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Talking to Families about Mental Illness

What Clinicians Need to Know


Igor Galynker (Author)

With contributions from Annie Steele, With contributions from Janine Samuel, With contributions from Michelle Foster

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A clinician's guide to understanding and responding to the concerns of family members whose loved one suffers from mental illness.

Will he always need medication? How should I explain his illness to the children? What should I say to him to be supportive? How should I behave? A diagnosis of a mental illness can change a person forever—indeed, in some cases it can affect the rest of the life course. It can also have a deep and lasting impact on those close to them. Loving and caring, but often frustrated and at times depressed themselves, family members and caregivers have plenty of questions for the psychiatrists, primary care physicians, and other counselors or therapists who are caring for their mentally ill loved one.

Here, veteran clinician Igor Galynker equips mental health professionals with everything they need to know to speak with family members compassionately and effectively, conveying treatment information and answering their questions, while also relieving their anxieties. Drawing from years of his own clinical experience, he offers tools for communicating with families about psychiatric symptoms, medications, and alternative treatment options—along with the difficult topics of stigma, denial, and suicide. He covers the ins and outs of schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and personality disorders, and outlines the course of each illness, symptoms, and implications for the client’s future and relationships. Finally, he offers advice for managing stress, succeeding at school and work, building strong romantic relationships, and planning families. Clinical case examples throughout showcase Galynker’s narratives in practice, and prepare clinicians for families’ reactions, both good and bad. Whether you are a general practitioner or psychiatric specialist, or concerned loved one, Talking to Families About Mental Illness will enhance your ability to manage a family’s difficult questions and concerns, which can ultimately transform the way they handle the patient’s diagnosis. This book provides all the tools necessary to communicate clearly and effectively, and guide patients and their families on the path to healing.


“Igor Galynker does a masterful job of imparting to his readers a wealth of clinical pearls from his 20 years of treating psychiatric patients and working with their families in a variety of settings. . . . [V]ery practical . . . . [E]xtremely valuable and informative. The book is particularly helpful for psychiatrists, primary care providers, mental health professionals and trainees. I highly recommend it to my peers, psychiatry residents and medical students.” — American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry Newsletter

“Charles Nemeroff’s topmost blurb on this book’s back cover states that this volume ‘should be required reading for all mental health professionals, especially those in training.’ Many who read this excellent offering will probably not only agree with Dr. Nemeroff but may even want to expand his recommendation of this volume to include friends and family of persons with mental illness…. [A]n excellent manual for teaching practitioners how to effectively communicate with family members about the important issues related to having a loved one with mental illness…. One particularly valuable aspect of this book is the author’s use of scores of case vignettes throughout the text…[H]e is careful to avoid psychiatric jargon, and his use of plain English is refreshing.” — Psychiatric Services

“Dr. Galynker successfully provides a very good resource in Talking to Families About Mental Illness that can help clinicians and families achieve their common goal of caring for the mentally ill.” — PsychCentral

“[A]n invaluable guide to understanding and responding to the concerns of the relatives of those suffering from a mental illness…. [A] comprehensive compendium…While the intended audience is the mental health professional, the text is readily accessible to any person who is interested in understanding a wide range of mental disorders…. [T]his book provides clinicians with the information to empower and educate families so that they can effectively advocate and support the patient.” — The Residents' Journal, a publication of The American Journal of Psychiatry

“Finally, a book for practitioners that explains how to craft your message differently when working with families coping with a variety of illnesses and circumstances. Dr. Galynker encourages the clinician to listen, as well as intervene and educate, which is likely to increase the cooperativeness of families and patients.” — David J. Miklowitz, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Director, Child and Adolescent Mood Disorders Program, David Geffen School of Medicine UCLA

“Chock-full of insights from a seasoned clinician, Talking to Families About Mental Illness is comprehensive but easy to read. It is a richly-detailed and important contribution, focusing on one of the most complex and crucial aspects of medical practice. It will serve as a practical guide to non-psychiatric physicians, but a much wider audience, including families themselves, will find the book a rewarding read. Direct and lively, it is peppered with short illustrative conversations, which are particularly helpful and vividly model how to answer difficult questions and explain particular symptoms.” — Susan B. Bressman, MD, Alan and Joan Mirken Chair, Department of Neurology, and Professor of Neurology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

“Doctors and other mental health professional colleagues need to use this book as an essential reference.... Finally we have a doctor who cares enough to coach his colleagues about the range of attitudes, fears and confusions families suffer and how to establish a true therapeutic alliance.” — Judith Carrington, Founder, Mental Health Resources, Chair, Media & Advocacy Group, National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI-NYC Metro)