I loved this work, but I also found it extremely difficult. I often felt that my role as a therapist was ineffective or insufficient, and that the real healing took place between sessions in the children’s interactions with their attachment figures. Countless times an attorney, caseworker, or foster parent would look to me to “solve” a problem that I knew was not in my capacity to fix. Frequently I felt that my efforts were better spent as an advocate: creating a nurturing, protective environment where a child could heal and bond to a caregiver. This intuition was often irrelevant as I witnessed children moved from placement to placement and caseworker to caseworker.
When I became a parent, I felt unable to continue in work that I found highly stressful. My belief in enacting change in a child’s environment has since become stronger, and this conviction is the reason my current work focuses on supporting parents and families as a cohesive system.
Recently I listened to The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Dr. Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz, and I found that what I intuitively knew to be true was validated: therapy isn't the most important factor for traumatized children. Rather, secure and healthy attachments are essential and must be fostered with specific strategies in order for significant change to take place. This riveting book explains why this, along with many other lessons I learned through my work, is true at a neurobiological level.
What I'm Reading
Each chapter of The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog is a case study from Dr. Perry’s time as a child psychiatrist. He shares his experience treating the children who were removed from the Branch Davidian cult in Waco Texas, his time as an expert witness in a murder trial, as well as many other fascinating cases. Through this book, the reader can witness the progression of Dr. Perry’s understanding and treatment of trauma and learn right along with him.
Dr. Perry has truly changed the way professionals view trauma in children. Dr. Perry has helped parents and helping professionals to understand that the behaviors of traumatized children are often misunderstood and misinterpreted. He explains why children who have been abused or neglected behave the way they do and how it is most often a result of their altered brain development.
One fact I found particularly fascinating is that as humans our brains develop from the most primitive portion to the highest functioning level sequentially. This means that each higher portion of the brain relies on the lower part’s previous development. If a lower part of the brain doesn’t develop properly due to neglect or trauma, higher parts won’t develop correctly unless the lower parts are fostered first. Therefore, children should be treated according to their brain development, not their age.
“People, not programs, change people.”
“Attachment, then, is a memory template for human to human bonds. This template serves as your primary worldview on human relationships. It is profoundly influenced by whether you experience kind, attuned parenting or whether you receive inconsistent, frequently disrupted, abusive, or neglectful care.”
“The key to healthy development is getting the right experiences in the right amounts at the right time.”
“Those of us who work with troubled children have to guard constantly against our preconceptions about a situation. One person’s troubled teen may be another person’s victim of sexual abuse. And the label given to the child often determines how he is treated. A child seen as bad will be treated differently from one viewed as mad, and both will have their behaviors seen in a very different light depending on whether the clinician sees a victim or a perpetrator.”
If you work with traumatized children, are raising a child who has experienced trauma, or if you plan to become a foster or adoptive parent in the future, I can’t recommend this book enough. However, it might also appeal to those who simply wish to better understand trauma and its lasting impact. I found this book to be useful, enlightening, and captivating. The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog provides a deep wealth of knowledge, experience, and, ultimately, hope.