Chalk-sketched image of a human brain


Consultant clinical psychologist and alumna Dr Lucy Maddox has published a wonderfully smart but accessible book to help us all

Published: 30 January 2023

Author: Richard Lofthouse


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Jacket cover of 'A Year to Change Your Mind' by Lucy Maddox

Divided up by calendar month means that Dr Maddox’s (St Hilda’s, 1999) book, which was published late in 2022, perfectly fits a new year.

You could read the January chapter in January (‘Which Way Next? Decisions, Making Changes and Sticking to Them’) and so forth through 2023, and it would be encouraging and perhaps constructive.

Equally, you could from a safe distance read about December having just survived Christmas (‘Negotiating Families and Managing Expectations'). And then perhaps backwards through the receding memory of 2022, given that the dark nights shock of November has plenty in common with February, while October and March also draw a symmetry of their own as gateway months.

Or frankly you could jump in on less obvious August (‘managing anger’) – apparently a waning summer allied to increasingly hot temperatures can make for a sticky and combustive atmosphere.

A Year to Change Your Mind by Dr Lucy Maddox (Allen & Unwin 2022) is, as one other critic has already noted, ‘compelling, warm and authoritative’.

She says that her fundamental aim is to ‘share ideas that have been useful’ in years of NHS consulting to individuals. She speaks about ‘good quality information, evidence-based.’

The idea for the month-by-month organisation arose she says from writing a blog.

‘Certain themes kept repeating at specific moments in the year, to the point where it seemed like a helpful framework to make psychological ideas more accessible.’

The chapter on Christmas is rather glorious for its clarity. Christmas is so foodcentric a celebration, she notes, that if you had the slightest issues with food, ranging from what to eat, how much to eat or how much not to eat, Christmas is a perfect storm.

Then add family and mix with alcohol. It’s certainly not everyone’s idea of a good time, quite possibly the opposite. Don’t be afraid of it, she offers. Look it in the eye.

A portrait of Author and Psychologist Lucy Maddox

Maddox’s Oxford degree was in PPP – the select group who take Psychology, Philosophy and Physiology. Not to be confused with PPE and as she reminds me, ‘I managed to study all three subjects to the end of the degree whereas these days you more or less automatically drop one of them.’

After Oxford Lucy shot off to Paris for a new experience living abroad; then a Masters in Neuroscience at King’s College London, then her doctoral training in clinical psychology, and more recently during the pandemic a Masters in Organisational Psychology at Birkbeck. In the last couple of years she has also negotiated parenthood, a subject that reassuringly features in the book’s narrative. She’s not above the fray herself but neither is the book confessional as such. It strikes a happy medium.

Currently a Clinical Academic Fellow at Bath University, but still working in the NHS in Oxford, her special area of research concerns improving compassionate care for teenagers.

That broad area comes across in A Year to Change your Mind. She says that she was drawn to the teenage years cohort because just about everything is going on all at once in a teenager. ‘It’s high stress but also high reward,’ she says, ‘…for relatively low intervention you can have a large impact.’

What do you say to any person young or old overwhelmed by a bad world mired in climate change?

‘I would want to hear the individual’s particular story. Get to know them. The point is not to dilute or deny objectively bad things happening in the world – we all know there are many. The point is to help an individual to negotiate them and to disentangle what’s happening to them versus what’s happening in the world.’

Each chapter has very simple numbered summary ideas at the end, pointers that bring the discussion to a focus.

For this reviewer a favourite chapter is November, themed around JOMO, which refers to the ‘Joy of Missing Out’ as opposed to FOMO, which of course means Fear of Missing Out. Somewhere in there the author heads to Iceland and writes compellingly about how well Icelanders know how to rest, with public saunas a normal destination after a day at work and candles lit in coffee shops to fend off short daylight hours.

Well, it feels like a fit for January as well.

The University's 2023 Brain and Mental Health Campaign runs January-May and can be found at https://www.ox.ac.uk/brain

Lead image credit Shutterstock.