Review and Author Interview: Shrink Rap by Robin A. Altman, MD

207947560Robin 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.

pa-robinsmallThe 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

Visit Robin Altman’s website HERE and her really funny blog HERE.

The Sunday Salon

If a Sunday Salon is written when it’s still Saturday, is it a Saturday Salon?  Hmmm.

If you’re reading this on Sunday morning, my family and I are en route to Catalina Island, 26 miles across the sea, off the coast of Southern California, where we’ll take a golf cart around Avalon, swim and snorkel, eat, rent bikes, and relax for the day.  The last time we went, when my 10 year old was just a baby, we saw a huge pod of dolphins just off the coast- it was crazy.  There were hundreds of them, leaping and playing and pirouetting into the air.  I hope we see some wildlife on this trip, too. 

So this was an interesting week, but not the best week for reading.  I read The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer, which was spectacular!  I finished it just last night, which unfortunately was several days late for the online book club at Every Day I Write the Book, but there are tons of comments over there about it, so many in fact that I don’t really have anything new to add to the discussion.  I’ve read so many opinions of the book now I’m not sure how to review it, aside from saying I loved it.  Have you ever read so many reviews of a book that you feel like you can’t come up with something fresh to say about it?  I think that’s what happened. 

I noticed that Dewey’s Weekly Geeks were doing something interesting last week.  If I understand correctly, the Geeks were to list books that they’d read but had not reviewed yet, and ask their readers to post questions about the books for them to answer.  So I’m going to borrow the Geeky idea and give you my list.  If anyone wants to ask me a question, go for it! 

The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer

Queen of the Road by Doreen Orion

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

The Safety of Secrets by DeLaune Michel

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

I started two other books this week- The Last Queen by CW Gortner- which just came out July 29th and is fascinating historical fiction, and Shrink Rap by Robin Altman- which is filled with short, hysterical essays on parenting and child psychiatry (it’s a hoot!).  I’ve got the hysterical one in my car for “waiting” times (swim class, gymnastics) and the historical one on my nightstand for evening reading.  

Oh, I forgot to say that CARE from Care’s Online Book Club was the winner of my Queen of the Road giveaway!  Your book is on it’s way, my dear!  Enjoy!  Everyone still has time to enter the The Safety of Secrets giveaway, which will run until August 8th.  

I hope you all have a beautiful summer Sunday!