I find books about psychology and psychologists fascinating reading and this one is no exception. The author takes us on a roller coaster ride through her training placements and the type of patients she encountered. There are frightening, heart- warming and incredibly sad and beautiful experiences. I found myself in tears on several occasions when reading this book.
The book is searingly honest about the author’s own failings and about how difficult she found it to learn that not everyone can be cured. Sometimes attempted cures can just make the problem worse and it is not possible to take on everyone’s problems. I thought she conveyed the essence of her prickly relationship with her supervisor extremely well and how she resented as well as welcomed her trenchant comments.
Some of the people she describes in this book are unforgettable. Ray the sociopath who manipulates everyone. Tom who is HIV positive and doesn’t have long to live. Imogen who at twelve has seen more of the evil side of human nature than many will see in a lifetime. Mollie – bright, intelligent and with the whole world at her feet and who wants to starve herself to death because her body is too fat. Harold – highly educated, who survived the horrors of the concentration camps only to slide into dementia in later life.
The book is very well written and really brings to life what it is like to work with people with mental health problems. It also showed me how close to such problems we all are throughout our lives. There is a useful list of resources at the end of the book for anyone who feels they may need help.
on 14 October 2014
Professor Tanya Byron is the Chancellor of my university, so this gives a few different layers to this review. Firstly, there’s a pretty big chance I would never have ended up reading this book, had I not found out about it at graduation (& thank God I did!), and secondly, due to the nature of the book, it was especially hard to imagine someone I knew (sort of) or had at least briefly met, in these situations.
The Skeleton Cupboard, follows Tanya as she undertakes six, six-month placements in her chosen field of clinical psychology. This is a real no-holds barred book, as illustrated from the opening chapter and the subsequent, & famously heart wrenching, second chapter. The variety of stories within each of the six placements, from anorexia, abuse, dementia and AIDS, are tied together with the narrative of Byron’s own journey – warts an’ all. The thing I found refreshing about this book, was the honesty in which the authors own faults and mistakes are examined. As a young graduate embarking on her first lot of professional placements, things are bound to go awry at times, and Byron doesn’t hold back from these moments, they are, after all, part and parcel of learning. The book doesn’t focus on ‘hero’ moments, but has an incredible, and at times wonderfully uncomfortable, honesty to it. Spoiler alert: not everyone is ‘saved’.
It’s rare to have stories such as these told not from the point of view of the ‘patient’, but from the angle of the person ‘treating’ them, and it gives the book an entirely different depth to it. I have never read a book where I have had to physically put it down and compose myself several times. (It’s chapter two that killed me, you’ll see what I mean!) You really feel for the characters as if they were real, however, of course, due to the nature of the stories and Byron’s job, they are not real stories. This was hard for me to get my head around. Of course they are based on fact, on things that have, or could actually happen, but the characters feel so real it’s hard not to feel overly emotionally involved with them. I think, the hardest thing about this for me, was the realisation that these things have happened to people, and the ending may not have been as ‘happy’ as some of the resolutions in the book.
I could have read another 10 stories in this vein, and so it was actually a little disappointing to reach the end so soon! However, if you have any interest at all in people, psychology or mental health, you should give this book a go, I promise you won’t regret it!
on 3 July 2014
This is a wonderfully colourful and accessible description of a clinical psychologist's training. Byron gives a frank, compelling account of the pitfalls and chance successes that befall a trainee psychologist who is thrown into clinic when barely an adult herself. She also shows how the insight and compassion of the trainee can lead to some crucial breakthroughs which the more jaded professional above her overlooked. The characters she has created, fictional by necessity to protect the real people she helped, are based on the cases she was assigned. The portrait of an anorexic seemed particularly acutely and sensitively observed. The run-in with a muscle-bound sociopathic misogynist on Byron's first day suggests the dangers inherent in her line of work and the lack of back up was eye watering.
However I don't agree that the writing is stunning. It is oddly jarring and I wondered if it had been overly assisted by an editor or ghost writer. It has that ghastly glibness of the ghost written autobiography, which is so much at odds with the depth of intelligence and compassion Bryon showed to the people she treated. Every chapter reminded us how gorgeously pretty all her patients and fellow clinicians found her, until it felt like I was reading a cruel John Crace parody of the book. There were awkwardly coy references to lesbian friends and colleagues who wanted 'all the girls of the world' ( lesbians presumably being far less selective in their desires - any company will do, so long as it has a bosom) and some truly icky descriptions of people in her care: 'darling little abused Imogen.' But despite the authorial voice and the slightly disorienting paragraph at the end where she profusely thanks the people she has chosen to write about for teaching her so much and in the next sentence breathlessly reminds us they're not real anyway, this was an insightful and gripping book. The range of cases she encountered - the causes of damage and sorrow were so varied and so moving,. And behind the girly blather, clearly a very talented and dedicated psychologist was being formed. Recommended.
on 20 February 2016
It's built on an interesting premise of clinical psychology, however this is not true, meaning the book's portrayal and marketing is very misleading. It's not until the end that you learn all the stories are fabricated and exaggerated. This seems like a very cheap and deceptive method of getting the book to sell. Avoid unless you're desperately in search of something to read on holiday and want to pretend it's related to clinical psychology
on 23 October 2015
I could not put this book down. Harrowing and chilling stories told in a way that is believable and rational so they don't haunt you. I am a sensitive person and books do tend to play on my mind, but this book left me feeling inspired and hopeful. Tanya tells the stories of her fictional patients in a frank and honest way. This book has inspired me and opened up a new path in the study of psychology which I have always been fascinated by, but never actively pursued, until now. Once you start reading this book you will not want to put it down. Each characters story is gripping, heart wrenching and tragic, but the fact that these people are seeking help, inspires hope for a happy ending.
on 5 July 2015
Tanya Byron doesn't have the skills of a novelist and sometimes her writing falls a bit flat, especially when she's describing her life outside the consulting room. That criticism aside, I really enjoyed this book. For reasons of confidentiality, her case studies are all fictions, but she uses each of them to illustrate an area of work or a difficulty she faced. I'm sure that most of her cases wouldn't have been as dramatic or so neatly resolved, but her imaginary patients were all interesting and their stories made fascinating reading.