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Book Review   |    
Jacqueline Maus Feldman
Psychiatric Services 2010; doi:
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by Jerome Levine, M.D., and Irene S. Levine, Ph.D.; Hoboken, New Jersey, For Dummies Press, 2008, 384 pages, $19.99

Dr. Feldman is Patrick H. Linton Professor and director of the Division of Public Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology, University of Alabama, Birmingham.

Always on the lookout for family educational materials, my first glance at Schizophrenia for Dummies brought me up short. If a family member or a consumer or a professional picks up the book, is that person admitting to stupidity? But I was immediately reminded at the bottom of the first page that these For Dummies tomes are for beginners. And for anyone at the beginning of what might be the most challenging journey of his or her life, and for those of us who support family members and consumers on that journey, this should be a required text.

This eminently readable book is by two experienced and knowledgeable practitioners, Jerome Levine, M.D. (former chief of psychopharmacology at the National Institute of Mental Health [NIMH], presently overseeing a major schizophrenia research program), and Irene Levine, Ph.D. (with the NIMH Community Support Program and first deputy director of the Center for Mental Health Services). Their combined lifetime experiences of working in the field and in multiple systems of care are reflected in their understanding of the illness, its consequent challenges, and their pragmatic advice on how best to maximize chances for surviving the potentially chaotic journey.

A complete overview of schizophrenia is offered in clearly written prose remarkably free of confusing jargon. Major efforts are devoted to discussing ways to handle the gamut of emotions felt and stigma sustained by consumers and family members when first being informed of the diagnosis. The book remains upbeat and hopeful throughout but truthful and realistic regarding challenging symptoms and difficulty with finding treatments and with maintenance of adherence that can sustain a symptom-free life. It predicts that systems of care may be fragmented and incomplete but that with early intervention and consistent support, treatment can "restore an individual's dignity, improve [his or her] quality of life, and enable that person to make meaningful contributions to … family and community." The typical Dummies icons (Remember, Tip, Technical Stuff, and Warning) are judiciously and strategically scattered throughout each chapter, and the bullet-point format makes for incredibly easy reading and understanding of a very complicated subject.

Five major sections address salient features of schizophrenia, how lives change once a diagnosis is made, and how and what to access from particular systems of care. As with every Dummies book, there is a "Part of 10s," and this one covers ten myths, ten tips of coping with a loved one's disorder, and ten ways to avoid relapse. One of the book's many strengths is that in a gently repetitive fashion, family members are exposed to what they can expect, how they can assist their family member in his or her struggle, and how they can take care of themselves. It makes sense of confusing aspects of potentially disorganized systems of care (treatment, medication, funding, housing, vocational services, peer support, crises, communication, setting of limits, interfacing with professionals in mental health and in law enforcement, and planning for the future).

Throughout the book, numerous helpful references are cited, including Web sites, books, and articles. Family members are often referred to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The text itself ends with a superb appendix loaded with recent resources to which the reader may turn. This is a book each mental health practitioner should read and one that every public library should own.

The reviewer reports no competing interests.

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