The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories From a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing by Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. and Maia Szalavitz came across my radar a while ago, but an old childhood friend recommended it to me recently, so I got it from the library. I was shocked that I had not read it earlier, but it has been indispensable for my work in teacher training.
Trauma is far more prevalent than we ever could have imagined. Dr. Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist by training, fell into the work of treating trauma in children by accident. From there though, he has built a movement that seeks to give children the space and time they need to process through their pain and experience to learn how to cope in their world. He tells some of his bigger, more memorable stories in this book: his work with the children released from the Branch Davidian compound during the siege; a young girl who witnessed her mother’s murder; children raised in a home of cyclical sexual abuse; and many more. He uses these stories to build a history of what he learned and how it shaped him as a practitioner. He also updates each chapter with the most recent research in order to place each anecdote and subsequent explanation into the most current context possible.
This book has spurred me to do so much more reading into the recent research on trauma and its effects on children and adults, including health ailments such as autoimmune disorders, mental illness such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder and anxiety, and attachment issues. The roots of this run deep, and the relationship between trauma and human outcomes is staggering. The stories in this book are extreme, and I caution anyone with trauma triggers to proceed with extreme caution. However, it’s important to note that trauma is on a continuum, and it’s not always witnessing a murder or being held in a cage. The common denominator is a lack of need fulfillment from caregivers — and those needs include (per Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs) food, water, shelter, and safety. Love? Sure, that’s important, but it’s not a buffering factor if you don’t feel safe, physically or emotionally. It’s why a parent who physically abuses you can show you love when they aren’t hurting you, but it doesn’t mitigate the lack of safety you feel in not knowing when they will lash out.
All of this to say that you shouldn’t fear traumatizing your children if you provide for their needs, including safety. I had a conversation with a friend just last night about this, and her concern that she was traumatizing her young child because he gets upset when saying goodbye to the people he leaves. That’s normal, and not trauma. Having your parent spit at you when you are crying is not normal, as an example.
Now for the importance of this book. This is an absolute must-read for anyone who wants to do any work with children. You will run across the long-term affects of trauma, although most likely not as extreme as the surviving Branch Davidian children, for example. However, the sexual and/or emotional abuse of children is far more common that we could ever imagine, and its effects last long into adolescence. Knowing how this affects your students is vital to being a caring educator and seeing past just simply placing the blame on students for behavior that very well may be out of their control.
I would LOVE to do Dr. Perry’s training in trauma treatment, but it’s a bit out of my financial reach for something that just fascinated me but is y directly part of my practice. However, what a gift this man is to the children being served not just by him, but by the practitioners who have learned from him. I’m so thankful for this book — I even purchased it as a reference piece. I can’t recommend it more highly.