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Book review: The Mental Fitness Guide

Manage Your Mind : The Mental Fitness Guide. Gillian Butler and Tony Hope. Oxford University Press (paperback), 1995. ISBN 0-19-262383-4

This is a super book, and I wish I had discovered it earlier, both for myself and for my patients. It was actually recommended to me by one of those patients, after it had transformed her life in a way that neither my help, nor that of our clinical psychologist, had succeeded in doing. Such was her enthusiasm that she not only gave me the details, but was generous enough to arrange for a copy to arrive on my desk a few days later.

And who could resist even the inside front cover, which lists such intriguing gems as Distant Elephants, the case of Italian wines, Bury the Judge, and How to get rid of 90% of your worries. I turned to Distant Elephants first to read a highly relevant vignette about the risks inherent in accepting undesirable or unwanted commitments (a lecture in Edinburgh, in this case!) just because they happen to be a year ahead. The take-home message is 'From far away, even elephants look small; but when you come up close, they are as large as they always are. Do not commit yourself to unimportant activities, no matter how far ahead they are'.

This is a book full of such hidden gems. I had never, for example, heard Seligman's description of depression as 'the common cold of the mind', or Flew's ten leaky buckets argument. Yet this is also an intensely readable, practical and accessible self-help workbook, designed to be used by ordinary people, not experts. It is, appropriately, not extensively referenced, but it has a good index, selected sources for further reading, and Chapter 2 describes the scientific background to the book's content.

So if you (or your patients) need advice on mental keep-fit, relationships, assertiveness, anxiety, bad habits, depression, memory training, study techniques, sleep problems - well, the list goes on and on. Gillian Butler (psychologist) and Tony Hope (psychiatrist) are brilliant communicators, and present what they call a 'buffet table' for our delectation. This is good psychology, well packaged and practically applied. Outstanding value at £8.99 for 638 pages of very readable stuff, and it will also enable you to find out what chunking means. Get it for yourself, and recommend it to your patients.

Tim Jack
Pain Relief Unit, Oxford
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