When Tanya Byron (yes, the real Professor Tanya Byron, the well-known clinical psychologist you've seen on the TV) was 15 years old, her grandmother was brutally murdered by a heroin addict. That horrific experience led Byron to try to understand why someone could act in that way, and what it was that made them tick.
In this book, Byron fills six chapters with powerful stories based on her years of training - six placements, each six months long, each in different challenging environments. Whilst the patients themselves have been fictionalised to protect their identities, Byron is remarkably honest and open about how she felt and acted throughout. The stories are gripping, taut, fascinating. I certainly could not do what she does, nor coped as well as her with the harrowing tales she faced. But despite the struggles and difficulties, and frequent loss of confidence in her own abilities, she continued, she learned and she moved forwards, helping many patients in a kind, caring and compassionate way.
One thing this book strikes home is how small the gap is between 'sane' and 'mad'. A wrong choice, a lack of support, a difficult situation and we could be sitting on the opposite side of the psychologist's desk. Not everyone can be cured, not everyone wants to be. But despite working in the field for 25 years, Byron herself says "Nothing has changed. We don't like mental illness - we don't want it in ourselves because it frightens us... We expect people to be mentally ill in ways that we can accept."
This is a fascinating and hugely interesting book. The stories aren't always pretty, but the book has been brilliantly written. Highly recommended.
The Skeleton Cupboard, by Tanya Byron is published by Pan Macmillan and is available from their website.
Disclosure: Pan Macmillan sent me this book to keep for the purposes of review. All opinions are our own.