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68 of 80 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Overstating the case, 3 Jan 2008
This review is from: Britain On The Couch: Why We're Unhappier Than We Were In The 1950s - Despite Being Richer: Treating for the Low-Serotonin Society (Paperback)
I agree with the main thesis of this book - that too many of us have failed to adapt ourselves, particularly in our emotional responsiveness, to the peculiar stresses of advanced capitalism. However, much of the case is so overstated and over-evidenced that much of the time I had the impression I was reading someone's PhD thesis. The chapters on gender rancour are definitely overkill. Yes, this stuff needs saying, but could have been condensed into a quarter of the space. Indeed, the whole book is severely let down not just by James' considerable over-detailing but also the lack of even the most basic visual representations of the mass of data he puts before us.
In the later chapters James becomes more opinionated, particularly as he starts to give advice about what sort of therapy the serotonin-deficient among us might go for. Admittedly, evidence for the effectiveness of particular therapies is scant, but this does not deter James from emphasising psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioural approaches at the expense of what he calls, oddly and with no elaboration, 'middle' therapies. In his enthusiasm to distinguish counselling from psychotherapy, he virtually dismisses the former as 'something you do when someone close to you has died'. A lot of effort has gone into describing psychoanalysis, even though it is hardly available outside London and is rarely indicated these days except for the super-rich.
Some of the suggestions James puts forward in his last chapter for treating the low-serotonin society verge on the authoritarian. I happen to agree with him about some of these [e.g. limiting certain types of advertising] but his case has the character of a rant, which detracts somewhat from the erudition and rationality of the preceding chapters.
As a Certified Transactional Analyst who undertook six years of rigorous training in psychotherapy I was disgusted at James' misguided and misleading assertion in his Appendix 3 on types of treatment that "transactional analysis is generally a form of counselling" [p 360]. I do hope that in the years since he wrote this he has managed to meet and learn from some of the increasing number of therapists who are integrating a range of evidence-based approaches in their work.
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Location: West Yorkshire, UK

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