Book Review: Selfhood: A Key to the Recovery of Emotional Wellbeing, Mental Health and the Prevention of Mental Health Problems by Dr. Terry Lynch

Published by Mental Health Publishing (2011) ISBN 978-1-908561-00-8
Reviewed by John Hartley

Who is this self, that cannot say I am, that is fragmented, terrified, frozen in fear, tormented by voices, disconnected, split off, living in a world of isolation and dread? Selfhood: A Key to the Recovery of Emotional Wellbeing, Mental Health and the Prevention of Mental Health Problems is a book that answers these questions and gives a framework for working with clients who “present with mental and emotional distress including those diagnosed with a mental health illness”. It is both an informative book, giving an understanding of mental illnesses and their sources, and a self-help guide for those interested in the recovery of their lives. It is a book that can be of use to anyone interested in the area of mental health, providing challenges to how we, as people, develop, hinder and stifle the development of a self.

I like the fact that the book has both a theoretical format and has experiences, both professional and personal, linked to theory. The challenge in the book is how to establish and maintain a healthy relationship with the self, in essence myself and this is, as Terry states, a lifelong relationship. Setbacks are seen as setbacks, not a return to the beginning, and this is an important concept to grasp as catastrophe is part of the process of those with deep emotional disturbance. I think it is important that the ‘absolutism’ of conventional psychiatry is challenged and this book does that while recognizing that medication can have a role in treatment. The area of genetic possibility is also addressed and there are, as of yet, no firm conclusions that genetic determinism has a part to play in emotional ill health. The area of diagnosis and conventional psychiatric treatment is developed and challenged in Terry’s first book, Beyond Prozac.

The book is well structured and offers both an understanding of what self is, the factors that inhibit the development of healthy self and self actions one can undertake to develop a healthy relationship and concept of self. It presents a challenge to us as practitioners to be open to the possibility of working with people who are diagnosed with mental health issues at the far end of the disturbance continuum. Our code of ethics states that we need to know when we are ‘out of our depth’ in relation to the work we are doing. Accordingly there is a deficit in most training programmes for psychotherapists in this field. I think this book provides valuable knowledge and insights in this area and I strongly recommend it as a requirement in training programmes.

If you are out on the mountains and suddenly a dense fog envelops you and you are without a compass, you are hopelessly lost. For those working with emotional wellbeing issues, this book is a compass to guide us in the fog. It is a book that offers challenge, the possibility of change, and above all, love.