Behind the Voices of Book Club: Dr Mary Emeleus & Associate Professor Chris Ryan

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Kate Hoppe/Manager, Marketing, Communications & Strategic Projects
4 mins read·April 13th, 2022

Behind the Voices features the hosts and guests of the Book Club podcast series

The rules of engagement are simple: MHPN asks four questions, and our hosts and guests provide their answers. What’s the point? To get a sense of the voices behind each episode … How they think, what they’re currently reading, what they’ve learnt through or since their initial conversation, and what book they’d want to discuss next on Book Club.

In the following article, Dr Mary Emeleus provides an initial response to the posed question and then Associate Professor Chris Ryan responds to Mary’s answer.

Book Club is essentially a conversation between two mental health practitioners. Reflecting on the podcast discussing, What’s the Risk? A Critical Response to ‘Reformulating Suicide Risk Formulation’, can you identify and describe a moment or comment during your conversation with Associate Professor Chris Ryan that sparked a new perspective on Reformulating Suicide Risk Formulation and / or the broader topic of suicide risk, risk assessments, formulation, etc?

MARY EMELEUS: The conversation about formulation was really useful for me. I’ve found that GPs with an interest in mental health are often quite drawn to the idea of formulation and can become very good at it; teaching formulation skills to GPs is how I learnt it myself.

I agree with Chris that it’s something that psychiatrists should be really good at, and I have been a bit surprised at how little emphasis there was on formulation in daily practice, at least in the earlier years of my psychiatry training. I can see how the Pisani formulation is easy to teach and mandate into work practice, when in fact if we were doing comprehensive formulations routinely, and using them to inform our treatment planning in mental health services, we would be doing a better job of helping people without focusing on just one area.

CHRIS RYAN: I was surprised and a bit disappointed to learn that Mary had found that there had been little emphasis on formulation in her training as a psychiatrist so far. As would have been apparent from the podcast, I think formulation is vital. I’m not sure I said it is something that psychiatrists should be really good at (though I guess I might have), but I certainly think it’s something they should be striving to be as good as they can be at, and then checking in with their patients on how they can get even better. Done as best as one can, I think formulation can be really useful.

If you found yourself in the same room with Anthony Pisani (one of the authors of Reformulating Suicide Risk Formulation), what would you like to say to him, or ask of / from him?

MARY EMELEUS: I imagine he might be surprised at how their model had been so completely adopted into some health services in Australia, and I would ask him if he had any updates or reflections, now that it is five years down the track.

CHRIS RYAN: Well Mary said in the podcast that Anthony came across as a very nice fellow, so … given I have been so critical of his paper, I suspect I’d try to steer the convo away from the paper. After all, if I happened to meet Tom Hanks, I’m not going to bound up to him and say, “Tom, seriously that 2012 Cloud Atlas was a real stinker”.

To give our readers a sense of the person behind the voice, can you tell us what you last read for pleasure and / or what you last read for work, and sum each up in three words?

MARY EMELEUS: I am reading about six books at once, and I have very poor boundaries between reading-for-work and reading-for-pleasure! I am actually enjoying Stephen Stahl’s latest textbook Practical Psychopharmacology (I am not joking, it is a good read), and recently finished “Everything is not terrible” by Kathleen Smith which is a self-help book based on the principles of Bowen Family Therapy. Sensible, useful, enjoyable.

CHRIS RYAN: Six books at once! She’s so impressive that Mary. I recently read Calypso, by David Sedaris, who is an extremely accomplished author in his own right, but I confess I mainly read it because he is the brother of Amy Sedaris who voices Princess Carolyn in BoJack Horseman.

If you had a chance to talk about another book / text of your choosing on Book Club, what would it be and why?

MARY EMELEUS: I would choose Thomas Moore’s book “Dark Nights of the Soul”. He is a Jungian psychotherapist, and his writing is poetic and deeply moving. It is a wonderful book that I return to again and again, for myself, and I recommend it to my friends and family, and people I work with. I resonate with this way of thinking, and I have missed it for a few years because I have had to use my time to read other things.

CHRIS RYAN: Hmmmm. What about Taffy Brodesser-Akmner’s, “Fleishman is in Trouble”. It is not really psychiatric, but it is funny. (It’s a bit psychiatric.)

We’ve talked a lot about words… We’ve had a chance to hear your voice in the podcast… could you share with us a photo of your book shelf or workstation?

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