Book by Paul Linde
Review by: Sharriette Finley
Student Success Coordinator
Advising, Counseling & Retention Services
Georgia Perimeter College: Online Campus

Working with students of varying backgrounds and experiences caused me to take a few extra Psychology and Sociology courses to better understand our diverse populations.  This need to understand was one of the reasons I was drawn to Danger to Self.  What is the perspective of an emergency room psychiatrist?  How can this perspective help me be a better advisor?  After reading this book, I’m less inclined to take people, their needs, and experiences for granted.  The interactions described in Danger were a stark reminder of the disservice and consequences of assumption and cookie-cutter mentalities.  Even with the considerable psychiatric mumbo-jumbo, this is recommended reading.  Every chapter is a reality check.  The advice is priceless.  The stories are consuming reminders that truth is often stranger, funnier and more tragic than fiction.  As the psychiatrist is to the patient, so is the advisor to the student, an agent charged with helping others live as rich and full a life as possible.

Danger to Self was filled with parallels that could easily describe many of our academic advising environments.  Wrote Linde, “Our work is deeply rooted in respect for the patient; most of us want to help people who’ve been left behind or forgotten by society (p. xvii).”  These words evoke the passion we should have as advisors.  Indeed, our work is deeply rooted in respect for our students and the desire to see them succeed.  Challenges to that success are not always readily known to us as advisors.  We don’t know that the young man sitting before us attempted suicide after a break-up with the girlfriend he intended to marry.  We don’t know that school is the escape from an abusive environment for the young woman seeking our advising help.  We have no idea that the seasoned student so excited to learn was recently incarcerated, on drugs, or homeless.  As with this ER doctor, people (students), look to us with hope for something better.

Warning!  Psychological jargon and profanity are plentiful and distracting.  It was necessary to remind myself several times these are real life stories.  Though altered to protect patient and staff identities, these are true experiences, including the harsh language and callous attitudes.  Wading through the language and the jargon to get to the heart of the message is necessary.  Chapter Four is particularly jargon-filled, yet, the mood of the message was clear.  From a personal perspective, I received that as advisors we are well-informed, not all-informed.  We know a lot; we don’t know everything.  “It is our privilege to hear their stories; we need to hear their stories (p. 194).”  While we heed the warning to be careful of identifying too closely with a patient (student), there is still so much we can learn from each encounter.  Provoking that realization puts Danger to Self in the top 10 of my advising resources.  This book caused unexpected introspection and conjured images difficult to dismiss.

Linde summarized his experiences with this thought from Henry James’ The Middle Years.  “We work in the dark-we do what we can-we give what we have.  Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task.  The rest is the madness of art (p. 233).”  Psychiatrist Linde shared another truth.  “Only God can see inside the human psyche, spirit, or soul.  The rest of us have to do the best we can and move on (p. 161).”

Danger to Self:  On the front line with an ER psychiatrist. (2010). Book by Paul Linde, MD. Review by Sharriette Finley. Berkely, CA. University of California Press. 280 pp. $16.95, (paperback), ISBN # 978-0-520-26983-5.

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