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Top 10 Books

Brett Kahr's Top Ten Psychotherapy Books - 2017

Professor Brett Kahr certainly knows something about the art of authoring books. Over the years he has written or edited ten volumes, and has served as series editor of some fifty further titles. Earlier this year, he published Coffee with Freud (Karnac Books, 2017) and, more recently, New Horizons in Forensic Psychotherapy: Exploring the Work of Estela V. Welldon (Karnac Books, 2018).

Once again, Confer takes great pleasure in having invited him to share with us his recommendations of the ten best books of 2017, arranged alphabetically by the surname of the author - each a perfect Christmas present for yourself, your family, or for your colleagues and friends.

1)    A Web of Sorrow: Mistrust, Jealousy, Lovelessness, Shamelessness, Regret, and Hopelessness
      by Salman Akhtar
(Karnac Books, 2017).

One of the most incisive thinkers and adept writers in contemporary psychoanalysis, Professor Salman Akhtar has produced another gem for us. Scripted with a poetic sensibility and with a deep empathy, Akhtar's newest book explores the often-neglected topic of sorrow - an everyday source of sadness and anxiety, which must not be confused with severe depression. As the author has stated in his prologue, sorrow may result from seeing a mother with rheumatoid arthritis unable to play with her child; or from the recognition that one's adult children no longer regard the parental abode as their primary home. A brilliant exposition of these universal mental states - not sufficiently theorised by clinical practitioners - Akhtar's treatise will grip the reader with his profoundly moving account. Perhaps Professor Akhtar will provide us with a sequel about some of the neglected cousins of sorrow, mistrust, and regret, namely, loneliness and disappointment.

2)    Anxiously Attached: Understanding and Working with Preoccupied Attachment
      by Linda Cundy
(Karnac Books, 2017).

One of the freshest voices in contemporary psychotherapy, Linda Cundy has orchestrated a beautiful collection of essays about anxious attachment - a subject of immense relevance to every single practising mental health professional. Skilfully introduced by Dr. Maggie Turp and by Ms. Cundy herself, and with excellent clinical-theoretical chapters by Dr. Amanda Jones and Anne Power and, also, a research-based chapter by Dr. Steve Farnfield, this book - albeit only ninety-eight pages in length - provides an excellent introduction to this challenging developmental phenomenon which psychotherapists invariably encounter in the consulting room on a daily basis.

3)    Freud / Tiffany and the Best Possible School: Anna Freud, Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham and the Hietzing School in 1920s Vienna. Freud Museum London. May 10 Through July 17, 2017. Exhibition Catalogue with Added Essays and History
      by Elizabeth Ann Danto and Alexandra Steiner
(Freud Museum London, and ZukuntsFonds der Republik Ă–sterreich, 2017).

As a young woman, Fraulein Anna Freud helped to establish a very progressive school in the suburbs of Vienna, for young children, conducted along psychoanalytical lines. Many of the pupils received individual psychoanalytical treatment, as did many of their parents. Funded by Fraulein Freud's new friend, and possible lover, the American heiress Mrs. Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham, the Hietzinger Schule became a landmark project which helped to transmit psychological knowledge beyond the adult consulting room. Professor Elizabeth Ann Danto, an American scholar and psychoanalytical historian, and Alexandra Steiner, a Viennese colleague steeped in art history and cultural history, have produced a wonderful book detailing the work of the Freud-Burlingham collaboration, beautifully designed and illustrated by Karolina Urbaniak - based on a memorable exhibition, held earlier this year at the Freud Museum London - which brings 1920s Vienna back to life in a superbly rich fashion.

4)    Freud in Cambridge
      by John Forrester and Laura Cameron
(Cambridge University Press, 2017).

Shortly before his untimely death, Professor John Forrester, historian of science and psychoanalysis, completed his magnum opus, Freud in Cambridge, in collaboration with his long-standing Canadian colleague Professor Laura Cameron. Together, Forrester and Cameron produced a magnificent work of scholarship, nearly seven hundred pages in length, chronicling the development of Freudian thought in Cambridge. A tour de force of intellectual history and "local history", the authors have traced the ways in which the radical ideas of Sigmund Freud first began to penetrate the fringes of intellectual life at the University of Cambridge, and how such figures as John Rickman and James Strachey - future stars of psychoanalysis - as well as scientists such as Harold Jeffreys and Frank Ramsey, began to embrace and develop Freudian ideas. This significant book chronicles the development of psychological culture in Cambridge from the fledgling efforts of William Rivers - a pioneer of traumatology - to the work of the more overtly Freudian enthusiasts and practitioners. This text will entrance anyone interested in the history of our profession, and it remains a fitting testament to John Forrester's many contributions to the development of psychoanalytical scholarship.

5)    Max Eastman: A Life
      by Christoph Irmscher
(Yale University Press, 2017).

The name of Max Eastman may be rather unfamiliar to most members of the mental health profession, but one hundred years ago, this remarkably prescient liberal American journalist did more to publicise the psychoanalytical profession in the United States of America than just about anyone. Born in New York State in 1883, Eastman eventually settled in Greenwich Village in Manhattan - the heart of social and political progressivism during the Great War - and there, he encountered the burgeoning science of psychoanalysis. He broke new ground with his hugely popular two-part article on psychoanalysis written for Everybody's Magazine, which attracted a huge readership. He also travelled to Vienna to meet Sigmund Freud in person, and he became one of the most outstanding publicists on behalf of the psychoanalytical movement. Professor Christoph Irmscher's beautifully written and carefully researched biography offers a wonderful introduction to Eastman and his many forward-thinking contributions.

6)    On the Couch: A Repressed History of the Analytic Couch from Plato to Freud
      by Nathan Kravis
(M.I.T. Press, 2017).

Although some contemporary practitioners regard the Freudian couch as a rather old-fashioned item of furnishing which epitomises the ostensibly anti-relationality of nineteenth-century psychoanalysis, many of us - myself included - remain huge fans of the potential of the couch to facilitate extremely intimate communications between the clinician and the client. I can safely report that those patients who do use the couch will be infinitely more likely to share their dreams and, in particular, their most private sexual fears and fantasies. Professor Nathan Kravis's new book on the history of couch chronicles this extraordinary piece of equipment across many centuries. Kravis will be well known to many of us as both a leading psychoanalyst and, also, as a psychiatric historian. One of the most engaging and well-researched books of the year, I recommend Kravis's exploration of the use of the couch - from ancient Greece and Rome to the present day - with tremendous enthusiasm.

7)    The Mesmerist: The Society Doctor Who Held Victorian London Spellbound
      by Wendy Moore
(Weidenfeld and Nicolson / Orion Publishing Group, Hachette UK, 2017).

Long before Sigmund Freud argued that hysteria and other neuroses result from psychological traumata, a prominent London physician, Professor John Elliotson (1791-1868), championed the use of mesmerism in the treatment of hysterical illness, demonstrating that this purportedly biological disease could, indeed, be ameliorated by non-pharmacological and non-surgical methods. Elliotson's lectures at University College Hospital in London, on this early form of hypnosis, proved so popular that the audience members included none other than Charles Dickens! Wendy Moore, a noted journalist and author, has produced a book which manages, quite delightfully, to be not only very scholarly but, also, extremely readable. A much neglected figure in the history of medicine and in the history of psychology, Elliotson - also a critic of the cruelties of capital punishment - deserves to be remembered, and Ms. Moore's book proves to be the perfect tribute.

8)    Love and Survival in Budapest: The Memoir of Artur Renyi
      by Artur Renyi
(Karnac Books, 2017).

Undoubtedly one of the most moving memoirs that I have ever read, Artur Renyi's account of the fate of the Hungarian Jews during the German occupation will send shivers up the spine. Although Renyi's brother-in-law, the noted Budapest-born psychoanalyst Dr. Franz Alexander, had the good fortune to emigrate to the United States of America, Renyi, by contrast, remained trapped in Central Europe, and had to rely upon all of his considerable canny to rescue his family from the Nazis. Lovingly edited by several of Renyi's family members, namely, Ilonka Venier Alexander, Nauszika Mathe-Arvay, and Zsuzsanna Renyi (who also undertook the translation from Hungarian into English), this text will not only enthrall readers but will also serve as a powerful warning. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough.

9)    The Political Self: Understanding the Social Context for Mental Illness
      by Rod Tweedy
(Karnac Books, 2017).

Currently, over 4,000,000 Britons consume antidepressant tablets daily. Indeed, psychological illness costs our country approximately £100,000,000,000 per annum. In view of the great scourge of mental illness in our times, we need to rethink the way in which the psychotherapeutic profession might contribute to the amelioration of this lamentable situation. For more than a century, most of us have devoted our efforts to the treatment of individual patients - a worthy and often successful undertaking - but, in recent years, a more politically astute group of practitioners and social commentators have begun to urge us to think not only about how we treat patients but, also, about how we must change the broader social fabric. Dr. Rod Tweedy, a scholar and top editor of psychological books, has produced a truly epoch-making volume, passionately and intelligently introduced by Professor Andrew Samuels, about how we can all begin to practice a more politicised version of psychotherapy. The chapters explore such topics as the toxicity of capitalism, the pathology of corporations, pornography as an attack on intimacy, and the dangers of the boarding school. This book promises to grip its readers from the very outset and should become essential reading for every sentient person.

10)    Sex Now Talk Later
        by Estela V. Welldon
(Karnac Books, 2017).

Dr. Estela Welldon, the doyenne of forensic psychotherapists, has written a delightful new masterpiece. Though only one hundred and thirty-two pages long, this beautifully illustrated book serves as a mighty encapsulation of Welldon's nearly sixty-year career as a mental health practitioner. Stunningly, if provocatively, illustrated by the talented artist Ricardo Cinalli, Welldon's book investigates the forensic state of mind, in which human beings act out, often ending up in painful sexual situations, rather than talking about, or thinking about, the potential consequences of their dangerous desires. This new tome builds helpfully upon Welldon's classic Mother, Madonna, Whore: The Idealization and Denigration of Motherhood and upon her many other standard works, most especially Playing with Dynamite: A Personal Approach to the Psychoanalytic Understanding of Perversions, Violence, and Criminality.

I have had the privilege of a "sneak preview" of quite a number of lovely new titles which will be published in early 2018. In particular, I warmly recommend the following:

Aaron Balick, The Little Book of Calm: Tame Your Anxieties, Face Your Fears and Live Free (Penguin Books, 2018).
Dr. Aaron Balick, the Director of the pioneering community-based psychotherapy project Stillpoint Spaces, has produced a charming and soothing book, full of inspiring insights into the nature of "calm".

Michael Jacobs, Fifty Years of Counselling: My Presenting Past (Open University Press / McGraw-Hill Education, 2018).
Michael Jacobs, one of the deans of British counselling and psychotherapy, and author of many perennial textbooks, has just completed an autobiography about his professional life. This book can only be described as compelling and inspiring, and must not, therefore, be missed.

Susie Orbach, In Therapy: The Unfolding Story (Profile Books, 2018).
Dr. Susie Orbach, one of our national treasures, has made media psychological history with her wonderful radio programmes In Therapy, broadcast on B.B.C. Radio 4, each episode of which has attracted some 3,000,000 listeners! In 2016, Orbach published a book of transcripts, with commentary, entitled In Therapy: How Conversations with Psychotherapists Really Work; and now, she has produced a follow-on, which I recommend with tremendous pleasure and enthusiasm.

Gabrielle Rifkind, The Psychology of Political Islam: What Sigmund Freud Would Have Thought of the Islamic State (Karnac, 2018).
Gabrielle Rifkind, a noted group analyst and cultural commentator, has undertaken truly pioneering and visionary work, using her skills in both politics and psychoanalysis to help us to understand the situation in the Middle East and beyond. This new book creatively explores how depth psychology can help us to acquire important new insights into political conflict and, even, terrorism. This book deserves a very long shelf life indeed.

And before I wish readers of the Confer website a happy holiday season and a peaceful year in 2018 and beyond, I hope that I may take this opportunity to note that two of my own new books - just completed - will be published in due course, each from Karnac Books: Bombs in the Consulting Room: Surviving Psychological Shrapnel, and Celebrity Mad: Why Otherwise Intelligent People Worship Fame.

Happy seasonal greetings to all!

Professor Brett Kahr

December, 2017.

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Brett Kahr's Top Ten Psychotherapy Books - 2018
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