Writing: Book Review

The Need for Existential Cross-Cultural Competency in Therapy and Supervision

Abstract Reviews the book Addressing Cultural Complexities in Practice: Assessment, Diagnosis, and Therapy (3rd ed.) by Pamela A. Hays. While acknowledging the timeliness and comprehensiveness of Addressing Cultural Complexities in Practice, this critique highlights the deficiency in addressing existential and spiritual issues in therapy in most chapters of the book. The critique argues that since meaning is the core of human experience and well-being, a cross-cultural competence in working with meaning-in-life issues is needed both for promoting the positive psychology of optimal well-being as well as for coping effectively with the inevitable dark side of human existence. Addressing Cultural...

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The Positive Psychology of Aging: Character Strengths or Meaning Making?

Published as Wong, P. T. P. (2015). The positive psychology of aging: character strengths or meaning making? [Review of the book Lighter as we go: Virtues, character strengths, and aging]. PsycCRITIQUES, 60(30). doi:10.1037/a0039376 Lighter as We Go: Virtues, Character Strengths, and Aging By Mindy Greenstein and Jimmie Holland New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015. 285 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-936095-6 $27.95 Reviewed by Paul T. P. Wong I approach this book from a unique vantage point – both as a researcher in positive aging and a 78-year old cancer survivor. From an academic perspective, Lighter As We Go is a light weight in terms of theory and research, but from the perspective of a participant in the aging phenomenon, the book is a good read – enjoyable and helpful. The authors were absolutely correct in suggesting that “From our different vantage points, we can both see how much society needs an attitude adjustment when it comes to aging” (xiv). The challenge before us is: What would be the most effective way to educate our society to develop a more hopeful and more positive attitude towards aging? Much of the book’s content is based on the discussions of the Vintage Readers Book Clubs. The authors discovered that group members used “virtues or character strengths as described by the ancient Greeks and repeated in the world’s great philosophical and religious traditions. It was through these virtues and...

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From Attunement to a Meaning-Centered Good Life

Published as Wong, P. T. P. (2014). From attunement to a meaning-centred good life: Book review of Daniel Haybron’s Happiness: A very short introduction. International Journal of Wellbeing, 4(2), 100-105. doi:10.5502/ijw.v4i2.5 Happiness: A Very Short Introduction By Daniel M. Haybron Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013. 168 pp. ISBN 978-0199590605 $11.95 This small book is a real gem, sparkling with brilliant insights. I have always enjoyed philosophers’ clear, analytic, and penetrating thinking about complex, subjective matters. Haybron’s book is a shining example of a brilliant philosophical mind. But unlike most philosophical writings, which tend to be written in dense prose, with all sorts of qualifiers, Happiness is a delightful book, written in a concise, lucid and highly readable style, with the occasional surprising turn of phrase. Although the book is written, according to the author, for ordinary people, it does have something significant to offer to learned professionals, especially to positive psychology researchers and practitioners. In this review, I will highlight some important insights from the book that deserve special attention from positive psychology researchers. The Importance of Context Haybron begins with a warning of the danger of the wrong-headed pursuit of meaning from an individualistic perspective without consideration of the social context. He emphasizes, “happiness is not simply pursued at the individual level. How happy we are depends very strongly on the people around us and the kind of society we inhabit”...

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Meaning Making and the Fundamental Issues of Human Existence

Published as Wong, P. T. P. (2014). Meaning making and the fundamental issues of human existence [Review of the book The experience of meaning in life: Classical perspectives, emerging themes, and controversies]. PsycCRITIQUES, 59(22). doi:10.1037/a0036782 The Experience of Meaning in Life: Classical Perspectives, Emerging Themes, and Controversies By Joshua A. Hicks and Clay Routledge (Eds.) New York, NY: Springer Science + Business Media, 2013. 417 pp. ISBN 978-94-007-6526-9 Reviewed by Paul T. P. Wong This review was written during a very difficult time of my life involving life-threatening situations. Having gone through the valley of death, meaning in life is no longer an academic subject but a fundamental human concern. After more than 30 years of meaning research (Wong, 2012; Wong & Weiner, 1981), I am more motivated than ever to find answers to such questions as: What is the point of striving to survive when life is full of suffering? How can I live a worthwhile and significant life in spite of difficult circumstances? Does life have meaning even though it is so fragile and brief? From this perspective, I have mixed feelings toward The Experience of Meaning in Life: Classical Perspectives, Emerging Themes, and Controversies. On the one hand, I applaud the editors, Joshua Hicks and Clay Routledge, for bringing together such a talented group of contributors to address important issues of the experience of meaning; on the other hand, I am a...

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Integrating Indigenous Healing With Mainstream Psychotherapy: Promises and Obstacles

Published as Wong, P. T. P. (2013). Integrating indigenous healing with mainstream psychotherapy: Promises and obstacles [Review of the book Synergy, healing, and empowerment: Insights from cultural diversity]. PsycCRITIQUES, 58(29). doi:10.1037/a0033223 *Please note that sections not in published version are marked with an asterisk. Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment: Insights From Cultural Diversity by Richard Katz and Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu; Niti Seth, Peter Cornish, Tania Lafontaine, Danny Musqua, and Verna St. Denis (Cols.) Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Brush Education, 2012. 312 pp. ISBN 978-1-55059-386-0 (paperback). $34.95, paperback Reviewed by Paul T. P. Wong I am torn between two minds with respect to Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment: Insights From Cultural Diversity. On the one hand, I cheer the authors for their bold vision and deep insights. On the other hand, I am disappointed that no specific information is given on how to implement their vision in North America. A personal story may shed some light on my ambivalent feelings. I lost my older sister when she was five years old. According to my mother, Western medicine could have saved my sister’s life because her high fever could have been controlled by penicillin. Unfortunately, my grandparents forbade any Western-trained physicians from treating her. Instead, they hired Taoist healers, who did their chanting and spiritual dances and made my sister drink water sprinkled with ashes of incense. This image is still fresh in my mind. After reading this book, I...

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Finding Meaning in Meaning Research

The full review of this abstract has been published as Smythe, W. E. (2013). Finding meaning in meaning research. PsycCRITIQUES 58(12). Click here for the book review of The Human Quest for Meaning. The Human Question for Meaning: Theories, Research, and Applications (2nd ed.). By Paul T. P. Wong New York, NY: Routledge, 2012. 719 pp. ISBN 978-0415876773 $79.95 Reviewed by William E. Smythe   Abstract: Reviews the book, The Human Quest for Meaning: Theories, Research, and Applications (2nd ed.) edited by Paul T. P. Wong (see record 2012-03755-000). The meaning of life is obviously a perennial human concern, but it has also been, especially within the past few decades, a very active area of psychological research. This edited volume is an extensive compilation of the latest work in this area. It is the second edition of a book originally edited by Wong and Fry (1998) and represents a considerable expansion and reworking of that original text: Whereas the Wong and Fry volume contained 19 chapters by 23 contributors and spanned 488 pages, the current edition contains 28 chapters (21 of which are new) by 45 contributors and runs a full 719 pages. One valuable feature of this new edition is the extensive cross-referencing among the chapters, which lends a much-needed sense of coherence to a volume whose scope is virtually encyclopedic. Taken together, the chapters in this volume make a compelling case that a sense of...

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Linking Social Psychology to Existential Psychology: Promises and Challenges

Published as Wong, P. T. P. (2013). Linking social psychology to existential psychology: Promises and challenges [Review of the book Meaning, mortality, and choice: The social psychology of existential concerns]. PsycCRITIQUES, 58(4). doi:10.1037/a0031077 Meaning, Mortality, and Choice: The Social Psychology of Existential Concerns By Phillip R. Shaver and Mario Mikulincer (Eds.) Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2012. 438 pp. ISBN 978-1-4338-1155-5 $69.95 Reviewed by Paul T. P. Wong The edited volume Meaning, Mortality, and Choice: The Social Psychology of Existential Concerns, part of the Herzliya Series on Personality and Social Psychology, is primarily concerned with how existential concerns affect goals, attitudes, and behavior. More specifically, it focuses on the four existential anxieties identified by Yalom (1980): death, meaninglessness, freedom, and alienation. The editors are correct in pointing out that these concerns weigh heavily on contemporary human beings, but they are incorrect in assuming that these concerns “caus[e] some to despair and a considerable number to use drugs, illegal or legally prescribed, to blunt the misery. A few even decide to end their lives” (p. xv). My immediate reaction is that such concerns may also have positive effects such as living more meaningfully and responsibly in order to make the best use of our limited time on earth. Elsewhere, I have pointed out that every existential anxiety reflects a fundamental human need, a positive existential given (Wong, 2005b). Alienation anxiety is simply the other side of the...

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Big Money, Big Science, Big Names, and the Flourishing of Positive Psychology

Published as Wong, P. T. P. (2011). Big money, big science, big names, and the flourishing of positive psychology [Review of the book Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being]. PsycCRITIQUES, 56(49). doi:10.1037/a0026281 Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being by Martin E. P. Seligman New York, NY: Free Press, 2011. 349 pp. ISBN 978-1-4391-9075-3 $26.00 Reviewed by Paul T. P. Wong Love him or hate him, Martin Seligman is arguably the most famous positive psychologist on earth. No other psychologist has ever achieved the kind of dominant presence Seligman has in positive psychology. It is difficult to evaluate the work of such a legendary figure without being affected by the halo effect. I have only two modest objectives in this review: (a) assess the scholarly merits of Love him or hate him, Martin Seligman is arguably the most famous positive psychologist on earth. No other psychologist has ever achieved the kind of dominant presence Seligman has in positive psychology. It is difficult to evaluate the work of such a legendary figure without being affected by the halo effect. I have only two modest objectives in this review: (a) assess the scholarly merits of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being and (b) critique the role of big money that contributes to Seligman’s extraordinary accomplishments. Flourish begins with an introduction of Seligman’s new theory of well-being and a...

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From the Antiviolence Movement to a Positive Feminism

Published as Wong, P. T. P. (2011). From the antiviolence movement to a positive feminism [Review of the book Hard Knocks]. PsycCRITIQUES, 56(4). doi:10.1037/a0022273 Hard Knocks: Domestic Violence and the Psychology of Storytelling By Janice Haaken New York, NY: Routledge, 2010. 196 pp. ISBN 978-0-415-56342-0 $26.95 Reviewed by Paul T. P. Wong The title Hard Knocks: Domestic Violence and the Psychology of Storytelling really grabs my attention. Surviving hard knocks has been a way of life and an area of expertise for me. Besides the fact that I am a justice fighter, my own research and practice have involved domestic violence and story telling. Thus, I wear three hats in reviewing this book: advocate, clinical psychologist, and positive psychology researcher. Much of the book is devoted to resolving tensions within the antiviolence movement. The four areas of tension where “signs of battle fatigue have been most acute” (p. i) are (a) conflict between feminist advocacy and the state; (b) conflict between domestic violence issues and larger antiviolence political agenda; (c) the debate on gender, race, class, and other dimensions of power; and (d) the debate over various forms of female aggression. The book is based on a large research project extending over a period of eight years. The author’s research primarily consisted of interviewing feminist advocates in different geographical regions, as well as reviewing novels, films, and domestic violence literature. She wants to show...

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