Airing out the cupboard…

The Skeleton Cupboard by Tanya Byron is a remarkable book, personal and fascinating, careering between black humour and shocking melancholy, deeply human and skillfully written. It is a quiet celebration of what is like to be human, how things can go wrong and how our minds attempt to right themselves in a suddenly wrong world. The exchange between helper and helped is fluid, contrary and perverse
Byron is a clinical psychologist, a journalist, advisor to various governments on issues involving children and young adults and a professor of the public understanding of science. This is the story of her two years of placements, over 25 years ago,  in various institutions and clinical specialties as she was training to become a clinical psychologist. Of course, some of the stories are conflated, their details smudged and re-written to protect everyone’s anonymity, but each placement challenges and teaches the new psychologist, as she creates a sense of herself in this rewarding but sometimes frightening world, and a sense of how she is going to practice her profession, its uses and its limitations.
Byron’s explorations of her own dark corners and un/happy friendships are interesting, explaining the growth she had to make in order to become  useful to people facing, or in, a range of traumatic crises and interrupted lives. Byron is actually the least protected of the people in this book, she is very open about her own, young 20-something uncertainties, worries, naiveties, arrogance and satisfactions. Apparently her mother was worried about how open she was but Byron is committed to de-mystifying – de-deifying – the profession she works in and the various health professionals she works with.
I was surprised at how moving the book is, this young woman, struggling to help her patients make sense of their worlds on their terms: they are all struggling, striving, together. Peace is hard-won, and sometimes, because this is not fiction, never gained.
An inspiring, thought-provoking insight into the human/helping condition…


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