The Thinking Person’s Double-Dip Review: Therapeutic Felines and The Mysterious Brain…

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Welcome to a brainy edition of the Double-Dip Review! Today I have two low-fat, high-firbre options for those interested in the workings of the mind and its more tangible cousin, the brain.  Engage your central nervous system and let’s scoop up the dish on these two informative reads!

Purr Therapy: What Timmy and Marina Taught Me About Love, Life and Loss by psychotherapist Kathy McCoy delves into the little known and not-often-encountered practice of cat-assisted psychotherapy.  While most people have seen or heard about dogs assisting in various therapeutic enterprises (such as in the nursing home, which you can find out more about here), McCoy, to her surprise, accidentally discovered two cats perfectly suited to assisting her clients and so her foray into animal-assisted therapy began.  Throughout the book, McCoy relates the story of how Timmy and Marina came to live with her family and how each cat took on the mantle of therapy-feline in unique ways.  McCoy features some specific clients (names changed to protect the innocently guilty, of course) and outlines how the cats’ individual natures changed the course of the therapy journey for clients dealing with a range of issues such as anxiety, grief, marital difficulties and parenting troubles.  The book concludes with a round-up of the important lessons that McCoy has learned through working with animals in her personal practice.

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…a well-documented recollection of how cats (yes, cats!) can cut the mustard against their canine counterparts in deeply emotional situations.  Being more than mildly interested in psychotherapy and other forms of treatment for mental illness and emotional trauma, I was clearly going to be positively disposed to this book from the start, and it does provide a good insight into the benefits of using an animal to assist people in emotional distress. Because McCoy came upon the idea of using cats in her practice due to serendipitous circumstance, she provides a good overview of the issues she ran into initially, such as how to manage when and where the cats would work, how to deal with clients with allergies and fear of cats, and how to ensure that every client who wanted to, was able to engage with the cats.

The book is broken up into parts, the first of which focuses on Timmy – the first cat McCoy took into her therapy room – and his journey into McCoy’s family and practice.  The second part of the book focuses on Marina, McCoy’s second therapy cat, the differences between Marina’s approach and Timmy’s and how each cat was suited to particular client needs.  Each part is wrapped up with a handy summary of the most important learnings that McCoy took from her experiences working with the cats and how she applied these to her own life.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like books in which animals die. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say, because McCoy mentions it very early on in the book, but BOTH CATS DIE UNTIMELY DEATHS.  You’ve been warned.  The deaths of Timmy and Marina, and McCoy’s and her clients’ emotional reactions to the deaths are dealt with in surprising detail.  I actually found the recount of Timmy’s unexpected illness and death quite distressing – which was no doubt a reaction to the distressing nature of the actual event as experienced by McCoy and her husband – so if you don’t like to read about animals suffering and/or dying, this might not be the book for you.  Or perhaps you could skip those bits, although they do take up quite a significant portion of each cat’s story.

Overall Dip Factor

This is a very accessible and, for the most part, interesting read that really opens up the conversation as to the benefits of using cats in therapeutic situations.  It’s going to be a hit with cat-lovers and fans of real-life animal stories and would be good to keep on the bedside table and dip into at leisure.  I was hoping for a bit more focus on the therapy part of the deal, but while McCoy does feature a number of clients’ stories per cat, I felt that the therapy part was glossed over a little in favour of the cats’ antics.  This was bearable for most of the book, but by the time I got about halfway through Marina’s story I was beginning to doubt the veracity of McCoy’s recollections – surely no cat could have such astute timing and such perfectly anthropomorphic reactions as these two! Nevertheless, apart from that slight irritation, I’m glad I delved into this book, for the novelty value of cats bucking the stereotype of indifference to human suffering if nothing else.

Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole: A Renowned Neurologist Explains the Mystery and Drama of Brain Disease by Dr. Allan H. Ropper and Brian David Burrell comprehensively explains, through the lived experiences of a number of patients, the complex and sometimes utterly bizarre nature of the brain and the things that can go wrong with it.  In a completely accessible way, Ropper recounts stories of the strange and heart-breaking, from the salesman who is found driving round and round a traffic roundabout, seemingly unable to get off, to the young mother diagnosed with ALS forced to make profound decisions about continuing on despite being unable to move anything but her eyes, or breathe on her own.  With a liberal dose of humour, Ropper delves into the challenges and triumphs experienced with and by these patients, and relates the difficulties inherent in diagnosing diseases of an organ that can play tricks on itself. 

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…the most accessible and gripping book about neurology that you will ever read.  I know that’s a big claim, but I’m assuming that only a tiny percentage of those of you following this blog are qualified neurologists or neurosurgeons, so I feel quite justified in making it.  I was initially quite reluctant about requesting this for review because I thought it may be quite dry and technical and not turn out to be very readable at all. Thankfully, I was completely wrong, and I found myself glued to the book, reading at least a chapter every night before retiring.

Together, Ropper and Burrell have hit on a fantastic and engaging narrative style that is matter-of-fact, personal and touches on all the existential fears floating around in the human psyche relating to the potential for death or permanent disability and how one might reasonably (or unreasonably) face these fears.  Another interesting point in the book is Ropper’s up-front acknowledgement that doctors and medical professionals are not infallible and are subject to the same pressures, doubts and muck-ups that plague the rest of us.  In one memorable story, Ropper recounts how, in a spectacular stroke of cumulative bad luck, one mistake by a clinician incorrectly reading a scan, followed by a number of unlikely follow-up mistakes by subsequent medical staff assigned to the case, caused a patient to be initially misdiagnosed and delayed the discovery of the actual cause of his illness until it was too late to administer any really effective treatment.

This story is in the minority however, as most of the situations recounted demonstrate the commitment of medical staff working in a difficult field and the resilience or othewise of their patients as they come to terms with the scary possibility that there might be something wrong with their brain.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not into recollections of medical procedures, potentially life-threatening illnesses and more than one patient death.  Really, I suspect this book is going to have a niche audience of people interested in either particular neurological disorders, or neurology in a general sense, and if that’s not you, you should probalby move right on by.

Overall Dip Factor

I was really surprised at how deeply I got into this book, and how much of its content has popped up in my thoughts since I finished reading it.  Coincidentally, the ALS/Motor Neurone Ice Bucket Challenge started hitting the internet while I was making my way through this book and while I already knew a small amount about the disease, it was nicely topical to be able to read into the topic more deeply just at that time.  If you’re a fan of Michael J. Fox (and who isn’t, really?), it turns out that Ropper has been involved in treating and advising Mr Fox through his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, so there’s a bit of bonus celebrity-related material in here too. While I was engaged and challenged by the more emotional and worrying patient stories, I also very much enjoyed the initial chapters of the book which aptly described the range of bizarre cases that can pop up in the neurology department and the interesting and unexpected ways in which medical staff go about trying to figure out what’s wrong.

All up, if you’re interested in the brain in all its mysterious glory you should probably keep this book on your radar.

So there you have it – from mind science to brain science, I hope you’ve found something to fire some neurons in this double-dip!  I received both of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Fiction in 50: Night Terrors…

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Welcome one and all to the second Fiction in 50 community challenge!  This month’s theme or prompt is Night Terrors!

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The premise is simple: sometime during this week…or even this month – there’s no Fi50 time police to chase you up…post a piece of fiction based on the prompt in 50 words or less.  For those who like more official instruction, you can find it, and prompts for future Fi50s, here…or click on the very attractive image above.

So here’s my twist on Night Terrors…I call it:

Value for Money

I have this recurring dream.  I’m being smothered by a giant moth.  My therapist suggested I give the moth a name to make it less terrifying, more approachable.  He suggested the name “Gigglewings”. His fee? $150 an hour.

I’ve bought a herbal sleep remedy and a tin of fly spray.

 

So there you have it….I’m happy to share that my contribution this month was partly inspired by this hilarious text exchange between father and daughter:

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Personally, I think that guy should win Father of the Year.

So what are you waiting for? Join in!  If you need some more inspiration, check out ideflex’s effort at http://acrossthebored.com/2013/07/26/fiction-in-50-night-terrors/

And for those of you who like to plan ahead, next month’s prompt is Famous Last Words,starting the week of August 26th.

Yours in teeny-weeny narrative,

Bruce

 

Read it if: The Examined Life…

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Evenin’ all.  Today’s “Read-it-if” falls into one of my favourite sub-genres: psychiatric tales.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the sort of books produced by such lauded psychotherapists as Irvin D. Yalom and Susie Orbach, which involve therapists spilling their guts (and the guts of their patients) with identities changed to protect the innocent.  Based on this enjoyment, I figured The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by psychotherapist Stephen Grosz would be just the ticket.

The book is divided into short collections of patient-therapist interaction based around a particular theme such as grief and loss or romantic relationships.  I found the interactions in the first half of the book to be missing the all-important therapist’s perspective, and without this, the anecdotes had the feel of random, slightly amusing (or disturbing) stories chucked in for…..well, I’m not sure what for. Thankfully, this was rectified in the second half of the book and I felt at the conclusion of this tome that it had been a satisfying reading experience.

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Read it if:

* you just can’t resist a good old eavesdrop when the opportunity arises

* you are of the belief that shoes should be removed before availing oneself of the therapist’s couch

* you’ve always wondered what that therapist was really thinking when you related the emotional turmoil you experienced that time you accidentally got yourself caught in your zipper

* you suspect that your therapist may actually be snoozing/texting/fantasizing about their next yacht purchase on the quiet while you blab away on the couch

This is a fascinating and light read for anyone who has any kind of voyeuristic tendency.  If you’re looking for something that delves more deeply into the psychotherapist’s methods and approach, I would probably lean more towards Yalom’s work (specifically Love’s Executioner) or Susie Orbach’s creatively named The Impossibility of Sex (pictured below).  However Grosz’s little tome is a nice introduction to the topic and an engaging and relatively quick read.

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Until next time,

Bruce

Therapy DIY: Suggestions for Mental Health Week

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Happy Mental Health Week! Yes, I agree, it is a  bit optimistic for the great “them out there” to expect you humans to be mentally healthy for a whole week, but in the spirit of gargoyle-fleshling relations, I will do my darndest to assist.  To that end, I have uncovered some no doubt highly useful little tools to aid you in the pursuit of that flighty temptress, sanity.

Firstly, the Do-It-Yourself Therapy Book should provide hours of fun for those who acknowledge that they are decidedly left of centre.  The blurb promises “punch-out Rorschach Ink-Blot-from-Hell diagnostic cards, fill-in-the-blank therapy sessions with your personalized paper-doll analyst, bathroom vanity disguise kit featuring cover-up labels for your prescription meds, and the insanely accurate Neurosis Bingo”.  I feel certain that even if you deny the need for such a handy tome yourself, you can surely think of at least one person of your immediate acquaintance for whom this would make a useful, not to mention thoughtful, gift!

Next, astound your friends and confuse your enemies with the Redstone Inkblot Test!  Usethe handy inkblots and interpretation guide to reveal the most intimate psychological failings of those close to you.  You could even host a fun and funky blackmail party using the information you have gleaned from this useful kit.   Dressing in theme optional.

  Finally, for those of you who feel like there could be some more room in your life for a few characterful quirks, there is The Paranoid’s Pocket Guide to Mental Disorders You Can Just Feel Coming On.  Like a DSM-IV for the lay person, this one lists plenty of fascinating little twinges that will set you apart from the common herd.  I recommend this one as a dinner party conversation starter….as in “So Barry, I’ve noticed over the course of the evening that you have displayed several symptoms of Athazagagoraphobia….”.  Let the good times roll!

All of these books are availalbe at the good old www.bookdepository.co.uk

***Please note that the Bookshelf Gargoyle is in no way, shape or form a mental health professional, nor does he retain any qualifications in the field of mental health.  He is, in fact, a shelf ornament.  His suggestions are meant in fun and do not constitute health advice****

Until we meet again, may all your days be mentally healthy,

Bruce.