Sunday, September 05, 2010

Book Review: Working with Children to Heal Interpersonal Trauma

Book Review: Working with Children to Heal Interpersonal Trauma- The Power of Play

Edited by Eliana Gil
Foreword by Lenore C. Terr
Guilford Press, August 2010
ISBN 978-1-60623-892-9

Eliana Gil is a well known specialist in helping children who have been abused. The Healing Power of Play: Working with Abused Children (Guilford, 1991) and Treating Abused Adolescents (Guilford, 1996) are two of her previous books which I have enjoyed. Her most recent book, of which she is the editor, is Working with Children to Heal Interpersonal Trauma- The Power of Play (Guilford Press, August 2010). In this book, Gil speaks out for the power of undirected play therapy, particularly sand tray therapy, to provide a vehicle with which children can heal themselves. The book comes at a time when more directive and prescriptive therapies are in favor, and when play therapy has been maligned as not sufficiently powerful for children with attachment difficulties. In addition, in this era of short term therapy, the book demonstrates the need for long periods of treatment (at times years) for children who have endured serious abuse.

The book starts with a theoretical section, in which contributors discuss the incidence of interpersonal trauma, how it impacts the developing brain and body of the child, and how children can use therapy to heal.

In the second section, Dr, Gil and her contributors tell eleven stories of children who had experienced serious, often unbearable, abuse, and who used play therapy to heal. The stories are very moving. In all cases, the therapy is non-directive: the child is shown a room full of toys, and is allowed to use them in whatever way he or she wishes. The therapist does not interpret their play, but instead witnesses and contains it. Within the stories the therapists weave theory, attention to symbolism, and their sense of what was happening with the child. A strong emphasis is placed on the feelings of the therapist (counter transference). The therapists repeatedly describe how they used supervision to understand and utilize their own strong reactions to the children. The stories are all hopeful, and in several cases in clued long term follow up which demonstrates continued progress by the child.

Working with Children to Heal Interpersonal Trauma is a reminder of the strength and resiliency that can be found in every child. It calls us back to the power of the therapeutic relationship, and the change that is possible when a child is provided the time, space and caring necessary for him or her to find her own way forward.

Eliana Gil

No comments: