Journeys / Literature

Dibs: In Search of Self

“So much to say. And so much not to say! Some things are better left unsaid. But so many unsaid things can become a burden.” (Dibs’ Mother – page 79)

“Perhaps there is more understanding and beauty in life when the glaring sunlight is softened by the patterns of shadows. Perhaps there is more depth in a relationship that has weathered some storms. Experience that never disappoints or saddens or stirs up feelings is a bland experience with little challenge or variation in colour. Perhaps when we experience confidence and faith and hope that we see materialize before our eyes this builds up within us a feeling of inner strength, courage, and security.

We are all personalities that grow and develop as a result of all our experiences, relationships, thoughts, and emotions. We are the sum total of all the parts that go into the making of a life.” (Miss A, the psychotherapist – page 194)

And this, readers, is why you should read this book.

This book was assigned in my psychology class for next Tuesday, and as I sat down this afternoon to read it, I found myself utterly engrossed and I finished the entire work. It is fascinating. I highly recommend it. It will either change or shape the way you will consider children that may be labeled as “difficult” or “mentally retarded” or sadly, given up on.

It is a non-fiction book of a true story of a little boy named Dibs gleaned from recordings of weekly play therapy sessions at a center for psychotherapy, but although true and a piece of research, it does not read at all like a stuffy account.

Reading the dialogues and development of Dibs’ personality greatly touched me and brought me to consider all the layers that go into providing the right environment for a child to find himself and come to understand his own potential in his formative years. Case after case demonstrates that years especially until the age of 5 are critical with respect to the nature of the family – the most immediate social construct available to demonstrate and provide the child with experiences useful for the formation of productive social attachments and interactions in different settings. For Dibs, his personality had been so repressed and challenged by parents who constantly tested him and tried to form his personality for him, and consequently, although he learned to read years beyond his age by the age of 2 and was a truly gifted child, he was only observable as mute, withdrawn, violent, among other labels because he was never permitted at home (unbeknownst to his parents) to simply be but was taught what being was and expected to measure up immediately. These conditions tremendously stunted his early childhood development (prior to age 5, at the time when therapy began) and were primarily due to the parents’ projected difficulties in creating a supportive, nurturing attachment relationship with each other, and consequently, with him. The parents, one a well-known scientist, and the other a prominent and successful surgeon, never wanted children and they expected their “accident” to automatically take on the role of a son of two such intellectual minds.

I find the kind, cautious methods of the child’s psychotherapist (also the author of the text) to be instructive and helpful for all individual’s considerations of how to relate to children; while this text is a phenomenal story, it is also an excellent resource for understanding child development as well as psychotherapy and the subset of play therapy (which may well incorporate art and music therapy). The psychotherapist spoke in a very particular and measured manner to Dibs throughout the entire book, which is divided with each chapter covering one play therapy session.  The dangers of  repressed fears and angers hidden in a child and presented in the chapters are hinted at numerous times and are startling and sobering – not all children have such a chance to work through their confusions in such a safe environment and can be helped to manage their personal tragedies. The importance of words to children, who are perhaps among the most perceptive of individuals, becomes all too clear and the sensitivity of small children with big souls that they do not yet fully know measures up as a great consideration for all adults to bear as ones who ought to be quite a bit wiser, having once gone through the similar stages of emotional, social, and cognitive development themselves.

While unmistakably serious, it also is a book filled with hope and relief, regardless of the perspective of the reader. Anyone along the continuum from a parent or teacher who fears being condemned for mistakes they make in trying to foster a troubled child’s development, all the way to a now-adult who may have struggled with issues similar to Dibs’ can appreciate and be encouraged by the experiences recounted.

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