Seventy deeply troubled teenagers spend weeks, months, even years on a locked psychiatric ward. They’re not just failing in school, not just using drugs. They are out of control—violent or suicidal, in trouble with the law, unpredictable, and dangerous. Their futures are at risk.
Twenty years later, most of them still struggle. But astonishingly, a handful are thriving. They’re off drugs and on the right side of the law. They’ve finished school and hold jobs that matter to them. They have close friends and are responsible, loving parents.
What happened? How did some kids stumble out of the woods while others remain lost? Could their strikingly different futures have been predicted back during their teenage struggles? The kids provide the answers in a series of interviews that began during their hospitalizations and ended years later. Even in the early days, the resilient kids had a grasp of how they contributed to their own troubles. They tried to make sense of their experience and they groped toward an understanding of other people’s inner lives.
In their own impatient voices, Out of the Woods portrays edgy teenagers developing into thoughtful, responsible adults. Listening in on interviews through the years, narratives that are often poignant, sometimes dramatic, frequently funny, we hear the kids growing into more composed—yet always recognizable—versions of their tough and feisty selves.
Instead of focusing on the broad dimensions of risk and protection—genetic endowment, parenting, opportunity, and the social issues of money, education and status—[the authors] ask why resilient capacities develop in certain children, how they work and what we can do to nurture them. This liberating shift allows an imaginative drive into the psychological processes by which people can negotiate adversity… Out of the Woods marks several points of wide-ranging significance.
Stories of individuals overcoming great obstacles to succeed in life no doubt cast their spell on audiences long before they were recorded in books. The power such tales hold will captivate readers of Out of the Woods, an accessible book on resilience… The heart of the book is focused intensively on the lives of four resilient young people, who are compared and contrasted with each other and with their less adaptive peers. Anyone concerned about young people will find their stories thought provoking… The book serves as a powerful reminder of the phenomenon of resilience and the compelling rationale for understanding resilience well enough to facilitate it.
The authors pinpoint three qualities as key to [teens’] resilience—reflectiveness, engagement with others, and a belief that they themselves could find the motivation to bring about change in their lives. Anyone working with children may need to ‘see in the dark’ to find these qualities beneath troubled behaviours, but the insights that Hauser and [company] give in this book will light the way.
A highly useful psychoanalytically informed contribution to our knowledge of psychic recovery and strength, this book reports on creatively conceived psychodynamic research study and humanely conceived treatment of seriously compromised and traumatized children who went on to become very troubled and very difficult youngsters. It is especially praiseworthy for its aims and innovative strategies in presenting an insufficiently researched domain of prevention against illness and of healing from it—that is, on psychodynamic aspects of resilience in the face of harshly traumatizing early life experience… We are indebted to Hauser, Allen, and Golden—for this study to be sure, but also for their clarion call that we think like healers. Every child analyst, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker—anyone who works with chilren and adolescents—must read this book. Every clinician, educator, counselor, and caregiver will find in this study guidelines for fostering resilience in those they are treating or who are in their charge.
Psychologists have long been intrigued by youths who develop successful lives despite significant adversity. Over the past quarter century, resilience research has produced a rich and extensive understanding of this phenomenon… The greatest strength of this book is its novel use of narratives as a vehicle for demonstrating the process of change from the youths’ early teen or preteen years into young adulthood… Another advantage is that Hauser, Allen, and Golden take care to show the impact of external supports on growth for these four young people. The narratives include rich descriptions of the environmental contexts within which these young people struggled and, at times, triumphed… Out of the Woods is valuable for demonstrating some very important realities that are too often overlooked—that positive adjustment and resilience are fluid and relative. The skills that young people need to thrive despite significant environmental stressors often take years to develop, years during which they may not, in fact, function at very high levels… This work is likely to be useful for adding depth to novices’ understanding of the symptoms and for illustrating the process of adaptive growth in troubled youth.
How do any of us grow up emotionally healthy? That’s the central question asked by child-guidance specialist Hauser and others as they studied the adaptive capabilities of a select group of teenage residents of High Valley, a residential psychiatric facility. A succession of interviews conducted with four adolescents, all of whom were under the age of 15 when they entered High Valley, follows a lengthy introduction that describes the research methodology. Undertaken during the course of a dozen years, the interviews clearly reveal the psychological obstacles and challenges the kids faced and overcame. Unlike most studies of high-risk youth, this one, written largely in lay terms, focuses on the positive, and although the authors certainly never claim to have all the answers, they do provide some useful insight that can guide educators and others dedicated to keeping dysfunctional young people ‘out of the woods.’
[The authors] have pioneered significant research in the area of teen resilience. Here they address the quandary of why some teens have the resilience to bounce back from troubled adolescence to lead healthy, satisfying, and productive lives while others never find their way ‘out of the woods.’ To investigate, the authors conducted a longitudinal study of 70 people who had been institutionalized in a psychiatric facility during their adolescence. Using initial and follow-up interviews that began during their hospitalizations and spanned many years, the researchers chart the narratives of those deemed resilient by a battery of psychological tests.
This is one of the most important books on recovery from teenage mental illness that I have ever seen. Out of the Woods shows powerfully that the question of who succeeds and who fails to recover is a question not for biochemical analysis and drug treatment, but for dedicated therapeutic faith and understanding. The more attention this powerful book gets, the better.
Resilience has been a puzzle. We have seen it as either the reflection of some positive trait—IQ, say—or the result of good experiences. This highly engaging book is quite different: it focuses on the processes associated with resilience. Three elements prove to be crucial: personal agency and a concern to overcome adversity; a self-reflective style; and a commitment to relationships. Anyone committed to working with troubled young people will find much food for thought in this splendid book.
A riveting account of how and why a group of very troubled teenagers were able to turn their lives around as they entered adulthood. The authors’ impressive insight into these unexpected changes should bring hope and new understanding to educators and clinicians—and also to worried parents.
- 336 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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