Archive for Book Review

The Course of Love Alain de Botton

‘Love means admiration for qualities in the lover that promise to correct our weaknesses and imbalances; love is a search for completion.’

This quotation, which in many ways both expands and focuses Plato’s search for your other half as described in his Symposium, comes early on in the book by the contemporary philosopher Alain de Botton. The Course of Love is by no means a dry and academic dissertation on the theme of love – still less a series of speculative notes detached from human realities. Rather it is a delightfully written novel, following the relationship of Rabih and Kirsten, which takes the time to unpack what is happening for them along the way.

Listen to him again…

‘In reality, there are rarely squabbles over ‘nothing’ in Rabih and Kirsten’s marriage. The small issues are really just large ones that haven’t been accorded the requisite attention. Their everyday disputes are the loose threads that catch on fundamental contrasts in their personalities’

Botton explores and unpacks the ordinary everyday issues that many couples struggle with and are common themes that come into our consulting rooms at Coupleworks. Through the engaging and compelling narrative of Rabih and Kirsten’s lives, interwoven with profound and thought provoking commentary, he covers issues of conflict, sulking, sex, blame, children and parenting, staying faithful and aging parents.

Underpinning his understanding of the couple relationship is the way in which we are shaped by our early attachment figures – our parents – and how this script forms a pattern for us in our expectations and actions towards our significant partner. On the one hand we expect our partners to respond in ways that are familiar to us, whilst on the other hand we can find ourselves reacting powerfully or seemingly irrationally to certain behaviours. This can lead to conflict, misunderstandings and a growing distance between a couple.

One of the themes he highlights which I find to be one of the most common features of couple therapy, is working with the disappointment that our partner is not going to be the person we would like them to be. But this doesn’t have to mean an unhappy ending. In working through the disappointment and letting go of a sometimes idealistic dream, there is much contentment to be found in an acceptance of the fact that our partners are different and other, and finding an intimacy and connection through that difference.

A final quote from Alain de Botton.

‘The partner truly best suited to us is not the one who miraculously happens to share every taste, but the one who can negotiate differences in taste with intelligence and good grace’

This book is accessible and a recommended read for all those who face the joys and challenges of being in a relationship!

Sarah Fletcher

Is Mental Illness Biomedical or a Complex Mixture of Social and Psychological Circumstances?

In “Semantic Polarities and Psychopathologies in the Family,” Valeria Ugazio challenges the idea that mental distress, the notion that being mentally ill, whether depressed, obsessive, phobic or schizophrenic is essentially biological.

Ugazio believes that pharmaceutical companies are invested in the belief that mental illness is biochemical because it is in their interest to do so. But more interesting is her idea that this exonerates everyone from responsibility and involvement in the patient’s problem.

Ugazio’s main point is that mental illness occurs when people are not able to choose between altruism and selfishness, dependence and independence, winning and losing, belonging and not belonging.

These issues, she believes, start in the family.  And although Ugazio is not interested in blame, she does trace family behaviour and their stories as the starting point of where mental illness originates.

Through numerous case studies, Ugazio skillfully weaves together a model that makes sense of why mental illness might develop, placing meaningful relation to particular life context.

She highlights how there are many factors involved within the family dynamic and how many opportunities, pitfalls and traps we can fall into when a family member suffers with difficult issues. She also points out that some of the stories themselves are part of the problem.  When a child is told he ‘is this way or that way’, a story is constructed within the family and it becomes difficult for the children to see themselves in another way.

There will always be times within our own family when we would rather avoid addressing difficult and potentially uncomfortable interactions with family members.  These become the opportunities to stay with the difficulties and work through issues directly.

So when you notice something isn’t right with a family member don’t turn away. Instead, turn towards the person in crisis.  This is what reconnects us and lends compassion and understanding to the people we love. That’s where the healing begins.

Shirlee Kay


‘Committed’ – A Love Story by Elizabeth Gilbert

‘Committed’ by Elizabeth Gilbert

‘Committed – A Love Story’ is indeed a love story of the author Elizabeth Gilbert and Felipe, a Brazilian-born Australian citizen. However it is so much more than that. It is a study of the institution of marriage. Interwoven into their story Gilbert explores different cultures, both Western and Eastern, and their differing traditions regarding marriage. She argues powerfully that marriage has been constantly adapting over the centuries and that some of the characteristics that we take for granted in the West are very different when looked at from other temporal and cultural perspectives.

All of that may sound a bit heavy but this is a book that anyone can relate to as it is very much her story. Her previous book ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ told the story of her divorce and all that followed from that. ‘Committed’ takes that story a step further as she and Felipe tentatively explore the requirement of marriage being laid on them by the US Homeland Security Department.

This is a book for anyone who is married or thinking of it, as it opens up all kinds of questions about our expectations, hopes and fears about what marriage means to each of us. The old cliché that this is a book which you will find difficult to put down is actually true of this one – it’s extremely readable and very thought-provoking.

Brene Brown – ‘I Thought It was Just Me’ (but it isn’t)

Read ‘I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) – Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy and Power’ by Brene Brown and recognise an uncomfortable home truth!

She describes how the search for the unattainable goal of perfectionism exhausts and weighs us down.  We buy into the message that to be ‘imperfect’ is synonymous with being ‘inadequate’.  The implication that we are not good enough, unlovable even, encourages a shame reaction.  We become defensive, wary, and fearful of being found out.  Unfavourable comparisons with others who seem to get it ‘right’ leave us insecure and vulnerable.  We hide the shame – unable to face an imagined blame and critical judgement.

The shame sets us apart and alone.  It denies us opportunities for receiving the empathy, connection and affirmation for which we long. So shame then limits, constrains and restricts our relationships.  Guilt can drive an alteration in behaviour.  Shame, however, becomes the secret that corrodes any sense of well-being.  It attacks the confidence required for psychological growth and development.

Brene Brown writes with warmth and compassion and offers strategies for liberating the stranglehold of shame.  The hope is that we can then begin to deal with the concomitant feelings of distress, anxiety and depression and embrace self-acceptance.

Kathy Rees

Follow the link to Brene Brown’s great talk on the power of vulnerability.