Wednesday, March 25, 2009


"THE BOY WHO WAS RAISED AS A DOG, And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook" is quite plainly meant to remind you of Oliver Sack’s beloved collection, “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.” You know how those crazy people do crazy things and boys are sorta like puppies anyway. Bruce D. Perry, perhaps because of the help of his co-author, Maia Szalavitz, is up to the task. There’s a second sub-title, in case you didn’t pay attention to the first one: “What Traumatized Children Can Teach us about Loss, Love and Healing.” The boy in the title really was raised in a dog cage, but had the advantage of being in there with real dogs. One case is a true sociopath, a cold killer. And the Branch Davidian children, those spared from the confrontation holocaust by early removal, were cared for by Dr. Perry.

My favorite anecdote is about Dr. Perry arriving to see those Waco children for the first time, but being stopped at the door by a classic Texas Ranger, tall and armed. He did not believe that Dr. Perry, who had long hair and wears sandals, should be allowed inside. Dr. Perry explained that he was a child psychiatrist. The Ranger countered that all these good children needed was love and time. Dr. Perry saw a girl sleeping on a couch in the room behind the ranger. “Go check that girl’s pulse,” he asked. “Then tell me whether she needs help.”

The girl’s pulse was 160. The Ranger knew that was twice what it should have been. “This girl is in trouble!” he said. “Call a doctor immediately!”

“I AM a doctor.” One of his useful discoveries was that heart speed is an excellent indicator of emotional stress and that the kind of monitor runners wear to pace themselves can be an accurate “lie detector” even when the child doesn’t know whether he or she is lying.

The Ranger turned out to be one of the best adults in the lives of those children. Steady, practical, protective, and warm. In fact, years afterwards when the children were traced and visited as a follow-up, it turned out that the ones who were put in homes with those qualities, regardless of whether the families were surviving Branch Davidians or entirely secular, were the children who had found their balance and went on with their lives.

Perry’s book stories are not so dramatic as Barrus’ “The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping” (who couldn’t save his boy) or any of Vachss’ mysteries. But they are as profound and more explanatory. Perry uses cutting-edge brain research to guide his gentle therapies with children mostly younger than those of Barrus and not so criminal as those of Vachss. Perry understands a brain is something “built” by responding to what is happening to it and that damage at different points in the development of the brain leave it with deficits in characteristic places, affecting behavior in different ways. The answer is not surgery, is sometimes drugs, but is mostly social interaction in a way the brain can respond with new growth. Often the help is so basic and obvious that one groans that it hasn’t been provided earlier.

For instance, Perry tells us about Mama P, a huge “grounded” earth mother in a muumuu. All the children she cared for were “her babies” and when they freak out, even if they are seven years old, she simply holds them and rocks them. What she is doing is nothing like the grotesque exaggeration of “holding” that Perry also describes, a kind of restraint and injury that forces a child into distortions of reality. Mama P knows what she is doing and subscribes to no fancy theories. When Perry is confronted with an institutionally raised mother whose child is wasting away because she gets none of the natural cuddling and play most mothers love to provide, he asks Mama P to take in BOTH the mother and baby to live with her. This is done FOR A YEAR and saves them.

Perry makes it clear that one of the major deficits in the lives of children is the loss of the extended family and the alert community. This last week I was questioned again by former friends who could NOT understand why I would live in a village of 350 people on the prairie when I “could” be living in a city. I would not have to explain to Perry, whose original training was at the University of Chicago a while after I was there. He makes this clear right at the beginning by describing his two supervisors in the clinic. One, who might as well be called “Herr Doktor,” is all suit and theory, advising against anything but distance and analysis. The other is a male version of Mama P, doing what is obviously natural and helpful.

When Perry the beginner sees the little family of a girl he is trying to help going out into an arctic Chicago night, he knows that theory says he should keep his distance and let them cope, which he does a few times until he can’t stand imagining them at the several bus stops they will have to take to get across town. So he drives them home, agrees to stop at the grocery store on the way, and finally helps carry the heavy sacks up the stairs to the one-room apartment. That way the mother can carry the baby.

Was she just manipulating him? Playing games? Or wasn’t it simple decent practicality to get this woman and her young children home as safely as possible? Does one have to ask “what would Jesus do?” He is afraid to tell his stiff supervisor about it, but his human advisor is delighted he has made a “home visit.” “We should require EVERYONE to do that! It is SO valuable!” Perry is able to explain why the latter supervisor was right. He was not able to explain how that woman found the drive and strength to get help for her child at such a cost.

For many decades I’ve read this kind of book, partly to help myself. I had no great suffering in my life, but always a bit of a deficit somehow. I can trace them to public context (WWII), generational deficits (a maternal great-grandmother and then grandmother who died young), core family dynamics (a father who made his living on the road), and genetic vulnerability (hot-wired, introverted and near-sighted). I have never found any huge traumas, though there were some painful incidents. Blundering along, I found Bob Scriver and the Blackfeet who together healed some shortfalls. I think this is most often how the lives of most people are. But once in a while things go terribly wrong and unlucky. That’s when you need someone like Perry or Vachss or Barrus, depending on the problem.

You know where to start? Art. Barrus’ boys have portfolios. Perry begins with his children on the floor with coloring books and crayons. They don’t necessarily color inside the lines.


Art Durkee said...

Your last paragraph says it all, amen.

Matthew Cobrin said...

I read The Boy Who Was Raised A Dog this autumn, and it touched my heart very deeply for how one individual, Dr. Bruce Perry, can make a difference for traumatized patients overcome their adversities. And I totally agree with Dr. Perry in the book that human relationships are so imperative. One of the things that compelled me about reading the book was that he would present a series of cases that demonstrates how neglect and abuse of children triggers their neurological development. After reading the novel, one of the things I admire Dr. Perry for was his notion on how healing is about using love and tenderness rather than some technique of medication to heal distorted human relationships. I highly encourage new parents and mental health experts to read it as it conveys the importance of 'listening' to your child. A fabulous read indeed to open your mind to a new perspective.

Anonymous said...

At times I found it hard to continue to read this book. There are many cases that made me sad. No child should have to live the way the many children in the book did.

Anonymous said...

from what i read from the boy who was raised as a dog. it was phanominal. it made me wish that there were more doctors out there like Perry. also got me angry abut some peoples ignorance and what they are not doing for children that need help.

Torri Tucker

Matthew C Perez said...

One thing I'll take away from this book was how Dr. Perry treated his patients as humans. They are just that, like you and I. It's perplexing to think there are people in positions of power that view patients more like animals than humans. They'll look behind the glass at the sick dog, but they won't go inside the room to see whats really wrong so to speak. I believe that is what separated Dr. Perry from others in his field. -Matthew C Perez

Zacarias Ticzon said...

Sadly, I didn't read too much into this book either. But reading this article as made me interested to read and learn of such dark cases. I do enjoy the part mentioned in the review about Dr.Perry telling the ranger to check the girl's pulse. I thought it was badass.

Brianna Correa said...

With the few chapters I read of the book I loved Dr. Perry's determination to help children. I admire him in every way possible, I think I'l finish the book reading this review.

Ryan Nichols said...

As someone who read this book, it has made clear above all that children are far more susceptible to abuse and adverse effects afterwards than adults. Also, the mind is growing thoughout childhood, mostly in the first 3 years and when abuse happens in those years, it affects the most out of any other years. As someone who can relate to mental abuse, it spoke volumes to problems that I've had/have and to how I might be able to solve them. I will say that I disagree on villages being better than city, it all depends on who you surround yourself with, supportive people or negetive people, just make sure it's people that you can count on and that are supportive to you. Another one is that I think the mother wasn't trying to pull any tricks to use Perry in Chicago, I believe she was overwhelmed, didn't want to seem weak to accept help, but needed any help she could get. These are all points I feel and of my own opinion, all in all this is a great post, please keep this up we need more people to show this kind of view to shed a "better" light in the healing process in mental health.

Anonymous said...

I didn't read much into "The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog" but what I did read really shocked me. I didn't realize that so many bad things happened to so many children. I think that I didn't realize this was because I had a really good childhood and I guess that it makes me a little bit ignorant. Reading this book makes me want to be a better person and to be kind to everyone even if they're being an asshole.
-Alicen Beaupre

Andria Faiella said...

The boy who was raised as a dog, was a good book. However, it didn't take reading this book to tell me that children are easily influenced by abuse. I already knew that from experiences of my own. To this day there are things that happened to me early on that still affect me more than what might be considered "bigger" things that have happened in the present. I think it's all how you as a human being were handled growing up. Kids don't come into the world with sadness in their hearts or hurt or anger. It is what they experience that brings that to them. A positive experience, or lack there of, can make or break a child. Now as for the whole living in a village vs a city? I think that's ridiculous. It's not where you live, it's how you live and who you live with. But hey that's just my personal opinion. People in the city can be just as caring as those in a village and people in a village can be just as cruel as those in the city. People are people. Some of us are caring, some of us not so much. Isn't the whole point of this to try and understand other people and why they act the way they do? It's how you were raised and people are being raised poorly in both cities and villages and vice versa. As for the "manipulation" aspect, I don't buy that either. I think that generally all people are good at heart, even if it's just the teensiest bit. I think that they genuinely had to wait for the bus and I think that perry was worried, because people by nature are good at heart. Maybe I'm naive in thinking so, but I think that's the bones of it, people live for each other. That's the only way we make it by in a world filled with strangers on a speck of dust floating in space a million miles from another speck of dust. All we have is each other. So by nature we live for each other, and by nature we are generally good even if it's in the deepest darkest recesses of our soul. That's what makes a stranger drive another stranger home on a dark cold night, that's what makes Mama P hug people, that's why I don't need a book to tell me I should treat everyone kindly, even though the world hasn't always been so kind to me.

Anonymous said...

This was a shocking reading to most of us. Most of these kids needed love as a medicine as opposed to pills for proper healing.

Troy C.

Maria Loaiza said...

"The boy who was raised as a dog"

This book really got to me from the beginning to the end, because you really shouldn't judge a person without really getting to know them. The first story was about a little girl named Tina, who got abused for a two- year period starting when she was four and ended when she was six. The perpetrator was a sixteen year old boy, who happened to be her babysitters son. He also molested not only Tina but her younger brother, Michael, while their mother was at work. The way that Tina's problems were being viewed as by other physiatrist was that she was inattentive, had a discipline problem, impulsive, and noncompliant. What pisses me off is that Dr. Perry knew that there was far more things going on in her life than half of those mentioned. In general this book really connected to me and it makes me look at the world in a whole different way. Now that I've this abnormal psychology class has come to an end, i can say this class and reading the boy who was raised as a dog, and the state boys rebellion really changed my way of thinking and viewing life as a whole. I really recommend anyone that's thinking or is taking a psychology major to read these two amazing books.

- M. Loaiza
Ai student

JH said...

It was a fair review I guess, I mostly skimmed the book due to its dense nature but it was thought provoking. There is much more that goes on in the book however, this review only really touches on three chapters.

JH said...

This book seemed fairly dense at some points with medical terms and so it lost my interest, but it was very informative.

Anonymous said...

The thing that this book taught me is that sometimes, pills aren't the only medicine. Children's misbehavior isn't always caused by disorders. Sometimes childhood neglect is worse than any disorder and pills can't heal abuse. Children just need a loving hand sometimes. A hug, a high five, a kiss on the forehead. It may not seem like much to us, but to those kids, it could mean the world. This book should make you want to be a better person and treat people differently. Stand up for that kid who's being bullied. Invite the kid over who's parents work all day and night and can't even come home for dinner. Heroes don't always wear capes. Be the best you can be, and help those in need.

-Rob Davis

Kris Guenther said...

I loved the final paragraph about art. Art is very important in this world and we shouldn't be fixed "between the lines."