Stress control

2nd March 2001 at 00:00
Stress in Young People. By Sarah McNamara. Continuum pound;14.99.

Stress Management Programme for Secondary School Students. By Sarah McNamara. Routledge Falmer pound;29.99.

"It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it" (W Somerset Maugham) A consensus exists that today's young people are experiencing more stress than their predecessors. What is not clear is how we can best overcome this trend. Sarah McNamara attempts to answer the question in Stress in Young People, which should be welcomed by all professionals who work with young people.

She starts by examining stress and its associated psychological theories; the factors contributing to stress and the physiological and psychological implications. She goes on to define adolescence, acknowledging the truth of Anna Freud's comment that "to be normal during the adolescent period is by itself abnormal". Factors such as the growth of a mass youth consumer market, earlier onset of puberty and instability in the family unit are discussed.

Whether it's school life , family problems or just the hassle of living, young people develop their own strategies for coping, from hoping it will all go away to seeking professional help. McNamara examines these ways of coping, which can vary considerably depending on gender, background and personality.

She gives a detailed description of methodological approaches to intervention with a clear summary and conclusion and reference to useful resources. This is a strength of hr book, giving the reader immediate access to important points.

The second part of the book, on coping strategies, is written in a less formal and theoretical style and offers a range of approaches. The link between physical and psychological symptoms is made throughout, even if you feel that doing breathing exercises with a young person may lay you open to "the risk of being thought eccentric or a hippy from a bygone age".

Stress Management Programme is a logical sequel, based on several years' research and evaluated with various groups of young people. In theory, it is self-contained, with full instructions for teachers and handouts for students. But as a careers adviser to post-16 students, I find that discussion often goes outside the parameters of the presenting question or problem.

Sarah McNamara insists that no training is required to deliver her pack, but the open-ended nature of some of the topics for discussion and handouts may raise issues that teachers feel unable to tackle.

The six 50-minute sessions cover a range of approaches to coping with stress, physically and psychologically. The best student handouts have useful relaxation exercises, questionnaires for assessing stress, and diary pages. There is a comprehensive list of useful contact addresses and organisations.

It may not be ideal, but there is a gap in the market for a pack such as this.

Bridget Patterson

Bridget Patterson is head of post-16 guidance at Northgate high school, Ipswich

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