Psychology and Sociology Applied to Medicine

Alder, Beth; M Porter; C Abraham and E. van Teijlingen
Churchill Livingstone,
0443072957 (pb)

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Cover of book In the second edition of this book Alder et al have aimed to add more reflection on key topics and review recent advances in the sociological and psychological processes that contribute to our understanding of health and illness. The book is primarily aimed at undergraduate medical students and students of professions allied to medicine. It has an easy layout and students will find that they can either follow the sections in the book or read any part of it in isolation in order to gain some understanding of the social and psychological processes within health and medicine. Throughout the book the authors also interweave case studies to highlight the main points being made. This helps the reader to ground what is being put forward in an individual case or to see how this relates to relevant research. The book is divided into nine sections: life cycle, development of the person, society and health, preventing illness and promoting health, illness behaviour and the doctor-patient relationship, illness and disability, coping with illness and disability, how do health services work and how do we fit into all this? Each section is presented in an easily digestible double A4 paged section. The book is clear and cogent, designed to encourage students to reflect on their reading with 'stop and think' boxes highlighting the main questions posed in each section. One of the strengths of this book is its overall appeal to students familiar with a Problem Base Learning curriculum.

The book begins with the life cycle covering pregnancy and childbirth, reproductive issues, adolescence, ageing and bereavement. Part of this section focuses on ageing, society and health and introduces the student to ageism and the stereotyping of older people by asking a series of questions from the 'stop and think' box. It then goes on to reflect on these stereotypes and show how research refutes some stereotypical images of older people being senile and incapable of learning new things. Although the section is clear and the message that students should take away is that there are considerable stereotypes of older people, as with all the other sections of the book, it is overly brief. It is not until the later section under society and health that any attention is given to the issue of identity in later life, images of the body and the social aspects of ageing. This again stresses how physical and mental decline are not an inevitable part of later life. It also looks at how the experience of ageing is changing within society as it becomes more complex.

Although the book covers a wide range of issues important to the study of health and illness and from both a sociological and psychological perspective, I felt that certain important issues were missing. For example, I think it is important for those studying medicine and professions allied to medicine to have some understanding of how medicine, its practices and knowledge, change over time and vary between different cultures. This is an inevitable consequence of a book that covers such a diverse area as health and illness. As the book covers a variety of topics and looks at both the sociological and psychological approaches to health, this means, by necessity, that each section is very brief and lacks any in-depth look at any one topic. A list of further reading might have been one way to encourage students to continue to develop their understanding of the social aspects of health, illness, service delivery and the role of the doctor. Overall, this is a clearly presented and accessible text for students, which I'm sure, will prove popular with them; however it will also be important to highlight to students that it should be used as a basis for further reading to enhance their understanding rather than a definitive explanatory text.

Katie Brittain
University of Newcastle upon Tyne