Friday, February 27, 2009

Some New Psychology Books

Another installment in the perpetual listing of new books that I would like to own and read. Follow links to see the full reviews. All reviews come from Metapsychology Online Reviews.

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Sexual Orientation and Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: Sexual Science and Clinical Practice
by Richard C. Friedman and Jennifer I. Downey
Columbia University Press, 2002
Review by Minna Forsell

Social psychology has taught us that gender is the first distinction that we make when meeting someone, so essential to our understanding of others that the question of what it is and how it influences us is one of the vastest and deepest in the field of psychology. The link between gender and sexual orientation is equally complex. Given the prominent place of sexuality in psychodynamic theory and treatment, the need for an understanding of its elusive nature is crucial.

Sexual Orientation and Psychodynamic Psychotherapy is a successful attempt to syncrhonize empirical studies on sexuality with psychodynamic thinking. The result is an engaging exploration of gender, sexual development and psychotherapy that gives thought-provoking perspectives on human sexuality as well as clinical work.
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Unsettled Minds: Psychology and the American Search for Spiritual Assurance, 1830-1940
by Christopher G. White
University of California Press, 2008
Review by Gustav Jahoda, Ph.D.

William James's Gifford Lectures, delivered in Edinburgh 1901/2 and published under the title The Varieties of Religious Experience remains one of his best-known works. It has the significant sub-title A Study in Human Nature, and the broad historical background that led to the use of this phrase is explored by White. It all began before mid-19th century when many (presumably educated) Americans found the rigid hell-fire Protestant theology unacceptable and looked around for alternatives. The religious liberals, including pastors, turned to teachings that promised help them in understanding the inner spiritual potentials of human nature. At the outset it was phrenology, and when that became gradually discredited, they turned to the then emerging discipline of scientific psychology. Initially it was the physiological reflex arc that was considered the central explanatory concept, later followed by such notions as 'the will' or 'suggestibility', whose adoption by a multitude of academics, pastors and lay people is described in considerable detail.
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Psychiatry and Empire
by Sloan Mahone and Megan Vaughan (Editors)
Palgrave Macmillan, 2007
Review by Tony O'Brien, RN, MPhil

Psychiatry and Empire is part of the Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series, covering modern imperial history and contemporary issues in the former colonies. According editor Megan Vaughan's introduction, psychiatry has long been considered to more or less unproblematically have functioned as an instrument of colonization, adding scientific and medical authority to the subjugation of colonized peoples. The story is a familiar one. Early settlers paved the way with guns and occupation; the resulting crises of legitimation being addressed by the newly emerging social and medical sciences. Psychiatry is a prime candidate as a tool of colonization, having as it does, the mandate to manage unruly and disruptive members of the community. In this publication the various authors consider the relationship between psychiatry and the colonial enterprise, arriving at differing conclusions, although all broadly in support of the central argument that psychiatry helped provide a rationale, under the guise of science, for existing practices of social control. However as many of the contributions show, this was by no means an uncontested or straightforward process. Distance from the center, Paris, London or Amsterdam, meant that the effectiveness of psychiatry was limited. In some cases it also created opportunities for innovation and critique although the viability of any alternative discourses and practice were, in the end, subject to the fate of the colonial governments.

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How Infants Know Minds
by Vasudevi Reddy
Harvard University Press, 2008
Review by R.A. Goodrich, Ph.D.

The mixture of close observation and probing speculation that characterizes Vasudevi Reddy's eleven-chapter monograph, How Infants Know Minds, makes for compelling reading. Overtly inspired by the work of Margaret Donaldson, Peter Hobson, and Colwyn Trevarthen since the 'seventies, Reddy aims to shatter a number of shibboleths largely unquestioned by researchers in the field of developmental cognitive psychology. After briefly identifying her principal target, we shall then outline an initial set of contentions likely to figure in debates arising from Reddy's argument. That, in turn, will lead us to conclude with some reservations of a conceptual and an historical kind.


Readers are immediately introduced to the abiding epistemological problem of how infants "come to understand people," how they can become "aware of others' minds," how they "perceive" them as "'persons,' as psychological beings" (1). Without pausing to consider whether each expression of "how infants know minds" (to cite the title) is synonymous or not, Reddy aligns the problem to a pervasive yet disconcerting tendency. It is the tendency in the practices and theories of "a psychology which holds on, surreptitiously, to dualisms it claims to have discarded and, more openly, to methods of investigation...more appropriate to non-sentient subjects" (2). Yet, she continues, perhaps the problem is a result of the misguided assumption of "thinking of the organism's capacities separately from the environment in which it functions" (3). Returning the infant to its interactively human, familial context and allowing that affective interactions or exchanges between an infant and its caretaker(s) constitute an embodiment of minds is, Reddy believes, the means of resolving the puzzle of how one mind comes to know others non-inferentially:

engaging with other minds and becoming aware of them is an emotional process from start to finish (41).
In short, rather than presuming that minds develop in isolation, should we not begin with the premise that minds are "intrinsically connected" from the beginning by way of "emotional engagements" and not through the "belated consequences of a rationally constructed understanding"? (4) Why? Because if we adhere to the latter, we are condemned to construing or inferring the presence of other, seemingly inaccessible minds from the viewpoint of the detached spectator (or onlooker) rather than from the role of the engaged participant (7).

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