How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry

 How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry

London, Pan, 2012, 130pp.

Found on the Adult Non-fiction shelves at 155.25 PER

 How to Stay Sane is an excellent, up to date explanation of how to maintain good mental health. Using clear explanations and practical exercises, psychotherapist Philippa Perry explains that good mental health depends on a capacity for self-observation; nourishing relationships; life-long learning; and knowing the ideas that guide our living.

Perry describes psychological research which has demonstrated that we use feelings, rather than logic and reason, to make decisions about our life. This happens even if we are not aware of our emotions. Awareness can be assisted by using a journal to undertake a “Grounding Exercise”, according to Perry. This exercise entails addressing the questions: What am I now feeling, and thinking? What am I doing? How am I breathing? What do I want for myself? Perry points out that a capacity for self-observation enables us to bring together our emotions and logic so we can act effectively.

Our brain grows in relationships, Perry explains. She suggests that this can be best done in “genuine dialogue” in which the other person is given our full attention through “Mentalization”. This is a procedure for understanding our inner experience and the inner experience of others. “The Daily Temperature Reading” is an exercise Perry proposes for improving relationships. It entails family, friends or colleagues sitting down and examining their relationship by conveying appreciation and new information, as well as raising questions and voicing complaints with suggestions for change. However, this exercise would seem to presuppose that the participants were psychologically and relationally secure.

Experience suggests that tension and conflict can easily erupt and destroy this type of communication if the participants are not individually and relationally secure. Life-long learning is the key to keeping our brains fit and sane, Perry argues. It promotes neural growth and plasticity as well as being pleasurable, and motivational. She points out that “A plastic brain can adapt, stay flexible, remain connected to community, and cope with the inevitable changes that life brings”. A “plastic brain” enables us to adapt our emotional, cognitive, and physical responses to the world as changing circumstances demand. Perry points out that these “stories” or “narratives that define us” need to be understood and rewritten when required for our well being. This requires a “plastic brain” and a commitment to learning.

One of the exercises in the book which readers may find particularly stimulating is the Genogram. Counsellors have used Genograms for many years to help individuals appreciate the psychological influence of their family of origin and forebears; a psychological “Who do you think you are”, if you like!

As the title How to Stay Sane implies, the book presupposes the reader has good mental health. It does not address how to deal with poor mental health in self or others. So readers will not find help to address psychological and relationship difficulties. However, the book still provides a good introduction to the nature of mental health.

Reviewed by : Colin Bull (Colin conducts courses in Relationship Psychology with the University of the Third Age.)

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