Book Review: The Skeleton Cupboard

20170509_190139“I first became fascinated by the frontal lobes of the human brain when I saw my grandmother’s sprayed across the skirting board…

This is the hook of The Skeleton Cupboardthe book I’d promised to review by Professor Tanya Byron, a Chartered Clinical Psychologist of over twenty years who specialised in children and adolescents. She has published many books, done relevant TV and radio segments, and conducted the well known Byron Review: Safer children in a digital world in 2008, with a follow up in 2010. This book is her recorded experience of being on the clinical psychology doctorate training program.

Why did I read it?

I was running a cursory search on Amazon for books of the ‘how-to’ variety regarding clinical psychology and, more specifically, getting on to a doctorate clinical training program. This novel serves as more of a latter result of that endeavor, focusing on the training and all its placements. Nevertheless, it was one of my better online purchases.

Who is it for?

This book is written as a chronological story, for anyone curious about clinical psychology and mental health, and seems to be specifically useful for those who intend to work within the relevant settings. Further under the microscope, it is an enlightening read for anyone who plans to undertake the clinical psychology doctorate, providing one of many perspectives on what the training may entail. However, I would recommend this to anyone who wants a good read, psychology related or not, due to the fascinating array of stories.

What is it about?

The Skeleton Cupboard compiles the patient related stories of Byron’s clinical  psychology training, from 1989 to 1992, to create fictional anecdotes with real world underpinnings. Despite these taking place over twenty five years ago they transcend beyond time periods, with six chapters relaying Byron’s experiences working with diverse yet equally curious individuals, across various clinical settings in London such as GP surgeries, drug dependency units and psychiatric departments. There are tales of grief, loss, family struggle, abuse and mortality, knit into the classifications of anorexia, anxiety, depression, dementia and substance misuse. Byron intends to focus less on these labels and more on the person beneath the patient, with some heart breaking narratives, in relatable jargon free terms.

Byron has openly relayed the frustrations, insecurities and mistakes she had, admitting to naiveté, arrogance, vulnerability and grappling with empathy. Behind the inspirational woman with an admirable career trajectory was a young trainee who occasionally had crying jags, requested to leave a placement or outright verbally sparred with her supervisor. I have no doubt that she must have been brilliant, having gotten on to the training in the first place, but it’s comforting to see the cool collected clinical psychologist persona, perpetuated by the world, dispelled. Byron exposes her metamorphosis for the learning curve it was, reassuring to all who feel the occasional ‘imposter syndrome’.

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My own paperback copy, available on Amazon

Byron also drops the curtain off her supervisor, who we tend to forget have troubling lives of their own which may cause them to perform vanishing acts or behave unpredictably. They’re conducting a balancing act of responsibilities where an overly anxious trainee is not the highest priority. Keeping in mind that Byron’s tempestuous relationship with her supervisor was her own subjective experience, and at times seemed odd in writing within the context of the descriptions of her placements and the stories she was relaying, I still learnt a lot about this academic dynamic, whether that was Byron’s intention or not.

Why should you read it?

There is much to recommend The Skeleton Cupboard– a snappy and easy read, neither patronising nor boring; a realistic depiction of clinical training that manages expectations while giving a glance into the professional future many of us desire and yet still proves to be intriguing for those who want a read just to pass the time. It is not a memoir but truthful and will teach you about mental health difficulties- symptoms and therapies– and the clinical and academic hurdles of training. Beyond this it also teaches you about human interaction and how you may fit into that equation in a mental health practitioner role. Overall, this book echoes the sentiment that no one is born a ready made clinical psychologist but anyone could have the potential to become one.

Where can I get a copy?

The Skeleton Cupboard  is available on Amazon in hardback and paperback, with both new and secondhand copies (the cheapest is currently available at £0.01!). It’s also available on Kindle and as an audiobook.

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