National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Serious Mental Illness and the Family: The Practitioner's Guide

by Diane T. Marsh

John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1998. 374 pages. Hardcover: $55.00
Review by Betsy Samuelson Greer and Elizabeth Farrell, NAMI Literature Committee

Family members and facilitators of family education courses will want to take a look at Diane Marsh's book. Marsh, a psychologist, has long been involved with people with mental illnesses and their family members, especially siblings and adult children, and with the training of professionals. This book, aimed at professionals, is the latest of Marsh's work, written independently or co-authored, that the NAMI Literature Committee has recommended.

Serious Mental Illness and the Family focuses on the competency model of families, a model that "emphasizes the family's strengths, resources, and expertise; defines family-professional relationships as collaborative; promotes a sense of familial mastery; and encourages feelings of hopefulness." The chapters are consistently organized, and each begins with a scenario in which the information in that chapter could be used. The chapters contain a wealth of guidance about the needs of families and the kinds of information that will be helpful to them. Many families will find comfort in learning that their needs are universal and will appreciate knowing about the different ways those needs can be met.

Marsh is to be especially commended for her chapters that acknowledge the special needs of spouses, siblings, and offspring-needs often glossed over in favor of emphasis on parents and their adult children. She is excellent in her discussion of confidentiality, noting the legal constraints confidentiality bears, but also realizing that professionals can help caregiving families get the releases that permit them to obtain the information they need to care for a relative. Marsh is also clear that there is a place for psychotherapy (especially for siblings and offspring), but she defines it carefully and differentiates it from the "family systems" therapy of the past that was, and still is, so distressing to family members.

For those facilitating family education, this book re-enforces the value of these courses and serves as a reminder of the issues that individuals face when mental illness affects one of their loved ones. The book also has a section on family action plans, which is a resource for ways families can successfully cope with an ill relative.

The book's $55.00 price may be prohibitive for some, but this is a book that should be in local libraries and on the bookshelves of our local mental health centers. This reviewer's major regret is the tardiness in which the NAMI Literature Committee learned about the book; the word should have been put out long ago about its value