Reviewed Books & Films

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Is Narcissism Necessary to Lead?


For many years, I have been amazed that narcissistic characteristics can be one's weaknesses (e.g., they cause problems in the workplace, with interpersonal relationships) but also one's strengths (e.g., confidence, the ability try again after a failure).

C. Albert Bardi reviewed Narcissism and Politics: Dreams of Glory by Jerrold M. Post. Bardi states,

My last question, whether the act of finding narcissism in so many highly achieving people is merely a relabeling of ambition and achievement, is also not adequately addressed in this book.  Nevertheless, the question is an insistent one, especially given that in several instances Post uses an individual’s belief that one can lead (or rule) as evidence of narcissism. (para. 6)

So do leaders, even benevolent ones, have to be narcissists to be leaders?   Are these characteristics a strength? 

Read the Review
ReviewNarcissism, Narcissism Everywhere
By C. Albert Bardi
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(31)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

How Can We Bridge the Research-to-Practice Gap in Schools?


In Implementation of Mental Health Programs in Schools, Susan Forman discusses the myriad of issues that need to be considered for effectively implementing evidence-based programs in schools. Implementing evidence-based behavioral interventions is complex, labor intensive, and requires great attention to detail to ensure fidelity to the intervention. Add to the mix the pressures teachers and administrators face in this “age of accountability,” and it becomes clear as to why, in spite of school professionals having knowledge of evidence-based interventions, the school community may not be all that eager to implement them.  As reviewer Rosemary Flanagan points out, the problem of failing to utilize a knowledge base that is supported by research is not limited to school-based professionals; there is a broad and extensive literature on implementation spanning fields illustrates this (para. 2).

 What is your experience, as a psychologist either working within a school setting or outside the school setting as a consultant, with implementing and/or evaluating evidence-based programs implemented in schools?  What strategies have you used to gain the stakeholder support needed for implementation?

 What should be the role of the developers of evidence-based programs in helping close the research-to-practice gap and supporting high-quality implementation?

Read the Review
ReviewDon’t Put the Cart Before the Horse: Implementation of Mental Health Programs in Schools
By Rosemary Flanagan
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(31)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Rose-Colored Moral Development


“Are We Getting Better?” is the title of Geoffrey Cox’s review of Michael Shermer’s The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom. My answer to Cox’s question is, I doubt it, no matter who this collective “we” is. As the subtitle of Shermer’s book states, it is science and reason that are making us better. That must include big science (as in theories of everything), practical science (e.g., fiber optics), and the scientific enterprise in general. This somehow gets to all of “us” and makes us better.

Shermer uses 17th-century witch burning in Salem as an example. When other causes of unacceptable behavior were found, women were no longer burned. Perhaps science found other ways to deal with misbehaving women. Science then made great progress so that in the 19th and 20th centuries “we” lynched more people than the number of witches who were burned 200 years earlier. Now in the 20-teens our moral development has progressed to where we can use drones to blow up buildings and kill innocent people along with, probably, terrorists. The Holocaust of the last century continues into this one in other forms and other places.

Shermer’s book appears to be part of the social science genre that selectively assembles data so as not to spoil a good story. His optimism seems unjustified, especially if “us” is the world population over the past 100 years. Even if “us” is only the United States, the answer to Cox’s question seems unclear. Do our current forms of prejudice, greed, and violence show a positive moral arc from past forms? Cox concludes in the final paragraph, “faith in human progress is mere utopianism,” and “after all, entropy—the gradual decline into disorder—is also a force of nature and all too often, of social systems.”

Read the Review
ReviewAre We Getting Better?
By Geoffrey M. Cox
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(30)

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Is Psychotherapy All About the Relationship?


PsycCRITIQUES Associate Editor Fred Heide is enthusiastic about Irvin Yalom's new book, Creatures of a Day: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy, and he compares the work with another of Yalom's books, Love’s Executioner: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy.  Love's Executioner is a remarkable little book that I have had a generation of clinical psychology and social work students read.

In his review, Dr. Heide notes:

That psychotherapy reduces suffering seems increasingly clear. Meta-analyses indicate that typical clients emerge from therapy in better shape than almost 80% of those untreated (Wampold, 2007). What accounts for these effects, however, remains shrouded in mystery. Many have proposed that the alliance between therapist and client contributes substantially (Horvath, Del Re, Fluckiger, & Symonds, 2011), as do a host of other common factors that transcend theoretical camps (Laska, Gurman, & Wampold, 2014). However, robust disagreement continues about whether the role of specific techniques is major (Hofmann, Asnaani, Vonk, Sawyer, & Fang, 2012) or relatively trivial (American Psychological Association, 2013; Wampold & Imel, 2015). (para. 2)

After a lifetime reading about, thinking about, practicing and teaching psychotherapy, I still don't know how much of the variance in outcome is associated with technique and how much is simply due to the relationship the therapist establishes with his or her client.  I edit a book series for the Society of Clinical Psychology that is predicated on the idea that evidence based practice (technique) is an essential part of good practice, yet with individual clients, I often find myself agreeing with Yalom: "The one thing I’ve come to know with certainty is that if I can create a genuine and caring environment, my patients will find the help they need" (p. 81).

Will this dilemma be resolved in my lifetime?

Read the Review
ReviewSoon You Will Be No One
By Frederick J. Heide
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(29)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Inequality: The Problem of Us All


In the review of Families in an Era of Increasing Inequality: Diverging Destinies, David S. Hargrove suggests that the book presents “objective data that reflect concerns from the inequality experienced by American families” (para. 5) and is an “effort to describe the process, consequences, and likely future of inequality” (para. 7). Hargrove discusses the atheoretical strategy used to present the information and the failure to integrate seemingly disparate findings.  As is typical in our society, there are sides in the family inequality debate, and Hargrove highlights the chapters that illustrate the divide: “Inequality Begins Outside the Home: Putting Parental Educational Investments Into Context” and “Inequality Begins at Home: The Role of Poverty in the Diverging Destinies of Rich and Poor Children.” While an objective data presentation may prove comforting to proponents of each side, how well does it serve the public?

Those of varying ideological perspectives generally use the same or portions of the same data to substantiate their positions. Hargrove points out that the solidifying of ideological positions “continues the social, political, and economic gridlock that, in part at least, lies at the basis for the inequality that drives the concern that led to the development of this book” (para. 7). How might psychologists work to develop theory and processes that permit the effective use of data to inform policies that lead to meaningful interventions that address the consequences of inequality among American families, as well as other social issues confronting the United States today?

How do we, as psychologists, avoid having our respective agendas influence the interventions tested and recommendations made based on the data assembled? As Hargrove notes, critical examination and review are a must. Does my agenda and perspective affect my presentation of Hargrove’s review? Did Hargrove’s agenda and perspective affect his presentation and review of the book?

Read the Review
ReviewTaking Family Systems Theory Beyond the Family
By David S. Hargrove
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(26)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Time for a Change in Doing Time?


In their review of The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Causes and Consequences, April Bradley and Beth Kliethermes cite the startling statistic that around 75% of inmates in the United States have a mental disorder.  These include depression (23%), psychotic disorders (15%), and mania (43%) (para. 3).  Not surprisingly, these inmates have a greater likelihood of misconduct in prison.  What should be done to address this grievous situation?

Read the Review
ReviewCriminalizing Our Community
By April R. Bradley and Beth C. Kliethermes
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(28)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Has Behavior Genetics Shaped Up?


Do you know about the power struggles that have happened in the field of behavior genetics? I sure didn’t. I thought that these struggles must have been pretty exciting after reading Erin E. Young’s review of Misbehaving Science: Controversy and the Development of Behavior Genetics by Aaron Panofsky. I wish Young had provided examples and named names when describing a field that “sometimes looks more like the Wild West than a group of ivory tower-dwelling academics” (para. 2).

The only example that came to mind for me was the issue of racial differences in intelligence. That controversy involved not only scholarly articles and books, but personal and physical attacks. I would expect Panofsky’s book to detail this and other examples of misbehavior.

But hasn’t the nature-nurture issue settled down in large part due to the Minnesota twin studies (see We know that genetics is a significant determinant of who we are, and we can, to some extent, say how much it influences various traits and behaviors. Perhaps more well-informed readers can tell us how or whether behavior genetics has shaped up.

Read the Review
ReviewNo One Wins and Everyone Loses: Power Struggles in Shaping Behavioral Genetics
By Erin E. Young
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(27)

Thursday, July 09, 2015

"A Role Model for Resilience — But Does It Help You or Your Clients Change?"


The film Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, tells the remarkable story of Louis Zamperini, a prisoner of war during World War II who survived numerous traumas, including a plane crash, 47 days on a raft at sea, and systematic torture for 27 months. It would seem unimaginable, for most of us, to put ourselves in Zamperini's shoes for even 1/10 of these traumas.

In his review of the film, psychologist and author Paul T. P. Wong discusses how Zamperini's resilience/perseverance emerges through a combination of many factors, such as finding meaning in suffering, having faith in an ultimate rescuer, and channeling personal willpower and passion throughout his lifetime (including pretrauma).

Many psychologists use films such as Unbroken for clients to exemplify resilience and to provide role models of figures who have overcome problems. Do you and your clients find characterizations of figures like Zamperini to be helpful role models for rallying your own or your clients' resilience? Or are such portrayals too challenging to relate to and thus not as helpful as, say, a family member or friend who has overcome a personal challenge? Feel free to share an example in your response.

Either way, perhaps such examples create additional pathways for viewers to reflect on how they relate to their suffering, how they tap into the power of the human condition, and how they make meaning out of adversity. From this perspective, are films like Unbroken always helpful?

Read the Review
ReviewThe Positive Psychology of Grit: The Defiant Power of the Human Spirit
By Paul T. P. Wong
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(25)

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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