Body to Brain Learning Professional Development Series | Integrating Thinking

The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog. What a great read.

read this trauma and the brain Feb 15, 2022
Integrating Thinking
The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog. What a great read.

I’ve been reading a book that has been on my “to-do list” for quite a while and that has also been recommended by so many of my colleagues. And what a good, hopeful and easy read it is.

“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 Dr Bruce Perry.

In the book, Dr Bruce Perry outlines some of the cases he encountered in his practice and the impact of his "neurosequential" approach to working with children.  He is a child psychiatrist with incredible success in his practice because of the attention he has given to the neurodevelopmental process and its impact on brain function.  He has helped children faced with horrific experiences including murder witnesses, victims of family violence and many others.

He talks about development occurring at the right time, at the right pace and with the right support.  He uses case studies to illustrate the importance of this approach in helping children and teenagers resolve and address some deep, neurodevelopmentally based difficulties. 

These case studies show the importance of environment and opportunity in the early stages of life.

While I found the story of the boy who was raised as a dog fascinating, I was particularly drawn into the story of the child whose parents hired a nanny who completely neglected the child during the time that she was supposed to be looking after him.  She decided she needed two jobs, so would leave the child to fend for himself while she went to her second job.  She would then return in time to clean up the child end present him to his parents at the end of her shift.  This child was deprived of social interaction, opportunity and was diagnosed with a number of disorders. 

Dr Perry took the time to work through the developmental story of what happened to this child at the key stages of development.  He didn’t just treat the teenager for the symptoms with which he presented in Dr Perry’s clinic. With the use of other therapists, including massage therapists, Dr Perry helped redress the shortfalls of this child’s developmental experience and, using principles of neuroplasticity based on a neurosequential /neurodevelopmental approach, was able to help this child “catch up”,  heal and become more functional in his environment. 

What struck me about this story is the importance Dr Perry attributes to finding the initial stage at which the best neurodevelopmental sequence started to falter for this child. He went right back to touch – the first of our senses to develop in utero. Touch is such an important part of connecting socially and emotionally with our caregivers and it also gives us information and confidence about how we operate in the world.  But it wasn’t just a matter of introducing touch through massage therapy.  The approach had to be measured.

Dr Perry talked about the importance of “safety” for this child.  It needed to be a gradual introduction that allowed this adolescent boy’s nervous system to accept the touch without activating and heightening the sympathetic nervous system responses to which the child had become accustomed as a response to touch. 

Dr Perry, and the therapists he recommended, also needed to teach the child’s mother how to use touch effectively to connect with her son.  The process was slow,  measured and in no way rushed. He honoured the time needed to provide a sense of safety so that they could supplement the neurodevelopmental sequence that had been completely missed at the right time in this child’s development.

Without providing you with the details of the end results of this case study, or any of the others he presents, I wanted to draw attention to the power of this approach.

I know many therapists use this book and the work of Dr Bruce Perry as a reference book to inform their values and beliefs in their professional approach, their paradigms of working and their practice. 

I’m so pleased I have finally taken the time to start reading this book because

a) it is such an easy read, but,

b), it is also such a powerful reminder of the importance of the neurodevelopmental sequence in childhood development. The importance of not rushing childhood and milestones. Of the beauty and power of neuroplasticity in therapy, and the opportunities it presents to revisit and remediate the neurodevelopmental sequences that got messed up. To provide hope and opportunity that the client has missed out on because of environmental factors beyond that client’s control. 

It is such a good reminder of the hope that is ingrained in our work and the patience it may require.  It is an important reminder that we need to honour the time, the natural sequence, and the opportunity offered through connection with others in the development of our children. 

It's a great reminder that we aren’t born “finished” and that we need help to get to be able to grow and learn how to function independently in our world. It takes time and, it takes others.

I know there are many other books with similar themes, but, if you are looking for a good read, I recommend you add this one to your list.  In retrospect, I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to read it but…  I’m here now and grateful for the insight it is providing me.

I have found this book reassuring, interesting and, to be honest, quite inspiring.

It doesn’t promote quick fixes. It promotes connection and respect for the client.  It honours their previous experience (often traumatic) and the impact it has had on their brain, their functional capacity and their current experience and it checks in to see where the best entry point is to help them remediate their challenges.  

I’m not going to pretend I’m in the league of Dr Perry’s therapeutic practice, but, I love that many of the principles we suggest in our practice and training echo those that he highlights in his work.  Rushing through childhood, skipping developmental stages and the associated social, emotional and physiological aspects of each stage doesn’t help children develop well or to the best of their ability.

Let’s take the time.  Let’s help our new parents to understand and learn about the importance of time and connection in key developmental stages, and let’s also embrace the hope that neuroplasticity offers in the neurodevelopmentally informed therapeutic processes we can offer.

So, that’s my reflection for today. 

The book's title again:  

“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  Dr. Bruce Perry.

Do you have any good books you recommend to other practitioners, clients or families with whom you work?  Let me know.

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