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Moylan, D. (1994). Institutes and How to Survive Them: Mental Health Training and Consultation. By Robin Skynner. Selected papers edited by J.R. Schlapobersky. Routledge. £12.99. Pp. xlviii + 235.. Psychoanal. Psychother., 8(2):195-196.

(1994). Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 8(2):195-196

Institutes and How to Survive Them: Mental Health Training and Consultation. By Robin Skynner. Selected papers edited by J.R. Schlapobersky. Routledge. £12.99. Pp. xlviii + 235.

Review by:
Deirdre Moylan

This is an interesting and enjoying book, bringing together papers by Skynner from 1964 to 1988, in which the focus is on some aspect of an institute. It is edited by John Schlapobersky, who also provides a very useful introduction to the book, and to each chapter. Skynner's style of writing is a practice of what he preaches. It is self-revealing, respectful, and generous, allowing access to his thinking as he responds to the various situations he is presented with when consulting to institutions. It includes papers about the early development of Family Therapy and its growth in Britain, and gives fascinating insights into the history of the now-thriving organisations which Skynner helped to found: the Institute of Group Analysis and the Institute of Family Therapy.

A number of the papers were written in the 1970s, which was also a time of great change in the National Health Service and in the public sector generally, and so have a renewed relevance today. His emphasis on the importance of taking into account the whole system, and not being blinded by one or more of the parts, is perhaps particularly useful in the face of current reorganisation.

Skynner's main theme is developed gradually in many papers: what enables a healthy family to function at an optimal level can be equally applied to institutions. In the family, a combination of three factors — a strong parental coalition with a clear parent-child hierarchy, open communication that is a two-way process between the different levels of the hierarchy; and the awareness of the connection to a wider system of the universe-at-large extending beyond the lifetime of one individual — enables ‘optimal functioning’. In other words, these families, or their equivalent institutions, breed creative and productive individuals who can have fun but who can also (and this again is of great relevance today) cope exceedingly well with change and loss of all kinds.

A second theme that permeates the book, although equally important, I feel is less well developed than the first, which is perhaps a function of Skynner's preference for a group, rather than an individual analysis. He emphasises the interdependence of the patient-client and the therapist-worker. He points out ways in which the therapist's own history influences his choice of profession, even dictating the specific client-group with whom he will eventually work.

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