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Out of the WoodsReview - Out of the Woods
Tales of Resilient Teens
by Stuart T. Hauser, Joseph P. Allen, and Eve Golden
Harvard University Press, 2006
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H.
Jul 10th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 28)

Out of the Woods is fueled by a burning desire to garner fuller understanding of the psychological phenomenon of "resilience".  This fascinating tome is crafted with great adeptness by a triad of distinguished authors:  Dr. Stuart T. Hauser is a Professor of Psychiatry, at Harvard Medical School; Dr. Joseph P. Allen is a Professor of Psychology, at the University of Virginia; and Dr. Eve Golden trained in psychiatry.  In resolute search of heightened knowledge of resilience, Hauser, Allen and Golden turn a key unlocking the door to detailed narratives of four persons who resiliently overcame challenging psychological turbulence pummeling their teenage years.  These four narratives comprise the substantive core of the book.  Wielding a sharply perspicacious scalpel, Hauser, Allen and Golden cut deeply into the narratives, sorely exposing the flesh of psychological wounds as well as evidence of psychological resilience and healing.  The engrossing tales of troubled teens who resiliently are able to cut a swath out of the woods of psychological impairment may particularly enthrall those laboring to carve out a path of embellished understanding in the field of resilience.

The psychiatric hospital where the four persons had been hospitalized as teenagers is described in Chapter Two.  Hauser, Allen and Golden bluntly describe the facility as an oftentimes terrifying place noteworthy for a prevailing atmosphere of Draconian discipline.

Chapter Three proffers sage counsel pertinent to an edifying reading of the narratives that follow.  The reader is encouraged to read the narratives as elaborations of themes.  In this vein, Hauser, Allen and Golden comment on the entwined themes of "agency", "relatedness" and "reflectiveness" sewed into the fabric of the narratives.  There is discussion also of "narrative coherence".

Hauser, Allen and Golden write in a manner blending stylistic artistic beauty with substantive abstruseness.  The book's not inconsiderable intellectual denseness is actually one of its notable properties.

Chapters Four to Seven embody the four personal narratives comprising the book's core matter.  Sifting carefully through the sands of this matter, Hauser, Allen and Golden endeavor to extract bits and pieces of narrative matter suggestive of effectual nurturing of seeds of personal psychological strength into solid branches of psychological resilience.

The respective narratives are structured in substantially similar fashion.  In a pithy exordium at the beginning of each of the four narratives, the reader is given a brief glimpse of a web of psychopathology entangled with psychiatric hospitalization.  In the introduction to Chapter Four, it is explained tersely that "Pete" was engulfed with fury, and was psychiatrically hospitalized at age fourteen, after he brought a gun to school.  Chapter Five is the story of "Rachel", whose behavior was yoked to very considerable anger, and who was hospitalized psychiatrically at age thirteen after she slashed herself with a razor blade.  As explained succinctly in the introductory part of Chapter Six, "Sandy" was entrapped by psychiatric challenges entwined with strands of anger and depression, necessitating hospitalization at the age of fourteen.  Chapter Seven presents the story of "Billy", who was eleven when he was hospitalized to address psychological dysfunction enwrapped with violence.

Following a brief introduction, there is further construction of the respective narratives in the form of encapsulations of a series of interviews conducted (with respect to each of the four persons) over a lengthy timeframe extending from teen years into adulthood.  Characteristically in these interviews, as encapsulated in the book, particular interviewer questions are identified, and actual responding comments (by either Pete, Rachel, Sandy, or Billy) are given.  Working in these narrative confines, Hauser, Allen and Golden seek to illumine some of the darkened nooks and crannies in the psychological edifice housing the intriguing phenomenon of resilience.

Prospective readers should be aware that there are actually multiple strata of intellectual heavy lifting in this book.  The interviewers, at one level, had the task of asking questions.  A further stratum of intellectual work is composed of the game efforts, of Hauser, Allen and Golden, to make discerning psychological sense of the responses culled by the interviewers.  In this latter regard, Hauser, Allen and Golden, exhibiting masterful skill, impose an intellectually impressive framework of sturdy psychological analysis atop the narratives.  With keenly analytic sight, Hauser, Allen and Golden search for narrative fragments germane to an evaluation of relative psychological resilience.  There is, as well, diligent search, by Hauser, Allen and Golden, for evidence of pivotal themes implanted in the soil of the narratives.

Toward the end of the respective narratives, threads of analytic comments are woven together adroitly, by Hauser, Allen and Golden, into a tapestry showing the relative development over time of psychological well being.

Critics may opine that, even with the addition of this very fine book to the resilience literature, a fully accurate calculation of the resilience equation remains highly problematic.  The assiduous efforts of Hauser, Allen and Golden to shine revealing light on turbid aspects of psychological resilience are tethered tightly to four personal narratives.  But some may question whether a personal narrative is a particularly powerful tool, for scientific investigative purposes.  And even if personal narratives are accepted as properly being an integral part of the panoply of research tools to mine further understanding of resilience, the sample population of four key stories is relatively small for research purposes.

But pensive readers of this book will likely be enriched considerably by the intellectually determined efforts of Hauser, Allen and Golden to collect grains of resilience gold from the terrain of personal narratives.  Psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, and social workers are among those who professionally should reap rewarding benefits from the fruitful investigative forays of Hauser, Allen and Golden into the challenging realm of resilience.

 

© 2007 Leo Uzych

 

Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University.  His area of special professional interest is healthcare.


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