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Book review: Four Ways to Click, Amy Banks (2015)

Amy Bank’s first book, “Four Ways to Click” (2015) New York: Tarcher/Penguin, distills the wisdom of the magnificent Jean Baker-Miller’s theories, infuses them with a new dose of relevance and importance via recent neuroscience findings, and pours out information written for a general audience.  Dr. Banks, who is also a practicing psychiatrist, had some help from professional writer Leigh Ann Hirschman making these ideas come across in such simple and basic language, and I’m very grateful for that. I’ve been at a few training sessions Amy has led over the years, and I always leave feeling like my brain has over-indulged, much like my tummy feels right after Christmas dinner. Her ideas are brilliant, and in this new format, even normals like myself can get a firm grasp on them.

True to its title, the book breaks Dr. Miller’s Relational-Cultural theory (RCT) ideas down into four basic bites: Calm, Accepted, Resonant, Energetic (CARE for short). Each of the four bites,which she calls pathways, has its own chapter, where Amy explains what brain and nervous system parts have to engage to make that bite happen. She also tells us what emotional and behavioral symptoms emerge when that part is out of whack.

Two other key components of this book are the “3 rules for brain change” and a self-scoring assessment readers can use to determine how well balanced (or not) they are with the four basic relational pathways (The CARE parts). The three rules aren’t new to anyone who’s been reading the newer neuroscience books, especially the applied texts. The rules all relate to basic science about neuroplasticity, or what it takes to create new automatic or default thoughts and behaviors. It really boils down to the fact that you have to practice – a lot- to make changes permanent. It’s nice to have the brain science explained, although telling readers to practice a lot would be ok, too.

The self-assessment is pretty handy. It doesn’t purport to be psychometrically sound, which is fine, since it’s not being used as a true diagnostic tool. I was surprised that there doesn’t seem to be (unless I overlooked it) any reference to Liang,et al and the Relational Health Index, which has been around for several years and is quite similar to this scale. Amy’s CARE Relational Assessment is tailored to fit within her framework, while the RHI is designed to fit under the more broad RCT frame. I don’t know the back story on this part of the book, but it does make me scratch my head a bit. The RCT world is small and deeply connected. Amy took pains to thank a lot of people in the acknowledgements section, but the RHI team aren’t there.

I found this little volume (it’s only about 300 pages, with the index, notes, table of contents, etc.) to be very accessible, and I imagine that clients who have at least a 10-12th grade reading level would find it interesting and helpful. I read most of it while waiting for an oil change to be completed, and found it very engaging. I’m encouraging my graduate students to pick it up as a good resource to recommend to their clients who are struggling with out-of-whack neural/relational pathways. It’s a nice introduction to how the brain influences and reflects our relationships, and understanding that interplay can be a life-changer for clients.

Book review: The Interpersonal Neurobiology of Play (2014)

Among my favorite things (cue singing) in the world to read has to be books about brains. I’m fascinated by all brains- human, mammal, lizard, doesn’t matter; love ’em all. What’s a real gem is a book about brains that I don’t need a dictionary to plow through that gives me information I can use for something other than trivia night at the local pub.

Theresa Kestly’s The Interpersonal Neurobiology of Play (2014) is one of those rare finds. It’s the latest entry in Norton’s series on interpersonal neurobiology. In my opinion, it’s one of the stronger offerings. It’s a very tightly edited trim volume of only 205 pages including the index. Every single one of those 205 pages is worth reading.

The prose is clear enough for an absolute beginner to grasp, yet has enough complexity to entertain brain geeks like myself. The book is based around a series of well-designed graphics (another fetish of mine) which make the material at once well-organized and visually compelling. A lot of it is also new to me- I’d never heard of Jaak Panksepp, a brain guy Kestly quotes throughout the book. I really thought I’d heard of all the Big Names in brains by now: Porges, van der Kolk, Siegel, Perry, etc. But here’s a new one! And he has some really interesting ideas that directly apply to play therapy and play in general.

Since this little book is so packed with great information, I’m not going to reveal the details here. Suffice it to say that if you’re a play therapist or a brain geek, you need this little book. It would also make a fab gift for your favorite therapist.

Here’s a link to amazon, although you can buy from any seller. I don’t get any kickbacks for purchases.

http://www.amazon.com/Interpersonal-Neurobiology-Play-Brain-Building-Interventions/dp/0393707490/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417449376&sr=8-1&keywords=kestly