Robin Altman is a patient woman. Of course she has to be in her line of work. But she’s also been really patient with me. She sent me her book Shrink Rap: An Irreverant Take on Child Psychiatry, which I agreed to read and review, months ago. I started it in early August, and here it is November and I’m just getting around to reviewing it. So my apologies to Robin for the long delay.
Here’s what happened. I misplaced the book. I knew it would likely turn up but just had no idea where I’d put it. I found it in a basket in my living room this week as I was pulling out magazines to use for a project for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. I must have done a quick “stash and dash” clean up of my family room 5 minutes before company arrived (in August) and shoved it in there.
So I quickly dusted it off and finished it up. What can I tell you about this book and about Robin Altman? First off, she’s funny- really, really funny. And sensible. And down to earth. She admits that she doesn’t know everything- imagine a doctor doing that! She’s a mom and a child psychiatrist who uses humor in both her parenting and her practice. She shares anecdotes about her patients, but she’s not above sharing about her two boys, Kevin and Alex, garden-variety, annoying adolescents.
The book is laid out in short chapters titled Discipline or Lack Thereof and Childcare i.e. Leaving Your Child With Nutjobs and Adolescents- Should They Be Killed? Other chapters are titled Psychosis or ADHD or Bipolar Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (doesn’t this sound like a fun book? NO? Well, it actually is!). At the end of each chapter, Robin gives information about the disorder she’s discussing so that you can decide if your child is, in fact, psychotic or just plain irritating. Or both.
This book isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. It’s not a parenting book or a self help book; it’s just lighthearted fun. Moms with kids who have “issues” will appreciate her ability to make them laugh and feel less alone. With it’s short, easy chapters, it would be a great addition to any doctor’s waiting room. It’s the kind of book you can carry around in your purse or in the car for those times when you just have a few minutes to read and can use a good laugh. I’d highly recommend Shrink Rap to any parent.
The picture at left is Robin on her way into a comedy club gig. Yes, she’s also a comedian! Isn’t she cute? She says the picture makes her laugh because she looks like a goober!
Robin was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.
Welcome, Robin Altman!
BOTB: It can’t be easy to be funny about serious things like childhood psychosis and anorexia.. or is it? Do you find humor in everything?
ROBIN: Yes. Unfortunately I find humor in anything if I think about it for awhile. I think it’s my brain’s particular coping mechanism, because I see some pretty awful stuff. If I’m with a child and family going through something terrible, I feel bad with them. There’s nothing funny about that. (Drat!) But if I think of a concept, I can always dredge up something funny. I don’t usually have to dredge much. Something funny happens every day.
BOTB: As a parent I sometimes wonder what is “wrong” with my kids. Is it easy to diagnose certain things, like ADHD for instance? Is there a huge obvious difference between a kid who is merely challenging and a kid with ADHD? Is it like the difference between a headache and a brain tumor?
RA: I guess it’s a little like the headache/brain tumor analogy, but I hesitate to say that, given that I want everyone to mellow out about psychiatric illness. It’s more like everything is on a continuum, and there’s a bell shaped curve for normality. For example, everyone has a touch of obsessive compulsive qualities in them. If you’re vacuuming your house twice a day, it’s no big deal unless it bothers you, or gets in the way of your quality of life. If you can’t leave the house because you’re picking up specks of dirt for 5 hours each day, then it’s probably OCD, and it’s your choice as to whether it needs to be treated. (I would seek treatment if I picked up any dirt whatsoever — ever.)
BOTB: Because of your profession, do the parents of your kids’ friends assume you have all the answers? Do they expect you to be a Super Parent?
RA: Not once they meet my kids! (Ha? Ha?) I usually make it clear to all that I’m not a Super Parent, nor do I want to be considered one. I even tell patients’ parents, “Look. I’m not saying that I could do this, but…”
BOTB: There’s a line in Freaky Friday (the Lindsay Lohan/Jamie Lee Curtis movie) where Lindsay’s character says to her child psychiatrist mom, “Stop shrinking me!” Do your kids ever feel like you’re “shrinking” them?
RA: I love this question! No, they never complain about that! When I leave the office, I leave my “psychiatrist” self there, and I’m a total goofball at home. Sometimes, like if I’m yelling at my kids, I’m so awful that I’m glad there are no hidden cameras in my house. The AACAP would send a S.W.A.T. Team to the house to remove my license.
BOTB: I’m the type who sees myself (or my children) any time I read about a disease. For instance, if I’m reading about Lyme disease, and the symptoms are fatigue, headache, flu-like symptoms- I can totally talk myself into believing I have it. Now that I’ve read your book, I’m pretty sure I have an anorexic, oppositional defiant, bipolar adolescent. Or two. Do you take new patients??
RA: Oh no! Remember the bell shaped curve! I’m sure your kids are fine! :) I always welcome new patients, especially those whose parents have a sense of humor.
BOTB: Your book was great, and your blog is really funny too. Will you be writing more books? Are you working on anything now that you could tell us about?
RA: There has been a deafening clamoring for Shrink Rap 2, and who am I to deny my fans? Seriously, I love to write, so I’m writing Shrink Rap 2. I’m also working on a chick lit type funny mystery novel starring – ta da! – a child psychiatrist detective. We child psychiatrists really get around.
Thanks so much for taking the time to review my book, Lisa! You rock! -Robin
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