Reviewed Books & Films

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November 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Can Darwin Explain Being Down in the Dumps?


Jonathan Rottenberg’s The Depths: The Evolutionary Origin of the Depression Epidemic points to a great deal of research suggesting that mild depression has evolutionary advantages. These include increases in problem-solving ability, attention, and the capacity to more realistically appraise certain situations.  However, in his review of the book, Irwin Rosenfarb writes, “it was never clear to me how an evolutionary approach could explain severe depression”  (para. 6). Can you see any good reasons why severe depression would offer an evolutionary advantage?

Read the Review
ReviewIs Depression an Adaptation?
By Irwin S. Rosenfarb
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(44)

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)

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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