I've been aware of the 'at a Glance' series of books since being a medical student. Indeed, I did refer to the 'Pharmacology' title when preparing for exams. Back then, the book was a rather simplified, brief account of what was required and hence nothing more than an aide memoire for the more introductory elements of the pharmacology course. However, since becoming a psychiatrist, and teaching medical students for the last 10 years at two different UK institutions, I've seen 'Psychiatry at a Glance' clutched under the arm of many a student. Further, when I've asked 'which textbook do you use?' many reply 'at a Glance'. Hence, I've been keen to read this book for a while and find out what, for many of our students, is their main guide to psychiatry.
The book itself is A4 in size, with 118 pages, and has the almost obligatory brain scan on the cover. Helpfully, the authors have included a brief glossary of key psychiatric terms at the end of the book, as well as a section for self-assessment, and suggestions for further reading. The main body of the book is divided into six sections: assessment and management; mental disorders; substance misuse; psychiatry of demographic groups; the interface of psychiatry and physical illness; and psychiatric management. Each 'chapter' within the sections (for example, 'eating disorders' (pg.32-33)) is a two page spread on the topic including a large colored diagram one page. Given the nature of psychiatry, these tend to be more like a series of lists in colored boxes or flow diagrams rather than the pictorial figures I remember from the pharmacology title.
The chapters are well written and clear and cover the major areas of psychiatry. Particularly welcome are the chapters addressing social exclusion and disorders linked to the female reproductive system. The authors are commendably explicit that this book offers a 'short summary of core psychiatric knowledge and skills' and I think this is what it delivers: a primer or introduction to psychiatry, or a prompter/refresher. However, what it is not is a textbook of psychiatry suitable for undergraduates in medicine. That is not to say it may not serve this role in the training for allied health professionals (this reviewer has less knowledge of their curricula). The amount of detail and content in the book is low and there is little attempt at explanation and higher level conceptual teaching (why we ask certain questions in a psychiatric assessment, how the epidemiological data on certain illnesses is best explained by certain etiological accounts, the importance and nature of medical complications in eating disorder, amongst many other topics are neglected) and a few errors (referring to schizophrenia as 'disintegrative psychosis' for example (this term is usually used to refer to Heller's syndrome or childhood disintegrative disorder)). I think the authors have succeeded admirably in delivering what they promise, namely, a primer to psychiatry and a revision aid: the challenge for teachers of psychiatry is to ensure that our students don't mistake it for a textbook. As such, this 4th edition of 'Psychiatry at a Glance' is much like the 'Pharmacology at a Glance' I read 18 years ago: a useful adjunct to study, but no replacement for an undergraduate textbook.
© 2010 Matthew Broome
Dr Matthew Broome, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of Warwick, UK, Honorary Senior Lecturer, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK.