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Counselling and Psychotherapy for Families in Times of Illness and Death

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Title: Counselling and Psychotherapy for Families in Times of Illness and Death

Author:  Jenny Altschuler

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012

Reviewer: Carol Singleton, Queen’s nurse clinical project manager, End of Life Care, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust

What was it like?

This is the second edition of this book originally published in 1997.There are ten chapters in the book covering the impact of illness and disability on families, applying systemic ideas to health care, childhood and adolescent experiences of illness, parenting in the face of illness, illness and adult relationships, illness in later life, death, bereavement and living beyond loss, migration, culture and experiences of diversity and personal-professional aspects of health care. The references are in alphabetical order at the end of the book where there is also a comprehensive index, and at the end of each chapter there is a summary of its contents, making it easier to navigate your way around the book.


What were the highlights? 

The chapter I found particularly interesting was the one that discusses the emotional impact on health care professionals, offering strategies for reducing the risks of burnout, compassion fatigue and secondary traumatisation. A brief case study is used to illustrate an example of disentangling personal and professional issues and also an exercise for readers to carry out to further their understanding of this issue. I would have found it helpful if more case studies had been used throughout the book. The value of and problems that can arise from supervision are explored while describing the structure and process of supervision.

Strengths & weaknesses:

The use of genograms (or family trees) is suggested as a method of linking the present and the past, to collate and summarise relationships and as a powerful therapeutic tool. The appendix contains a useful table of symbols for genograms for you to use if you decide to practise this way of working.

Who should read it?

This is not the sort of book that requires you to read it from cover to cover. It lends itself to looking up specific problem areas in your practice, allowing you to explore difficulties and dilemmas while offering guidelines to enable you to provide effective, up to date services to your patients and their families. A useful read for any clinician wanting to gain a better understanding of what their patients are experiencing in times of illness and death.


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