Reproductive Health Psychology
By Professor Olga van den Akker
Published by Wiley-Blackwell
ISBN-10: 0470683376, ISBN-13: 978-0470683378
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This comprehensive handbook is written for psychologists and other health-care professionals and covers reproductive health across the lifespan. The level of scholarship evident throughout provides ample testimony of the author's reputation as a leading authority in the field of reproductive healthcare in the UK; Olga van den Akker is professor of health psychology at Middlesex University.
One self-evident challenge for authors writing from a discrete disciplinary focus is how to engage the interest of those outside the discipline. Van den Akker achieves this by adopting a broad, multidisciplinary approach that ensures discussion of relevant clinical, ethical, cultural and policy issues.
Secondly, van den Akker avoids using unnecessary discipline-focused jargon or over-intellectualising the narrative. While a book like this will never be an 'easy read', a key strength is its overall reader-friendliness; it is accessible to a wide range of readers but retains the necessary scholarly gravitas. Such a balance is not easily achieved and the author is to be commended. Each chapter is well supported by a suitably comprehensive range of up-to-date references for those whose appetite is whetted to explore further - again, without being intimidating.
The subject matter for every chapter could easily merit a complete book in its own right. It must have been a considerable challenge to decide what to include, what to leave out and how to achieve balance and sense of breadth and depth. I think the choices made by the author in this regard are largely justifiable, bearing in mind the target audiences.
Overall the book is highly instructional although, as might be anticipated, given my own interests and experience, I gave two chapters in 'The Psychological Context of Infertility' section - 'Infertility' and 'Overcoming Involuntary Childlessness and Assisted Conception' - rather closer scrutiny than others. Both chapters exemplify the positive attributes already mentioned. My criticisms of them are rather modest, not to say pernickety.
First, I was surprised by the absence of any discussion on the use of assisted reproductive technology (ART) by single people and same-sex couples. This is especially odd given the explicit reference in the chapter title to 'involuntary childlessness' rather than to 'infertility', which acknowledges that ART provides the foundation for family-building for 'single moms by choice' and for same-sex partners.
Another relatively minor shortcoming in this chapter is the occasional inconsistent use of supporting references. For example, reference is made to the annual reports of the European IVF-monitoring Consortium. However, two different reports are cited, and neither of them would have been the most recently available when the book went to print.
Putting these minor reservations aside this book will be of considerable value to both undergraduate and post-graduate students who are studying reproductive health. However, its coverage and accessibility mean that it deserves to be widely read by anyone with an academic, professional or personal interest in human reproduction.
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