Are you a student of psychology or interested in becoming one? Or are you an avid reader interested in psychology, social relationships, and complex concepts? What about a beginning therapist or mental health professional? If so, Lisa J. Cohen’s The Handy Psychology Answer Book is for you. The book claims to provide 1,500 answers to the questions readers might ask about psychology.
One of the things I loved about studying psychology as a student and later as a beginning therapist is that there were so many mysteries, theories, and terminologies that challenged me to increase my knowledge and engage in research. But although I loved the challenge, I disliked the fact that I did not have access to resources that could offer a brief overview of some of the topics of psychology. With The Handy Psychology Answer Book, Cohen has made psychology topics accessible and interesting.
Cohen begins her book by explaining the usefulness of such a book and provides a brief overview of the basics of psychology, such as the history of psychology, theories and theorists, and important facts. The rest of the book includes topics focusing on culture and psychology, major movements throughout history, brain anatomy, psychological development, interpersonal relationships (i.e., love, marriage, parenting), concepts of social psychology (i.e., group dynamics), existential topics (i.e., motivation and everyday life), abnormal psychology (i.e., topics on mental health, behavior, personality), and forensic psychology (with a focus on mental illness and the law).
Cohen’s book provides a brief overview of important facts much like an encyclopedia does. It can be useful for graduating students taking the National Counselor Examination or similar exams and during internships and practicum experiences. For beginning therapists or other mental health professionals, this book can refresh your memory on topics essential to understanding psychology.
However, I am sad to say that for more experienced mental health professionals, the chapters on beginners’ theories may prove to be quite unstimulating. I found the most stimulating chapters were on brain anatomy, group dynamics and the public sphere, mental health and mental illness, the psychology of trauma, and forensic psychology. While reading these chapters, though, I noticed that the book seemed to lack statistics that may help shed light on certain topics. Also missing from these chapters were resources to continue learning about the topic.
For other readers, the book may seem somewhat biased because psychology is a very big topic and in order to make the book “readable,” the author had to choose certain topics to discuss and not discuss and certain topics to limit. There isn’t enough room in the book to cover the entire topic of trauma or mental illness and the law. In order to allow fair space for other topics, the author would have had to choose how much time to give to each section/chapter or topic.
Even more, in some ways, the description of the book can seem to exaggerate the real appeal of the book. For example, online descriptions regard the book as “fascinating” and “intriguing” with “fun factoids” that is written in a “lively, accessible, and engaging way.” While this may be true for some readers (primarily those beginning in the field of psychology), it may not be true for most readers (primarily those who are more experienced in the field of psychology). Personally, I did not find the book that engaging, but I attribute this to my many years in the field.
Despite some of the limitations, the book is easy to read, easy to understand, applicable to everyday life, and seems free of political influence and bias. It is a general overview of the field and the topics of psychology, which makes it a decent book to add to anyone’s library.
The Handy Psychology Answer Book, Second Edition.
Visible Ink Press, March 2016
Paperback, 544 pages