (Harry's mortal, nonwizard cousin—portrayed as a not-very-bright bully). 

How prevalent are media images of obese individuals that elicit negative emotions? To what extent is it a problem? The issue seems even more complicated since not all aspects of obese characters are negative. The title characters of Mike and Molly are humorous, but so are the non-obese characters  in the show (e.g., Mike's mother and police officer partner, Molly's mother and sister) and the non-obese characters in other situation comedies. And Mike and Molly are portrayed as a nice, loving couple. Although the book and the review note the negative emotions elicited by The Biggest Loser, others have argued the program's good points including that persons are working hard attempting to improve their health. On the other hand, as with weight, the negative stereotypes of various minority ethnic groups also have contained positive as well as negative aspects to their images—the noble savage, the brave African American character who always seems to die by the end of the show or film, and the ethnic minority character who rarely has the leading role in an ensemble cast. 

Similar to ethnic minority characters, the obese person is rarely the lead in an ensemble cast even though he or she may be an important part of the group—the new show Scorpion, about a group of crime solving geniuses, is a good example). So, again, how prevalent and to what extent are these negative images of obese persons a problem?

Read the Review
ReviewWeighty Matters; Heavy Going
By Marianne LaFrance
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(41)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Perspectives on the Power Friendships


In her review of Women Psychotherapists’ Reflections on Female Friendships: Sisters of the Heart, Harriette Kaley notes how well the book makes a case for the “power of sisterhood” (para. 6). The chapters describe the transformative effect of friendships on the lives of women and their ability to heal, empower, and inspire; but, as Kaley notes, the authors do not neglect the other factors that are important to women’s lives. The additional factors include “feminist therapy, education, cultural sensitivity, alternative therapies,  self-care, and so on” (para. 3), with a significant emphasis on spirituality.

The reviewer notes how touching and personal each author’s narrative is and the value of this act of witnessing. However, I found myself wondering about the emphasis on the development of feminist therapists. Is the impact of women’s friendships different for women therapists who are not feminists? How much would narratives of male therapists who espouse a feminist perspective vary with respect to the importance of women’s friendships or in the other factors affecting women’s lives?

Given the importance of relationships to human well-being, perhaps the emphasis should be on the capacity of women to acknowledge and seek what we all need—nurturance, guidance, and good friends.

Read the Review
ReviewHow Your Women Friends Save Your Life: Personal Stories, Major Implications
By Harriette Kaley
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(38)

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Virtue and Balance: Personal, Interpersonal, and Societal Implications


The action-drama film Divergent, based on the best-selling book series by Veronica Roth, depicts a dystopian society divided by virtues and explores important questions on individual, interpersonal, and societal levels, such as the following.

  • Individual level: Are we all divergent? In other words, do we all express a strong constellation of many virtues and character strengths, or do we mostly tend to express one in particular? In what situations do we commonly overuse these strengths?
  • Interpersonal level: How do we relate to people who strongly express a virtue different from our own (e.g., wisdom versus courage; temperance versus justice)? Can the expression of one virtue collide with the expression of another?
  • Societal level: What is the role of virtue in society? What are the limits of virtue? Can society have too much courage, too much justice, too much knowledge? Are virtues the key element of a utopian society?

Whether you’ve seen the film or not, consider these questions and offer your observations and opinions on whichever cluster strikes you most.

In my PsycCRITIQUES review of the film, I chose to focus on the first cluster of questions and delve into the concept of "overuse" of virtue or character strengths. Hearkening back to ideas first opined by Aristotle, all of us are vulnerable to bringing forth our strengths and virtues too strongly (e.g., being too honest, attempting to offer too much wise advice, being too curious, and so on). The science of positive psychology is investigating these areas more closely and is finding that great importance might be placed on finding balance with our virtue and character strength expression. What do you think?


Read the Review
ReviewThe Overuse of Strengths: 10 Principles
By Ryan M. Niemiec
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(33)

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Do Clinicians Need to Call Out Character Issues?


In their recent review of Len Sperry and Jon Carlson’s book How Master Therapists Work: Effecting Change From the First Through the Last Session and Beyond, Jay Efran and Jonah Cohen raise an interesting point about Carlson’s therapy with a client named Aimee:

Carlson posits that Aimee's character structure is marked by dependency traits and a strong need to please. Nevertheless, he keeps asking Aimee if she is willing to do a number of tasks (e.g.,  meditate, confess her resentment to her mother, and so on). Not surprisingly, she always  agrees. In our opinion, this sort of therapeutic exchange elicits and then promptly ignores precisely what Carlson cites as being at the root of the client’s difficulties. In other words, the therapeutic interaction replicates Aimee’s interpersonal style but then reinforces it rather than calling attention to it—an almost textbook example of what both family and psychodynamic therapists call enactment. (para. 10)

When working with dependent clients, do you think it is crucial for the therapist to call attention to the client’s dependent tendencies, or should therapists simply be glad that the client is so willing to go along with important therapeutic assignments?

Read the Review
ReviewIn Search of Therapeutic Mastery
By Jay S. Efran and Jonah N. Cohen
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(35)

Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Chair of Behavioral Sciences,
College of Medicine,
American University of Antigua

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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