NAMI Bookshelf September 2011
Book Review: What a Life Can Be: One Therapist's Take on Schizo-Affective Disorder by Carolyn Dobbins, Ph.D
Bridgeross Communications (2011), $19.95,
By Doug Bradley, NAMI HelpLine Information and Referral Associate
What a Life Can Be is a memoir of a psychotherapist with schizoaffective disorder. The story is told in an unorthodox but very effective manner. The “patient self” tells her life story to her “therapist self,” which emphasizes what is expected in relationships, work, and life in general of mental health professionals and consumers.
As a therapist, Carolyn Dobbins is highly respected by her mentors, co-workers, and clients. In her practice she is known for empathy and an ability to work with "difficult" patients that other therapists cannot reach.
Carolyn, however, developed schizoaffective disorder at age sixteen, derailing a promising sports future and, it seemed, any career. She had many setbacks, including social isolation, difficulty studying in college, taking jobs that some felt were “beneath her” and even some short stays in jail. Through all of this, however, she persevered. With the help of a good doctor, and lots of effort on her part, she studied, trained, and ultimately became a therapist without most of her acquaintances knowing that she had an illness.
Society has high expectations of a mental health professional and, rightfully or not, often has lower ones for individuals with mental illness. The author of this book shows how people are more than their illness, their profession or their position in a family. It is the sum of all parts that makes a person. It is Carolyn’s acceptance of her situation that has contributed to her success.
Available November 2011
Farrar Straus Giroux (2011), $16.99
By Brendan McLean, NAMI Communications Coordinator
Despite its rather insipid cover and title, Matt Blackstone crafts a surprisingly entertaining story about Rene, a teenage boy starting ninth grade, and his adventures of trying to navigate his way around the troubles of high school while being a bit different than most of his peers.
Rene's first person account tells of his difficult childhood, growing up without a father for the past six years and before that, a father who constantly teased him for his social ineptitude.
Although the author claims that this social awkwardness is a consequence of obsessive compulsive disorder, the claim is left a little baseless, and at times exaggerated even if Rene did have OCD. Many of Rene’s obsessions, tapping on his locker with his left pinkie, believing that only coins facing heads-up are lucky—throwing away change if it’s face-down, and obsessions with counting are all occasional obsessions by individuals living with OCD, it is quite rare for an individual to have them all. As a result, Rene often appears contrived. Furthermore, many of his actions are more indicative of other mental disorders such as autism.
However, while the scientific diagnosis may not be spot on, the story still has it merits, especially for a young audience. Rene may be mannered and most likely not have a diagnosis of OCD in the DSM-IV but few twelve-year-old readers will most likely never have heard of the DSM, much less read it.
Initially hindered by his social awkwardness, Rene meets Gio, the tall, curly-haired new kid at school who seems to live by his own rules. Unlike some teens that might disobey rules for bad, Gio and his whimsical attitude have a positive influence on Rene—most of the time. With Gio at his side, Rene adventures out beyond his comfortable zone and begins to explore the school, and world, around him. He meets new people, goes to new places and most importantly, finds his own voice.
With a renewed self-confidence Rene approaches his deadbeat Dad, a school bully and his crush with vim and vigor he has never experienced before.
Matt Blackstone’s debut novel is an excellent story showing what many other young adult fiction books aim to do: that being different is just fine. And with his acceptance, comes continued growth.
Guilford Press (2011), $16.95
By Bob Carolla, NAMI Director of Media Relations
A person who lives with borderline personality disorder (BPD) switches rapidly from hot to cold moods and back again and constantly idolizes or demonizes relationships. It has been called one of the most stigmatized mental illnesses. The sad irony is BPD’s self-destructive behavior. Pushing people away is often rooted in a deep fear of abandonment, real or imagined.
"Loving Someone" is written specifically for family members and friends of people living with BPD, based on principles of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). It is a guidebook that can help people avoid or defuse crises through practical, step-by step strategies. It prescribes five steps:
- Regulate your own emotions
- Validate the other person’s emotions
- Ask and assess when listening or helping
- Brainstorm and troubleshoot together
- Confirm what you can do to help and request a “check-in” or follow-up on the plan on the plan.
Overall, Loving Someone offers a wealth of insights and resources, The author is a long-time colleague of Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., the originator of DBT, who was recently profiled in the New York Times.