Reviews of the latest psychotherapeutic literature
The Mindful Therapist – A Clinician’s guide to mindsight and neural integration by Daniel J Siegel
Reviewed by Suzie Chick
In The Mindful Therapist, Siegel draws upon his years of knowledge and experience of working with the brain, mindfulness and psychotherapy to advocate a simple but powerful message. His message is that being present and connected with a client are the most crucial factors in the healing process. He describes the book as “a professional’s manual for growing from the inside out.”
Siegel suggests a practice called Mindsight (a type of mindfulness) in order to foster empathy and insight, leading to neural integration (where our minds become more flexible and harmonious from a prior state of chaos and rigidity).
In each chapter, Siegel includes Mindsight exercises for the reader to try and explains how these can be applied to clients. He also includes a discussion called Brain Basics, which describes the neuropsychology aspect for section. For example regarding Trauma, Siegel describes how the amygdala in the brain (which processes memory, decision making and emotional responses) responds to trauma by adding “that context to its laundry list of things to watch out for in our day-to-day lives”.
I very much welcomed these sub-sections in each chapter, but for me it would have been useful if the format of their narrative was more accessible through the use of bullet points, images or diagrams as it felt quite dry and repetitive at times. Ironically I struggled to stay present at times reading the book!
Siegel admits that he is an acronym addict and there are A LOT of acronyms in this book. In fact his chapters are even organised as part of an acronym, this being the acronym PART- standing for Presence, Attunement, Resonance and Trust (plus 11 other “T” chapters). I became a little annoyed with all these acronyms. I felt resistance to taking in so many when considering the delicate nature of therapy as it felt overly formulaic.
I enjoyed, however, Siegel’s relaxed and honest writing style. He describes this book as a “conversation” between himself and us, the reader. I certainly felt that sentiment as he guided us through what he saw as the essential parts a therapist plays in helping support growth. Siegel is beautifully honest in his writings such as when describing his chapter on presence; he remarks his current thoughts as he writes, “I hope you don’t slam the book shut”, which I found endearing.
Ironically I struggled to stay present at times reading the book!
Siegel brings his works together in his final chapter entitled “Transpiration” which he explains as “the state of awareness of the interconnected nature of reality that places our own identities in the membership of a whole larger than our bodily defined selves.” This for me absolutely resonated with the Transpersonal and my sense about spirituality. From this standpoint, Siegel’s message appears to suggest that by being present you not only create a real opportunity for healing but also you can develop an enhanced meaning of existence in the World, being the Transpersonal.
Overall I enjoyed reading The Mindful Therapist and appreciated its refreshing attitude by combining mindfulness, neuropsychology and therapy into a single narrative. For this alone, I can forgive the abundance of acronyms!
The Skeleton Cupboard – The making of a clinical psychologist by Tanya Byron
Reviewed by Suzie Chick
The Skeleton Cupboard consists of six short client stories, inspired by Byron’s placements, which were part of her training as a clinical psychologist in the early 1990s.
Byron is very careful to explain that her client accounts are fictional and merely “inspired” by her placement experiences. However the fictional nature of her book by no means detracts from the quality of narrative. Byron’s effortless style of delivery reminds me of Yalom’s writings, as she weaves her stories with compassion, honesty and regular dashes of humour. Woven into the narrative, are hints of theory including the works of Freud, Winnicott and object relations in general.
This book is a fascinating and enjoyable read as Byron takes us on her training journey from placement to placement which includes time spent at a GP practice, an eating disorders ward and a drug-dependency unit.
As a trainee therapist who has two counselling placements, I found this book not only to be highly relevant, but also incredibly comforting as Byron opens up about her struggles with self-belief and confidence. In fact, Byron’s absolute honesty and disclosure hits you like a freight train in the very first few pages of the book where she describes, in pretty graphic detail, the murder of her grandmother when Byron was fifteen.
Byron lets us, the reader, into her personal thoughts as she sits with her clients, which often contains fears or doubts about her capacity to hold and contain the session. For example in one challenging meeting with an aggressive client, she keeps a mental score of points achieved by herself or the client, she writes “one-nil to the patient”.
Byron’s effortless style of delivery reminds me of Yalom’s writings, as she weaves her stories with compassion, honesty and regular dashes of humour.
Byron brings her narrative together through her epilogue where she expresses some on her opinions on how we as a society view mental health. In this final section of her book, Byron explains that she consciously wrote both her and her clients’ voices in equal weighting to avoid being seen as a supporting act to the “mad” dominating other. Byron also adds that by providing a dialogue for both client and practitioner she hopes to challenge society’s stigmatization of people suffering with mental health issues. Byron writes “Revealing my own fears and inadequacies when trying to help anyone with a mental health problem felt like an important part of that.” I found it refreshing that Byron, as a clinical psychologist, wants to move past a diagnostic model of treatment, so that the human being behind the illness can be seen, again something she advocates in her epilogue.
I greatly enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to not just those on placements but also those curious about the human condition. Once I entered The Skeleton Cupboard, I became lost amongst its pages of emotion and drama. I invite you to do the same.