Psychosocial Caring Throughout the Life Span by Irene Mortenson Burnside, Priscilla Ebersole, and Helen Elena Monea, New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1979, 655 pp.
In this ambitious undertaking, Burnside, Ebersole, and Monea take a look at human development from childhood through very old age. The 30 chapters are divided into three parts dealing respectively with factors that affect life in childhood and adolescence, factors that affect life in young adulthood and middle age, and factors that affect life in young old age and old old age. Since the largest part of the book, indeed almost half of it, is devoted to the needs of the old, it is potentially useful as a gerontology text. The need for psychosocial caring and the delineation of psychosocial caring strategies is the major unifying theme of the book. Secondly, there is an emphasis on the presentation of factual material.
Structurally the text is well organized and succeeds in imparting to the reader a feel for the continuous nature of the aging process. This is a welcome departure from many other texts that often treat aging as something that only happens after age 65. However, this broad longitudinal approach also creates some inevitable problems, not the least of which is that because of the broad scope of the work, any particular topic could only be dealt with in a rather superficial manner. Often the reader is barely introduced to a topic when the subject abruptly changes. The narrative style of the sections that deal with factual information may also pose a problem to some readers. Often these sections read like literature reviews, simply enumerating findings with often inadequate discussions of the findings. While this style might be fine for professionals with a knowledge base in gerontology, it may be a problem for students just beginning their studies in gerontology. These factors would make the text less useful in introductory aging courses than some other texts that are presently available and also use the life cycle perspective.
The caring theme is clearly central to the text and it is in this area that the text enjoys a large measure of success. Several excellent chapters are completely devoted to the particular psychosocial needs of individuals and virtually every chapter succeeds in humanizing the factual material to give the reader a feel for how the facts translate into human experiences. The authors succeed in doing this through the extensive use of personal insights and through the generous use of case studies.
The success of the authors in this second area clearly makes the text useful in any course that has as its direct objective teaching practitioners who will be working directly with the elderly. As such it would be excellent reading for students planning on enters ing the ministry, social workers, counselors, and individuals planning to go into other helping professions. Use of the text would probably be most effective if used in situations where emphasis is on helping and in upper division courses where students already have a basic background in gerontology.