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Top 10 Books

Brett Kahr's Top Ten Psychotherapy Books - 2018

Professor Brett Kahr certainly knows something about the art of authoring books. Over the years he has written or edited twelve volumes, and has served as series editor of some fifty further titles. Earlier this year, he published New Horizons in Forensic Psychotherapy: Exploring the Work of Estela V. Welldon (Karnac Books, 2018). and, most recently, How to Flourish as a Psychotherapist (Phoenix Publishing House, 2019), a "cradle to grave" portrait of the working life of the everyday psychotherapy practitioner.

Once again, Confer takes great pleasure in having invited him to share with us his recommendations of the ten best books of 2018.

Brett writes:

"In the wake of the sale of the publishing arm of Karnac Books to the Taylor and Francis Group, the psychological world has had to navigate many important changes - all positive ones - including the launch of several new psychotherapeutically orientated presses, such as Phoenix Publishing House, Trigger Press and, also, the newly-established Confer Books - the imprint of Confer itself. Happily, the Karnac Books shop continues to operate from the Finchley Road in North London and still provides us all with a wonderful home away from home.

With the birth of these new publishing vehicles and, also, with the growing popularity of psychotherapy throughout the world - witness Michelle Obama, who recently revealed that she and the former American President had undergone marital therapy - this represents an exciting time of development for our field.

As someone who suffers from an advanced case of bibliophilia psychotherapeutica, I find it almost impossible to select a mere ten volumes out of all the wonderful books that have appeared in print this year, but the following ten titles, in particular, will be of significant inspiration.

In the run-up to Christmas, many publishers have released some titles which already bear the date of 2019 on the title page. Thus, I have included some 2019 titles along with 2018 titles, as these can already be purchased."

1)    Everyday Madness: On Grief, Anger, Loss and Love
      by Lisa Appignanesi
(Fourth Estate / HarperCollins Publishers, 2018).

Dr. Lisa Appignanesi, O.B.E., holds a most important place in the world of literature. A remarkably creative woman who currently serves as Chair of the Royal Society of Literature and, most recently, as chair of the Man Booker International Prize selection committee, Appignanesi has written many wonderful novels as well as numerous works of non-fiction, including many excellent books on the history of psychiatry and psychoanalysis. She also presided for many years as Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Freud Museum London. Her latest book - a deeply bold and honest memoir - chronicles the tragic death of her husband, fellow Freud historian Professor John Forrester, from cancer - and provides Appignanesi with an opportunity to talk to us about how ordinary, high-functioning people can also experience chapters of madness in our personal lives. Spectacularly well-crafted and deeply touching, I cannot recall the last time I read such a moving tome, which makes an important contribution to the study of human psychology.

2)    Life in the Consulting Room: Portraits
      by Abrahao H. Brafman
(Routledge, 2018).

One would struggle to find a wiser man than Dr. Abe Brafman, a brilliant child psychiatrist and child psychoanalyst who has graced our profession for over seven decades and who continues to do so. His latest book offers a unique glimpse into his daily practice with the most extraordinary range of patients from "replacement children" (who entered the world in the wake of a deceased sibling) to men who cannot ejaculate during intercourse. Written with immense compassion and great clinical savvy, this book encapsulates the psychological thinking of one of our great heroes. Dr. Brafman began his psychoanalytical training in 1960 and, thankfully, he continues to enhance the mental health community through his many wonderful books, which include not only this latest offering but, also, its many predecessors, especially, Untying the Knot: Working with Children and Parents; Fostering Independence: Helping and Caring in Psychodynamic Therapies; and The Language of Drawings: A New Finding in Psychodynamic Work.

3)    Apologia Pro Vita Mea: An Intellectual Odyssey
      by Richard D. Chessick
(Routledge, 2018).

The name of Professor Richard Chessick may be unfamiliar to many British mental health workers but, at nearly ninety years of age, he holds the distinction of being one of the most eminent American psychodynamic psychiatrists and psychoanalysts of all time. Having begun his career as a histochemical researcher, Chessick gravitated towards psychoanalysis and made innumerable contributions to the discipline over many decades, not least to the development of forensic psychotherapy; to the treatment of borderline patients; and to the elaboration of the practice of psychoanalytical psychotherapy - then considered a radical departure from classical five-times-weekly psychoanalysis. I hope that the Latin supra-title of Chessick's autobiography will not detract readers from this gem, in which the author traces his own history with substantial modesty. I consider myself privileged to learn from a man who has devoted nearly seventy years of his life to the study of mental health, and I warmly endorse this chronicle of his impressive work.

4)    Intellectual Disability and Psychotherapy: The Theories, Practice and Influence of Valerie Sinason
      by Alan Corbett and Tamsin Cottis
(Routledge, 2018).

The late, great Dr. Alan Corbett, one of the kindliest and most gracious members of our profession, died exactly two years ago, on 22nd December, 2016, at the age of fifty-three years. While on his deathbed in a hospice, he worked tirelessly, editing this Festschrift for Dr. Valerie Sinason, his inspiring teacher in the field of disability psychotherapy. After Corbett's death, his long-standing colleague Tamsin Cottis completed this project as an expression of her affection and respect for both Corbett and Sinason. This wonderful book - a much-deserved tribute to one of our psychotherapy superstars - explores Valerie Sinason's pathbreaking contributions to the study of severe and profound disability and handicap. Prior to Sinason's work in this field, very few people believed that those with intellectual disabilities could be helped by the talking therapies but, thankfully, Sinason has put paid to that myth. This wonderfully readable volume contains numerous tributes, including chapters by past presidents of the British Psychological Society, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and the British Medical Association - a concrete indication of the gravitas of Dr. Sinason's work.

5)    Psychoanalysis and Digital Culture: Audiences, Social Media, and Big Data
      by Jacob Johanssen
(Routledge / Taylor and Francis Group, 2019).

I suspect that I might not be the only person who struggles to appreciate whether technology has actually enhanced our lives, by bringing us into contact with innumerable people from all around the world or, whether, by contrast, it has presented a huge challenge to humanity's capacity for true intimacy. Dr. Jacob Johanssen, a leading psychosocial scholar at the University of Westminster in London, has provided us with a marvellous new text, part of the "Routledge Studies in New Media and Cyberculture", which deftly explores this heaving, complex topic through a psychoanalytical lens. Johanssen invites us on a journey through social media, reality television, the compulsion to share and confess through tweeting, and so much more, from the vantage point of unconscious functioning. As someone who certainly did not grow up in the digital age, I have found this an engagingly written and smart guide, which offers significant insights for scholars and for practising mental health clinicians alike.

6)    In Therapy: The Unfolding Story
      by Dr Susie Orbach
(Profile Books, 2018).

A true national treasure, Dr. Susie Orbach has done more to champion the public face of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy in the United Kingdom than anyone else, and to considerable effect. Her recent B.B.C. Radio 4 series, In Therapy, has attracted multiple millions of listeners, stimulating a flood of requests from members of the public for psychological therapy. In 2016, Orbach published In Therapy: How Conversations with Psychotherapists Really Work, based on her first series of radio programmes; and this new book, which incorporates material from the second series, allows us to enjoy more of Orbach's heartfelt, thoughtful, and interested approach to the psychotherapeutic conversation. Published in association with the Wellcome Collection, Orbach's latest chef d'oeuvre deserves the widest possible audience and will help to keep us all in business for years to come!

7)    The Psychology of Political Extremism: What Would Sigmund Freud Have Thought About Islamic State
      by Gabrielle Rifkind
(Routledge / Taylor and Francis Group, 2018).

While the vast majority of us spend our professional lives seated in our consulting room chairs, group analyst Gabrielle Rifkind has travelled, on numerous occasions, to the Middle East, deploying her considerable knowledge of psychodynamics to the facilitation of psychologically-informed conflict resolution among people who, traditionally, would never speak to one another in words. This very short and passionate text draws upon the work of Sigmund Freud and his emphasis on both the primitivity of human beings and, also, on our capacity to heal through conversation. I regard Rifkind's work as truly forward-thinking, demonstrating the creative and necessary ways in which mental health workers must now begin to apply psychoanalysis more fully than ever before in political arenas.

8)    Insane: America's Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness
      by Alisa Roth
(Basic Books / Perseus Books, Hachette Book Group, 2018).

In spite of the considerable growth of psychological thinking in recent decades, we still treat criminals with tremendous cruelty, especially those suffering from mental illnesses, by punishing them and incarcerating them, rather than engaging sufficiently in prevention and rehabilitation. The American journalist and broadcaster Alisa Roth has written a magnificent exposé of the horrors of the overburdened, overwhelmed, and wholly unsatisfactory criminal justice system during the era of Donald Trump. In the United Kingdom, the founder of the forensic psychotherapy movement, Dr. Estela Welldon, has long argued for the expansion of psychological services into prisons, and colleagues Pamela Windham Stewart and Jessica Collier will soon be publishing a wonderful book on the current state of psychotherapy in British prisons. One hopes that Roth's well-researched and, at times, jaw-dropping study will stimulate further interest in the nature of prisons around the world and will create more space for the development of a psychological humanisation of such often ghastly institutions.

9)    Asperger's Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna
      by Edith Sheffer
(W.W. Norton and Company, 2018).

The word "Asperger" has, in recent years, become such a gross cliche that virtually every couple with whom I work psychoanalytically complains, "My spouse is a bit Asperger's. He never asks about my feelings." But the real Asperger - Austrian physician Dr. Hans Asperger - has become increasingly eclipsed. Thankfully, historian Dr. Edith Sheffer has produced a stunning work of scholarship, revealing Asperger's relationship to National Socialism and his role in the extermination of disabled children. An unputdownable, albeit painful, work of high-level historiography, Sheffer reminds us only too chillingly of the way in which even the best-intentioned of mental health professionals fall prey to the political and social climate in which we practice.

10)    Dementia: An Attachment Approach
      by Kate White, Angela Cotter and Hazel Leventhal
(Routledge / Taylor and Francis Group, 2019).

Kate White, one of the founders of The Bowlby Centre, has, over many years, explored the psychology of dementia and the impact of the securely-attached relationship between client and carer as a significant factor in slowing the progression of this cruel disease. Together with colleagues Angela Cotter and Hazel Leventhal, she has produced a truly blue-sky, edited book exploring how attachment theory and psychodynamic psychology can contribute to our understanding of dementia and, also, to the provision of better support for families at large. Drawing upon clinical data, empirical research, and personal experience, the authors have concluded that security of attachment in the histories of people with dementia will result in the capacity for greater joy, increased sociability, and decreased anger, compared to those who have come from more insecurely attached homes. I cannot do justice to the brilliance of this book in a few short sentences, but as dementia has now become part of our everyday lives, this text promises to be the new Bible, which will help us navigate such extremely painful and complex but, also, at times, hopeful territory.

Briefly Noted:

Among the many additional books of 2018 which have captured my attention, I also recommend Patrick Casement's Learning Along the Way: Further Reflections on Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy; Linda Cundy's edited volume, Attachment and the Defence Against Intimacy: Understanding and Working with Avoidant Attachment, Self-Hatred, and Shame; Angela Foster's edited book on Mothers Accused and Abused: Addressing Complex Psychological Needs; Dr. Revella Levin's Successful Drug-Free Psychotherapy for Schizophrenia; Dr. Richard Sherry's The Psychology of Space Exploration: What Freud Might Have Said; Dr. Jonathan Sklar's Dark Times: Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Politics, History and Mourning; and Sarah Van Gogh's Helping Male Survivors of Sexual Violation to Recover: An Integrative Approach - Stories from Therapy.

For those of you who wish to keep up to speed with the fast-changing world of non-binary approaches to sexuality and gender, one cannot do better than read Dr. Az Hakeem's wonderfully lucid Trans: Exploring Gender Identity and Gender Dysphoria - A Guide for Everyone (Including Professionals). I learned a great deal from this fine book.

During this last year, several clinical psychotherapy colleagues have turned their hands to writing novels or plays - an admirable expression of their creativity. I warmly recommend Ruth Barnett's stirring What Price Justice?: A Play in Two Acts; Dr. Dorothy Judd's deeply moving Patch Work: Love and Loss. A Novel; and Dr. Christina Moutsou's Layers: Novel, which follows in the footsteps of Moutsou's non-fiction book, Clinical Fictional Narratives in Relational Psychoanalysis: Stories from Adolescence to the Consulting Room.

And as an historian, I cannot resist sharing my enthusiasm for several more books which explore, celebrate and, often, criticise the foundations of our profession, and which I have found of deep value, including, Madness, Murder and Mayhem: Criminal Insanity in Victorian and Edwardian Britain, by Kathryn Burtinshaw and John Burt; The Making of Psychohistory: Origins, Controversies, and Pioneering Contributors, by Professor Paul H. Elovitz; Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad and Criminal in 19th-Century New York, by Stacy Horn; Fifty Years of Counselling: My Presenting Past, a memoir by the popular Professor Michael Jacobs; and Donald W. Winnicott and the History of the Present: Understanding the Man and His Work, edited by Angela Joyce.

For those of you who, like me, often pass by that wonderful statue of Sigmund Freud, perched outside the Tavistock Clinic, please do read the new biography of the sculptor, Oscar Nemon, written by his loving daughter, Lady Aurelia Young, in collaboration with the journalist, author, and radio producer Julian Hale. This beautifully illustrated book, Finding Nemon: The Extraordinary Life of the Outsider Who Sculpted the Famous, will make a great holiday present.

Among the books which have not yet appeared in print, I know that I will be particularly keen to read forthcoming study by Professor Barry Richards, The Psychology of Politics; Dr. Judith Edwards's Psychoanalysis and Other Matters: Where Are We Now?; and, also, Professor Vamik Volkan's text Ghosts in the Human Psyche: The Story of a 'Muslim Armenian'; as well as the remarkable new novel by William Rose, entitled Camille and the Raising of Eros, which draws heavily upon the early history of psychoanalysis and which features a guest appearance by none other than the French princess Marie Bonaparte, who helped to save Sigmund Freud from the Nazis. All of these titles will appear in the early months of 2019.

Happy seasonal greetings to all!

Professor Brett Kahr

December, 2018.

(Please note that I have not included reference to any of the titles in the book series for which I serve as editor or consultant, although I do recommend the many new volumes which have appeared in the "Forensic Psychotherapy Monograph Series", the "History of Psychoanalysis Series" and, also, "The Library of Couple and Family Psychoanalysis", and the "Psychoanalysis and Popular Culture" monographs, all published by Routledge).

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