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Book Reviews: 'The Reflective Journey'

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Review by Ana Kennett (@anaskind2003)

  1. What is the book about?

    McDonnell’s (2019) book; ‘The Reflective Journey’ makes the point that our own ‘arousal’ has an impact on the way we manage ‘high arousal situations’ and that staying ‘calm in crisis situations’ is more effective in managing ‘behaviours of concern’ (McDonnell, 2019). In other words, the feelings of being stressed or irritable within ourselves may compromise the way we deliver our care for others who are also feeling out of their depth; this may in turn create a response that is highly negative towards the client e.g. restraints rather than reacting in a calm and rational manner. McDonnell (2019) moves away from traditional methods of behavioural techniques, such as punishments and restraints to show that managing the behaviours of others can be supported through self-reflections of our own thoughts and behaviours.

  2. The author

    McDonnell (2019), himself, provides an honest, personal reflection of his earlier time working with individuals with disabilities which allows the reader to fully understand his need to change the way in which organisations perceive and react to ‘behaviours of concern’ (McDonnell, 2019). McDonnell (2019) goes further by drawing on a wealth of personal research experience, both individually and working with others where much of his work has centred on perfecting the ‘low arousal approach’ which is evident throughout the book. Furthermore, the embedded psychological component of this book means that not only do you receive the advice from McDonnell (2019) but that it is also backed up with relevant literature and studies that have gone before. McDonnell (2019) does not judge the reader but simply explains each factor that contributes to ‘behaviours of concern’ so that the reader looks upon behaviours in a more rational way using the ‘low arousal approach’. The author clearly has a drive to improve the lives of individuals and families where there is a high degree of support needed for ‘behaviours of concern’ and this is evident throughout the book.

  3. How well the book covers its topic and whether it breaks new ground.

    Using an informative approach, McDonnell (2019) can sustain the attention of the reader as they navigate their way through the book. They are taken through a process of explanation, real life examples, activities and reflections to build on the readers knowledge of the ‘low arousal approach’. McDonnell’s (2019) book takes the reader on a ‘reflective journey’ where we are tasked with the objective to look within ourselves and question our whole being in order to recognise our own triggers. He takes us through stress and its compounding effects; making us feel safe in the knowledge that if we take care of our own stress levels that we can better manage the stress levels of others more successfully. McDonnell (2019) also reminds us to be aware of and have empathy for the life events of others where they may have experienced trauma whilst also remembering that empathy may be something that some clients find difficult. The questionnaires and activities throughout the book offer the reader an insight into their own thought processes which allows the reader to fully reflect and understand the concepts within the book. McDonnell’s (2019) examples and statements throughout the book allows the reader to build empathy, not just for individuals displaying ‘behaviours of concern’ but also to ourselves. This allows the reader to understand that their need for self-care and reflection is just as important to the dynamics of care work as it is to care for someone else. McDonnell (2019) also reminds us that human beings are complex and that through understanding other people’s perspectives we can fully understand that there are triggers to their behaviours which needs compassion in order to manage them effectively. However, Andrew McDonnell’s (2019) book does not just get you to reflect on your work as a parent or a practitioner, but it compels the reader to question all aspects of the readers life and this in turn creates a ‘low arousal approach’ that has the potential to last a lifetime.

  4. The Intended Audience

    McDonnell (2019) explains thoroughly the terminology and concepts used within the book which makes reading his book accessible for both practitioners and parents. The book itself has been designed to provide moments of refection for the reader and although the topic focus is one which we would expect from a high class academic, the content itself is carefully designed in such a way that makes the book easy to follow. As a parent, I have found this book to be incredibly supportive in those moments of ‘high arousal’ where the suggestions in the book have been helpful in managing them better. However, as a practitioner, I have been enlightened and encouraged to reflect further on my practice and the practice of others in order to ensure that the ‘low arousal approach’ is used through-out my future career. Overall, I would highly recommend this book to the parents of children displaying ‘behaviours of concern’, practitioners working in the teaching profession or those working in the field of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. However, the flexibility of the ‘low arousal approach’ does not mean that it must be restricted to these professions; and therefore, I would also recommend this approach to anyone who wishes to learn more about the psychology of human interaction.

Review by Dr. Glenys Jones, GAP Journal Editor

Published in Good Autism Practice, Volume 20, Number 2, 2019

Having heard Andy McDonnell speak many times about his ideas and practice, I was very happy to be sent a copy of the book he has written on the Low Arousal approach and keen to read this. The Low Arousal approach was developed with his colleague and friend, the psychologist Dr Michael McCreadie, who sadly died last year.


As its title suggests, the book is aimed at practitioners who have to understand and deal with behaviours which challenge them, often in care settings. That said, it is a very useful book for anyone to read to understand their response to challenging situations in life and within their own families. The essence of the Low Arousal approach is that the behaviour (eg raised voice or invasion of space), emotional state and response of other people (ie parents/carers or staff) either adds to or reduces the challenge and that it is crucial for staff to recognise this and to modify their actions when dealing with behaviours which they fi nd challenging.


All too often in the past, we have focused on the behaviours of the individual in isolation and this still happens today. Behaviour management plans are still produced which appear to locate the ‘problem’ within the person, rather than taking a transactional view and including ‘targets’ for staff. So this book invites practitioners to examine their own behaviour first and then to refl ect on how they can change this at the time or the next time. McDonnell also advises staff to apologise to those concerned when they have increased a person’s anxiety or stress by their actions. Similarly, he argues that if the language staff use towards an individual implies they are ‘bad’ then that is the view of themselves that the person is likely to adopt.


The book is in three parts – Looking within, Managing behaviours and Continuing the journey – and comprises 14 chapters. These can be read by an individual or by a group of staff to generate discussion. Each chapter explores an emotion or response such as stress, empathy, anger, fear, embarrassment, fatigue, and the degree of control over one’s life. Most chapters have a checklist whereby the reader can rate themselves on different dimensions to raise their awareness of their part in understanding and managing behaviours which challenge.


I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to all who live with or work with individuals whose behaviour is described as challenging and would anticipate that if the Low Arousal approach is adopted, then the incidence of difficult behaviours would reduce and perhaps more importantly, the actions of staff and carers towards the individuals they support would change for the benefit of all concerned."

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