Book Review: Growing Pains by Mike Shooter

The two sub-headings of this book is ‘Making Sense of Childhood’ and ‘A Psychiatrist’s Story’. In essence, it is a mix of the writer’s professional and (to a lesser extent) personal autobiography, a series of case studies of children and young people that he has helped in his career and a personal plea for the kind of multi-disciplinary approach to helping young people with psychiatric issues that the writer believes gives real results.

Dr Mike Shooter CBE was President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and specialises in treating children and adolescents. We must believe, therefore, that he knows what he is talking about but as it is told from his viewpoint only, it’s unclear to the reader what alternative perspectives might be on offer. Certainly, his beliefs in the importance of listening closely to the children to determine the underlying cause of their issues and working with a team of specialists in a variety of fields to help them manage and sometimes overcome their personal and psychiatric problems seem sensible and convincing; but a non-specialist would not know of any alternative views.

Dr Shooter feels that it is too easy for medical professionals to label a child’s problem as a particular syndrome for treatment with drugs. He notes that some families prefer a diagnosis like this as having a medical condition carries less of a stigma and removes some of their own responsibility for dealing with it.

The chapters in the book are a series of case studies from Dr Shooter’s career; each one highlighting an issue or theme (e.g the nature of adolescence, anorexia, cultural differences, peer group pressure & aggression). The stories of the children and adolescents Dr Shooter has helped are told with compassion and a lack of sensationalism. His description seem to indicate that he is able to determine the root of a child’s particular issue quite easily but it must surely have been more difficult in reality but, perhaps, that approach is just for the sake of brevity.

Very little is said about the actual methods used for helping the children to overcome and/or manage their particular issues. Whilst the stories are moving and sad, one cases study follows another, follows another. It starts to feel formulaic and, unfortunately, monotonous. The words of patients and their families are quoted but in many cases they feel like they are ‘paraphrased’ as they seem to be too polished and too perfect to ring true.

Dr Mike Shooter is to be admired for his compassion and his long commitment to helping children and adolescents. His message of listening to the children rather than rushing into a diagnosis seems important. However, as a book, it is not a compelling read.

Growing Pains is published by Hodder and Stoughton.

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