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by Kendall Johnson
Hunter House, 2002
Review by Lizzie Perring on Aug 2nd 2004

Trauma in the Lives of Children

This second edition of Trauma in the Lives of Children is introduced by a sequence of forewords and prefaces, all of which prepare us for a very worthwhile read.  I wasn't surprised then to find the book confident and comprehensive in the material it handles.  Some of the most devastating of human experiences are explored in a constructive and positive way.  Writing about childhood bereavement, for instance, the author is not shy of debating the conventions of Elizabeth Kubler- Ross's Stage Theory of grief. As he says, whilst most people working in the field would tend to agree that the so-called "stages" of grieving exist, there can equally be no doubt that an infinite number variables interact with those stages.

I am very pleased to note his emphasis on the value of emotional education in this text.  We are beginning to recognize just how imperative Emotional Literacy is for all of us in the UK and Kendall Johnson gives a very strong case for its preventative potential. Whilst for the most part we can't prevent these devastating events happening, we can at least expect to have empowered children with the skills and resilience to make an attempt to effectively express at the very least and hopefully process some of what life throws at them.  It would be exciting to see the so-called preventative (or emotional) curriculum embodied in all teacher training. Johnson's assertion is that the fundamental steps are to:

1. validate and affirm children's expression of feelings

2. assist the child in recognizing, identifying and naming feelings

3. validate intuitive awareness

4. help the child to differentiate between thoughts and feelings

I wholeheartedly concur with this view, as so often I find that teachers and other professionals are concerned to "cure" children of what they perceive as bad behavior.  There is tendency to focus on cognitive interventions rather than exercises in learning.

Loss and trauma are at the heart of many of the serious emotional and behavioral problems that children manifest in schools and at home. This book will help to build confidence to make more effective interactions with children experiencing trauma in their lives. It isn't a directive text; rather it provides the reader with an abundance of ideas.  Statistics in the appendices obviously relate to a specific US study, but could be used as guidelines for anyone to create their own study.  Often it is the starting point for such studies that takes the time. The Critical Life Event Survey and Parental/Adult response exercises are very penetrating.  I might not ever use these per se, but bearing the identified events and response areas in mind could help me develop life story work or frame my own thoughts for report writing. I also ran through these for myself and found that process insightful and sobering.

I enjoyed the chapter on professional stress, having worked in institutions that are experiencing the trauma of closure or being labeled "failing" and felt at first hand the highly charged phenomenology of staff rooms during such times. At times professionals cannot find the objectivity to cope. People frequently carry on working when they are in burn out. It is helpful to remind ourselves that, as Johnson says" stress is the result of personal investment in difficult situations."  His explanation of the stress cycle is very useful and the dire warnings to those who may get over involved is well heeded.  I'd like to read aloud from this chapter at times!

On child sexual abuse, I find Johnson helpful referencing of US policy and practice, but obviously UK has its own slant on this area. It is always important to refer directly to the current legislation guidance. I would put a health warning on this chapter for UK professionals for whom it is essential that they are trained to follow up to date methods of handling disclosures. What Johnson is good on is the aftermath for the professionals involved: Left over feelings can abound; transferences can occur; the other person's trauma revealed can feel very invasive. De-brief is so important. Too often the model of supervision is inadequate.

Trauma in the Lives of Children is a very good companion for any professional working in the education or health field. Whether you read it straight through or dip and dive into interest areas, it will help you to process your own thoughts about your own and children's lives. I shall certainly circulate it amongst my colleagues and give it good home on my bookshelf.


© 2004 Lizzie Perring


Lizzie Perring, Cert Ed., Dip Mus., MA, Dip Counselling and Psychotherapy is now working as a Behavior Support Teacher in Coventry, UK.