By: Book Reviewers
Book reviews from the Summer 2013 issue of THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER magazine.
Neuroscience and Social Work Practice: The Missing Link., by R. L. Farmer. Sage Publications, Inc., Thousand Oaks, CA, 2009, 200 pages, $58.
Dr. Rosemary Farmer’s book, Neuroscience and Social Work Practice: The Missing Link, comprehensively analyzes a missing link that requires weaving through the professional practice of social work and the burgeoning field of neuroscience. Farmer’s book can be easily read in one sitting. The first chapter provides a tour of the brain, and subsequent chapters are enriched with case vignettes that make clear connections across social work practice and neuroscience findings.
Two primary themes are highlighted in Farmer’s book. First, she presents selected neuroscience research findings in areas critical to social work and other human service professions. Farmer specifies why this knowledge is important for practicing clinicians and indicates how these findings can influence the development of neuroscience. Second, she applies a transactional model as the conceptual framework for incorporating neuroscientific knowledge into clinical practice.
Readers will learn how the brain works and why such knowledge is relevant to social work practice. The transactional model is undergirded by the bio-psycho-social-spiritual perspective. Throughout each chapter, case vignettes help readers apply presented theories to practice models. Social work links to neuroscience because social workers must consider issues of attachment, bonding, trauma, psychotherapy, and psychotropic medications when assessing and counseling clients. Ample literature has been culled by Farmer, and her book cites four primary domains (biological, psychological, social, and spiritual) as being relevant to all human beings. The biological domain encompasses genetic processes, the brain and spinal cord, and endocrinology. The psychological domain involves cognition, emotion, motivation, intra-psychic, cognitive processes, defense mechanisms, and coping strategies. The social domain centers on interpersonal and family relationships, societal processes, and political/cultural issues and events. The spiritual domain involves beliefs, behaviors, and patterns that are used to understand life’s meaning, purpose, and the person’s connection to others and the world.
Essentially, Farmer challenges social workers to acquire advanced knowledge of neuroscience. For example, readers will learn that oxytocin is a hormone that is implicated in social recognition and bonding. Bowlby’s attachment theory is revisited. The literature regarding trauma is examined to elucidate the inextricable link between the brain and the body’s long-term physical and mental outcomes.
Whether readers are experienced clinicians or current students, this thought-provoking book will bridge medical model and person-in-environment perspectives with multiple neuroscience concepts. Stress, coping, and adaptation are crucial elements in a social worker’s repertoire of assessment and intervention skills. Therefore, readers will find new neuroscientific language to assist them in their assessments and evaluations.
Reviewed by Julia Mastalski, MSW. Case Manager at Youth Consultation Services, and Lisa Cox, PhD, LCSW, MSW, Associate Professor of Social Work and Gerontology at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
Almost Home: Helping Kids Move From Homelessness to Hope, by Kevin Ryan and Tina Kelley. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, 2012, 230 pages, $16.95 softcover.
Kevin Ryan, a lawyer from Georgetown Law Center, and Tina Kelley, an editor for The New York Times, wrote Almost Home hoping to advocate on behalf of many homeless children and young adults. Both Ryan and Kelley volunteered at a Covenant House, and Ryan is now President of Covenant House International. The authors tell six moving stories of young children fighting homelessness and accomplishing their goals through the help of a Covenant House.
In the introduction, readers learn about the homeless throughout North America. The Covenant House is “the largest charity of its kind in the Americas helping homeless, runaway, and trafficked children and youth” (p. 1-2). These children and youth are close to forty percent of the homeless in America. The Covenant House provides shelter for more than 11,000 youth in 17 different houses in North America every year.
The next six chapters are the stories of six individuals who overcame homelessness. Paulie, whose mother was addicted to drugs and father was physically abusive, left to fend for himself. Muriel, an international adoptee, turned to drugs and sex trafficking for comfort. Benjamin was removed from his home because of an abusive parent, lived in three dozen foster homes, and was dropped at the door of Covenant House when he aged out of foster care. Creionna, pregnant, left an unsafe multigenerational household that included drug use. Keith, removed from his home because of neglect, later turned to drugs and alcohol. Meagan’s family disapproved of her sexual orientation. Each ended up homeless, without resources. A Covenant House was their last hope.
The success of these six youth would never have been predicted from the hardships and obstacles that each had to overcome. Some faced addictions to drugs or alcohol. Many suffered physical abuse. All had educational deficiencies and little work experience. Covenant House taught them a work ethic, helped them graduate from high school or earn their GED, and some graduated from college. It comes as no surprise that the youth helped by a Covenant House had adverse histories, but sometimes homelessness comes from aspirations, not just hardship. Creionna left home in an effort to protect her unborn child. Every story is different.
Covenant House changed the lives of these youth, and in some respects, reading this book changed me. Like the youth who mentioned wanting to return to a Covenant House to mentor or counsel others, my immediate reaction was to help. After reading Almost Home, I immediately looked up Covenant House online hoping to be able to do so. Reading Almost Home moved me deeply and helped me realize one of the reasons I chose to study the profession of social work.
Reviewed by Alissa M. Menke, BSSW student at the University of South Dakota.
Legal Self-Defense for Mental Health Practitioners, by Robert Henley Woody. Springer Publishing Company, New York, 2013. 153 pages, $45 new paperback, $38 for Kindle.
Legal Self-Defense for Mental Health Practitioners by Robert Henley Woody is a useful resource for social work practitioners at any professional level. Seasoned practitioners and supervisors will benefit from Woody’s legal experience as an attorney, as well as his counseling expertise as a licensed psychologist. This combined perspective allows Woody to offer practical yet realistic advice.
In the preface, Woody states that Legal Self-Defense for Mental Health Practitioners emphasizes two aspects for practitioners: “(1) providing safeguards from problems and (2) protecting the rights of BOTH the mental health practitioner and the service user” (xii). These are the guiding principles for the remainder of the book. Woody stays true to his promise by providing numerous illustrations of legal difficulties, offering preventive measures so these do not recur, and suggesting best practices for human service workers. This framework is not only sufficient; it is also extremely informative. Needless to say, I would recommend this book to anyone in the field.
For those newer to the profession, topics such as treatment planning, avoiding clinical errors, maintaining records, and ethical decision-making are discussed thoroughly and in such a manner that it would be hard to argue against implementing Woody’s suggestions early in one’s career. Woody also devotes one chapter (albeit short) to issues faced by independent practitioners; this serves as a primer for those debating the pros and cons of opening their own practice.
My only complaint with the book was what I perceived to be a pessimistic accounting of legal ramifications for practitioners faced with legal and/or ethical battles. Perhaps this critique is naïve on my part. After all, I am a practitioner who has had the fortune of never being the recipient of legal or ethical complaints. And perhaps, more so, this was Woody’s intent: to alert all those in the human services that times have changed, that we practice in an unpredictable environment, and that simply being good at what we do is not enough to protect ourselves from legal and/or ethical hazards. If this was Woody’s intent—and I believe it was—then he has achieved his purpose, and my only complaint is unfounded.
Reviewed by Erick Lear, MSSA, LMSW, Ph.D., adjunct faculty, University of Phoenix.
Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, by Karyl McBride, Ph.D., Atria Books, 2009, 272 pages, $16 paperback.
This book begins with the following quote: “There was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead, and when she was good she was criticized anyway.” –Elan Golomb, Ph.D., Trapped in the Mirror
In a world where mothers are revered and where maternal traits include kindness, warmth, and giving, this book is for those whose experiences are quite the opposite. For anyone who has memories of a mother who steals the spotlight, who belittles them, or who lacks empathy, this book is geared toward you. For anyone whose clients have experienced this specific mothering trauma, this book will likely also help a clinician both better understand that life experience and better guide the client to a healthier place.
Written by the self-proclaimed daughter of a narcissistic mother, this book is divided into three sections—recognizing the problem, how narcissistic mothering affects your life, and ending the legacy. Each of these topics not only guides the reader through self-exploration as the section is broken into smaller pieces; it is also filled with quotes from the author’s clients regarding their experiences. This creates a space of shared experience and helps the reader to understand which aspect of the mother/daughter relationship to focus on in that specific moment.
I’m not sure whether a non-clinician with a typical mother/daughter relationship will benefit from this book. However, the read is likely quite a comforting experience for people who have felt alone and awkward when trying to explain why they aren’t close to their mothers or maybe why they have severed ties completely. Many of the quotes throughout this book focus not only on the traumatizing experiences of being born to a narcissistic mother, but also the difficulty in others understanding the stress and the isolation of this upbringing. Although the lessons and thoughts in the book are quite specific to this need, some who aren’t yet ready for the healing may begin to do so anyway, simply by reading the quotes of others and feeling less alone, making this a great starting place for clients who may be angry or hurt but are otherwise not in the therapeutic place to have the language or the openness to begin to work through to a healthier life.
In addition to the hardback and paperback options, this book is available both for Kindle and as an audiobook, which really opens this book up to be an option for clients of all reading levels and ages, as this experience may be causing difficulty even in clients whose mothers are long passed.
This book’s separated sections, multitude of client quotes, and variety of formats truly makes this a great book for any clinician to offer to appropriate clients, as well as for readers to pick up on their own.
Reviewed by Kristen Marie (Kryss) Shane, MSW, LSW, LMSW.
Child Sexual Abuse: Best Practices for Interviewing and Treatment, by Monit Cheung, Lyceum Books, Inc., Chicago, 2012, 504 pages, $76.46.
In the 2012 book, Child Sexual Abuse: Best Practices for Interviewing and Treatment, Monit Cheung provides anyone working with child sexual abuse a comprehensive guide to evidence-based interventions in the field. Cheung illustrates a thorough knowledge of this topic from providing the audience information on assessment, interviewing, and treatment to working within the legal system. From reading this guide, one will become familiar with child sexual abuse and how professionals can use proven interventions to ensure best practice.
In addition to detailed entries about screening, interviewing, and prosecution of child sexual abuse cases, Cheung provides multiple interactive assessments that workers can use in their field of practice. For example, there is a checklist to determine the credibility of a child who is being interviewed. Included also in the text are multiple diagrams, charts, and figures to make for a reading experience that is multi-dimensional. Sections of this book are also dedicated to the families of the child who has experienced the trauma.
Overall, Cheung has written a book that includes important information for those working in the field of child welfare. Through reading this text, you will be provided with evidence-based protocols that are used when assessing and intervening with child sexual abuse cases. Even more helpful is the clearly stated information on the legal process. Professionals, families, court personnel, or anyone interested in gaining knowledge on child sexual abuse can utilize this text to gain a wide range of knowledge on the topic.
Reviewed by Maria Petrides, BSW, MSW candidate at the University of Michigan.
The above reviews appeared in THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER, Summer 2013, Vol. 20, No. 3. All rights reserved. Copyright 2013 White Hat Communications.