Why Do People Get Ill?: Exploring the Mind-body Connection by Darian Leader and David Corfield
|Why Do People Get Ill?: Exploring the Mind-body Connection by Darian Leader and David Corfield|
|Category: Popular Science|
|Reviewer: Claire Storey|
|Summary: A quasi-academic text dealing with the fundamental question of why people get ill. Thought-provoking but somewhat unsatisfying for the popular science reader.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 384||Date: February 2007|
|Publisher: Hamish Hamilton Ltd|
Have you ever stopped to think why we are beset by illness, not just in the sense of where you might have picked up that annoying winter cold but more fundamentally why you succumbed? Have you ever wondered why the nicest people seem to be struck down with the nastiest of illnesses and the apparent unfairness of it all? Have you ever said "it's all in the mind" or stopped to think whether you can think yourself better or ill? On the face of it, "Why Do People Get Ill?" seeks to answer these questions. It explores the relationship between our minds and bodies and draws on case studies, research findings and the authors' hypotheses in an attempt to answer the titular question.
Darian Leader is a psychoanalyst and a member of the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research and of the College of Psychoanalysts - UK and David Corfield a researcher in the Department of Biological Cybernetics at the Max Planck Institute and a former lecturer in history and philosophy of science at both Cambridge and Oxford. With such learned authors one might expect a learned text and, in that respect the book doesn't disappoint.
What I did find disappointing, however, was the read. This book is certainly a good example of the adage "never judge a book by its cover". With its bright pink dust jacket and childish font I rather expected a popular science text, something accessible to the thinking masses that would provide an answer to the titular question, back that answer up with a bit of science and leave us all with a metaphorical checklist of things that one could do so as to lessen our own chances of falling ill. Maybe that preconception coloured my reading, but it was certainly not a preconception that was proven.
I honestly struggled to identify the intended audience for this work. The casual reader is likely to be disappointed. There is no checklist for good health, medical terminology abounds (some of it translated, some not) and language is far from flowing. The reader with an academic interest is also, I suspect, likely to be disappointed. Case studies and research findings are reported almost in vacuum, the same scientific crime that the authors accuse the medical profession of. There is a very comprehensive set of endnotes for those who wish to look behind the baldly quoted statistics but I suspect that this is, again, beyond the casual reader. It appears to be a book designed to make one think, but who "one" is is rather up for grabs. The book feels disjointed and my perception of the target audience was constantly shifting as I moved from chapter to chapter. I was left with the distinct impression that this was a book that would have benefited from better editing to draw together two distinct writing styles, condense some repetitious arguments and pinpoint the level of the text.
Audience aside, some interesting arguments are brought to the fore. US, UK and Continental experience is brought together to argue that the medical profession should be encouraged to look behind physical symptoms and their treatment to discover whether there is, in fact, a psychosomatic element to the condition of the patient. This becomes increasingly difficult as the patient needs to be treated, and listened to, as an individual. It is also not sufficient to ask the patient whether they can attribute a link between an important life or emotionally charged event and their condition for it may be that the very absence of a link is, in fact, the link itself. The inability to communicate emotion is shown, by use of selected data, to be a driver of illness. Thus the person who just soldiers on or the person who cannot express their disappointment is more likely to suffer and for longer than the person who elects to fight or who constantly voices their emotional feelings.
The book is clearly structured with each chapter devoted to a separate question or idea and each building on what has been before. Ideas and case studies that are introduced are referred to as one continues through the book and a new dimension is added to the discussion. I did think that the book wandered too far from its premise in many of the chapters, going beyond the basic question of "Why Do People Get Ill?" and on to questions of medical ethics and an investigation of the efficacy of treatments offered to patients. Some of the wandering does serve to provide a context into which the arguments are put. Given that the authors argue that much can be learned from a patient by listening to them it is natural that there should be a critique of modern health provision and the inability or unwillingness of the medical profession to listen properly to patients. Add to the equation the fact that medical science is now so compartmentalised that no single care provider is responsible for the patient and, as a result, information learned about a patient by one specialist is rarely passed to another then one can see merit in the argument being formulated and its relevance to why we get ill.
Reading this book I couldn't fail to stop and think about some of the ideas and concepts that were being voiced. However, on many occasions I found myself increasingly frustrated that the popularist conclusions were not actually voiced within the text: again, probably a result of my preconceptions about the text as a book for the generally educated public. I felt that this was a book that I should understand as well as think about and yet I finished feeling that I had understood far less than was intended and had but a fraction of the thought that I had expected.
Unfortunately, I finished the book feeling rather unsatisfied and the question of why people get ill has been left, to a greater or lesser extent, unanswered.
Our thanks to the publishers for sending this book.
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