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Book Forum: Textbooks   |    
Cambridge Handbook of Psychology, Health and Medicine
ROBERT CANCRO, M.D.
Am J Psychiatry 1999;156:1112-1112.
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edited by Andrew Baum, Stanton Newman, John Weinman, Robert West, and Chris McManus. New York, Cambridge University Press, 1997, 1,250$140.00; $69.95 (paper).

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It may well be an expression of human nature to assume that one is alone in suffering the negative consequences of rapid social change. All of medicine is currently enduring such change, but so too are other professional fields. The practice of fields as diverse as particle physics and psychology are being altered by external forces. Although this may not be a comfort to psychiatrists, it helps to understand why an encyclopedic volume such as this one was deemed necessary.

The field of health psychology has evolved further in Europe than in the United States. In Europe, health psychologists are much more involved in many aspects of health care. In an effort at cost containment, similar changes are going on in the United States, and psychologists increasingly work in a variety of settings ranging from pain clinics to stress reduction programs.

This volume attempts to be a reference book to instruct nonpsychologists on the potential role of health psychology in rendering medical care. It also is intended as a reference for health psychologists. The volume is divided into three parts. The first focus is on areas of psychology believed to be relevant to the practice of medicine. The second reviews the main theories and findings of psychology as applied to medical care. The final section is aimed at specific medical conditions and reviews the psychological findings relevant to those conditions.

The book is written in a clear and understandable style. The chapters, although relatively comprehensive, tend to be short and focused. The authors of the different chapters attempt to avoid controversy and at times hover on the brink of political correctness as they emphasize the relative importance of environment over heredity. It is unfortunate that so many psychologists continue to be threatened by hereditary factors rather than recognizing their utility in understanding the role of environmental factors in altering phenotypic expression.

The practicing psychiatrist will be better served by devoting the limited time available for reading to other volumes. Administrative psychiatrists who are responsible for the organization of health care systems in this era of atomized care may well find much of value in this book. If one looks at the complex activity of the physician from a systems perspective, it may well be possible to do many of those tasks more inexpensively. It will be interesting to see if atomized care will in fact be less expensive than, let alone equally effective as, a traditional physician-patient relationship.

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