Insights into challenging behaviour

Abnormal and Clinical Psychology - Abnormal Psychology - Abnormal Psychology - Abnormal Psychology - Abnormal Psychology
November 28, 2003

These five textbooks are designed specifically for students taking undergraduate courses in abnormal psychology. Paul Bennett's is from the UK but the other four are written by authors based in the US. All five would serve as useful resources for undergraduate psychology courses on this side of the Atlantic, though supplementary reading would be essential to add a European or British dimension to the four North American volumes.

There are more than a dozen US abnormal psychology texts but only a few UK counterparts, making Bennett's book a welcome British contribution to the field. It makes ample reference to important UK developments in theory, research and practice, for example, Eric Emerson's work on challenging behaviour in people with learning difficulties, Bob Wood's work on clinical psychology interventions with older adults and Chris Fairburn's work on eating disorders. Critiques of dominant ideas about psychopathology by major UK figures such as Lucy Johnstone and Mary Boyle are included. The book also covers biological, cognitive-behavioural, psychodynamic and systemic perspectives evenhandedly.

While distinctively British in many ways, Bennett makes adequate reference to US and international literature and looks to the most recent version of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV TR) to define and classify abnormal behaviour.

The other four texts take a predominantly North American approach with limited reference to important UK clinical developments such as cognitive analytic therapy, or empirical findings such as the results of clinical trials of systemic therapy for eating disorders, schizophrenia and depression conducted at the Maudsley Hospital. Family systems approaches and social constructionist approaches are given far less coverage than they deserve, while cognitive-behavioural and biological approaches are strongly privileged throughout these four volumes.

Still, it is only fair to say that the five volumes, which are all more similar than different, achieve their stated aim of providing undergraduates with an overview of abnormal psychology in an interesting and informed way.

All five books have between 15 and 19 chapters and span between 400 and 800 pages. All open with a consideration of theories about abnormal behaviour from the earliest times to the present with due regard given to theories that emphasise the biological, psychological and social factors in the aetiology of psychological difficulties. All advocate an integrative lifespan-oriented, bio-psycho-social approach, and deal with research methods in abnormal psychology from a scientist-practitioner model that has gained ascendancy in the US and the UK. There is also a section in the opening chapters of each text that addresses the issues of assessment, diagnoses and treatment of psychological difficulties.

Against this backdrop, each book includes chapters that review the literature on common psychological difficulties. The DSM IV conceptualisation of psychological problems within each of these categories is privileged within all five books. However, controversies surrounding this type of conceptualisation of psychological problems are adequately covered.

These texts also cover professional issues in the practice of clinical psychology and the organisation of services for people with psychological difficulties and the framing of legislative issues.

The material that makes up the main body of each text is organised under similar sets of headings. Most chapters open with case studies, followed by a description of the clinical features of the disorder, then the results of epidemiological studies. Multiple theoretical explanations are outlined and followed, usually by bio-psycho-social integrative explanations. Summaries of key research findings, examples of research studies and discussions of ethical issues are commonly presented. A commendable feature of all the texts is that research findings, references and case material are up to date.

The five volumes share fairly similar sets of basic features that make them user-friendly learning resources. They are well laid out and contain chapter overviews, summaries, glossaries, discussion questions and suggestions for further reading. However, unlike the UK volume, the four US texts have additional special features. They are beautifully illustrated with colour photographs and diagrams and have numerous ancillaries including CDs with case material and interactive exercises, videos containing dramatisations of the various disorders described, study guides for students, instructor's guides for lecturers, readers or case-study books of related material and banks of test items. Useful information is available for all four US texts on publishers' websites. In contrast, the UK text has none of these special features.

These five books also differ in age and in the degree to which they have been revised over the years. Bennett's book is a first edition and has the freshness of a new text. The others are later editions, ranging from third to ninth, and this is reflected in their refinement, involving significant revisions in every case.

Libraries would be well advised to include a recent edition of at least one of these texts. Bennett's book, because of its unique status as the most recent UK text on abnormal psychology, should be an essential purchase for all psychology libraries.

Alan Carr is director of the doctoral training programme in clinical psychology, University College Dublin.

Abnormal and Clinical Psychology: An Introductory Textbook. First edition

Author - Paul Bennett
Publisher - Open University Press
Pages - 442
Price - £60.00 and £24.99
ISBN - 0 335 21237 9 and 21236 0

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