Myths and therapy

Morgan le Fay

Brendan McMahon:
The Princess Who Ate People:
the Psychology of Celtic Myths
Heart of Albion Press 2006

First, I have to say this is a wonderful title for a book, encouraging the reader to delve inside the covers. The author here looks primarily at Irish and Welsh mythical narratives with his psychotherapist’s eye, seeking for ways in which these old tales can help modern patients make sense of their own dilemmas and help restore integrity and identity.

Though Irish tales dominate his study, native British stories put in an appearance, including some Welsh Arthurian narratives. The commentary is critical of aspects of classic Freudian analysis, and here I wish McMahon’s concluding chapter, which encapsulates his approach, had begun the book.

Some stimulating ideas are here, therefore, even for those unsympathetic with Freudian theory, so I will only mention a couple of niggles. First up are the typos – I can’t believe that there wasn’t time to proofread the text before publishing – and secondly, I was disappointed that the striking cover by Ian Brown was not really as representative of Mis, the Irish princess of the title, as I expected.

The final word must go to the author: “The fact is that the psychological complexity of the tales, with their rich interplay between the internal, interpersonal and social worlds, debars any simple reductionist interpretation, Freudian or otherwise.” Amen to that, I say.


Repost of a review first published online 25th March 2013, and before that in the Journal of the Pendragon Society, in 2006

Autism, Bullying and the Child

Emily Lovegrove:
Autism, Bullying and Me.
The Really Useful Stuff You Need to Know About Coping Brilliantly with Bullying.
Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2020

This is not a review — but it is a notice about a useful and accessible self-help book for those who feel different, written by my partner and published tomorrow.

It’s not always easy to stand out from the crowd, especially if you’re a teenager. There’s a lot of information out there on how to deal with bullying, but a lot of it is contradictory or seems like it won’t work…

But this guidebook is different! Helping you sort fact from fiction, the book looks at the different forms bullying can take and debunks commonly held myths such as ‘bullying makes you stronger’ and ‘ignore it and it will stop’.

You’ll learn techniques to clear your mind so that you can respond to bullying situations calmly and confidently and be positive about who you are.

Finally, it’s packed with self-empowering strategies for coping with being autistic in a neurotypical world, and practical tips so you can handle any bullying scenario.

Emily is a psychologist whose doctoral thesis was on appearance and bullying, and on strategies to manage bullying. Being only recently diagnosed as autistic means she writes from experience and with insight on how feeling — as well as looking — different can affect how others treat you; and as a professional she’s well positioned to advise on how to cope positively to that treatment.

She previously authored Help! I’m Being Bullied (Accent Press 2006) which sold out its print run. She tweets and blogs as The Bullying Doctor — a passive aggressive title foisted on her, I should add!

Published by Jessica Kingsley
ISBN 978 1 78775 213 9
eISBN 978 1 78775 214 6

Published at £12.99 in the UK, it’s available from all good outlets such as indie bookshops (eg Book-ish, Crickhowell at http://www.book-ish.co.uk) so do support them at this difficult time, especially if they take online orders.*


* If you order from Book-ish you could ask for a signed copy with a personal message from Emily

Vaults of heart and brain

Manticore, Edward Topsell (1607)

Robertson Davies: The Manticore (1972)
in The Deptford Trilogy
Penguin 2011 (1983)

To live is to battle with trolls
in the vaults of heart and brain.
To write: that is to sit
in judgement over one’s self.
— Henrik Ibsen, extract from a letter, quoted twice in the novel

David Staunton is a criminal lawyer, trained to operate in logical fashion; in a moment of crisis he acts on impulse to seek help, only to find himself plunged into a world in which he has to access parts of himself, parts where rationality has no part to play.

Among so many other things The Manticore turns out to be an exploration of two different ways of apprehending reality: the Platonic modes of Reasoning and Understanding or, as the protagonist comes to know them, the Jungian concepts of Thinking and Feeling.

This novel follows on immediately where Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business left off, in the aftermath of a magic show in a Toronto theatre. In a drunken outburst from the auditorium David publicly demands to know who killed his father, ‘Boy’ Staunton. The enigmatic answer leads him to an analyst in Switzerland: here he delves into the labyrinths of his mind and the caverns of the Alps; here he observes the Comedy Company of the Psyche and examines the figures in the Cabinet of Archetypes, all in a bid to reach the understanding that has eluded him so far.

Continue reading “Vaults of heart and brain”

“My hideous progeny”

Death mask of William Burke and life mask of William Hare (1828) in Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh (March 2018)

“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.

“His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handywork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade; that this thing, which had received such imperfect animation, would subside into dead matter; and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench for ever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life.

“He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains, and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes.”


— Mary Shelley’s walking dream, from her introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein

If Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) can truly be said to concern life and death, the afterlife of the Creature is one that continues to affect us two centuries later. For us moderns the Creature impacts as much as that of that waking dream she was later to describe. She’d been trying to think up a ghost story to rival those of Byron, Shelley and Polidori:

One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror — one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart. If I did not accomplish these things, my ghost story would be unworthy of its name. I thought and pondered — vainly. I felt that blank incapability of invention which is the greatest misery of authorship, when dull Nothing replies to our anxious invocations.

Have you thought of a story? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative.

Continue reading ““My hideous progeny””

Towards a neurodiverse world

https://openclipart.org/detail/229515/multicolored-jigsaw-puzzle-pieces
https://openclipart.org/detail/229515/multicolored-jigsaw-puzzle-pieces

Steve Silberman: NeuroTribes:
the legacy of autism and how to think smarter
about people who think differently

Foreword by Oliver Sacks

Allen & Unwin 2016 (2015)

I have to admit that this wasn’t quite what I was expected when I began it. I was looking forward to an updated discussion of what autism actually is and how people not actually on the spectrum can learn to think about those who are on it. Instead I found I was reading a 500-page doorstop of a book which provided complex case histories and followed a rigid but discursive timeline down from the 18th century. Much of the time I felt that the promises contained in the title and subtitle (particularly on describing autism’s ‘legacy’) and a confused impression about the book’s targeted audience (was it the general public or those directly affected by autism?) were being lost in a catalogue of contradictory opinions, varying terminology and distressing detail.

But then I realised that there was method in this apparent madness. By examining the general public’s confused reactions to autism’s manifestations over the centuries and the conflicting diagnoses and prognoses offered when individuals exhibited the condition Silberman was able to build up a picture of what autism was not; how those with the condition presented in a multiplicity of ways; and how — after many years seen as passive victims who might or might not be ‘cured’ — a significant number of those on the spectrum have started to self-advocate and be proactive in proclaiming its potential.

Continue reading “Towards a neurodiverse world”

Females with ASD

No. VI / Composition No.II 1920 Piet Mondrian 1872-1944 Purchased 1967 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00915 Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported) licence
No. VI / Composition No.II (1920) by Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) Purchased 1967 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00915
Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported) licence

Sarah Hendrickx
Women and Girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder:
understanding life experiences from early childhood to old age

Foreword by Judith Gould
Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2015

Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them. http://www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is.aspx

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) was for long considered a condition solely characteristic of males, but thankfully it is now recognised that girls and women get it too. That not all professionals are up to speed on this is illustrated by the author’s own experience: only recently diagnosed herself (and this after several years studying the condition closely) she found to her distress a male clinician not only incredulous that a woman could have ASD but also questioning the reliability of the diagnosis. For females however there are many differences in their manifestation of the condition; because diagnosis of autism was traditionally based on male behaviour patterns, female presentation of those behaviours didn’t necessarily conform to male norms. In addition many females soon learn — usually better than males — how to play the game when it comes to social expectations, and this can mask their underlying condition.

But the crucial point to make is that women and girls are statistically just as likely to have the condition, and Hendrickx’s work aims to contribute to the pressing need for an “account of the female phenotype to better identify and help ASD females.” In her own case despite an IQ of over 150 and years of being a consultant on ASD (not to mention a parallel career as a stand-up) she still came late to a diagnosis; how much more pressing must it be for females who have felt they were different from what scientists call a neurotypical (NT) population but had never been in a position to establish why?

Continue reading “Females with ASD”