Review of Challenged by Childhood

Challenged by Childhood: Healing the Hidden Hurts of a Difficult Childhood

Imagine for a moment a lttle girl, an only child, hiding in her bedroom as her parents fight in the next room. A creative little girl who manages her terror, loneliness and overwhelm by imagining the text of the book she will one day write to let people know what this feels like, and not to do this to their children.

Then imagine that she grows up, has children herself, engages in her own therapeutic path and trains as a psychotherapist with a special interest (no surprise here) in working with the effects of family violence. What a potent conception and gestation for a book! Challenged by Childhood is that book.

After successfully launching three previous self help books Kay Douglas has returned to her initial determination, this time not as an only child but with sixty 'siblings' who in their own childhoods faced similar and different challenges. Their stories, and her own are interwoven into a narrative which aims both to support people to find ways to heal and create happy and loving lives, and to be a celebration of the human spirit which 'through commitment, effort and grace' can restore and transcend.

The book is organised into four parts:

  • Overcoming early adversity, an overview;
  • The childhood challenges, how children, with their limited resources and experience of the world, cope and make meaning of trauma:
  • The adult challenges, how this childhood legacy pervades adulthood:
  • Rising to the challenge, how to move forward until one is unencumbered by the legacy.

In each section Kay distills the unique stories of the sixty men and women she interviewed, and her own years of personal and professional experience, into an essence with which most readers will be able to relate. She includes excerpts from people's recorded stories, check lists to aid self reflection, description of the dynamics of trauma and of recovery, and much, much more. Always there is a sense of having Kay beside one as one reads, a wise and understanding companion who knows how hard the path can be, and also knows it can be traversed successfully and safely, in small steps, no longer alone.

Like many in our field I am acquainted with many self help books. Often I feel irritated and impatient as I read. It is so easy for the written word to sound simplistic, for a book to read like a step by step recipe towards a magical conclusion, not allowing for the nuances of history, personality, time and place which make each individual's path their own. I felt neither irritation nor impatience as I read Challenged by Childhood. Rather tenderness, awe, and at the end the satisfaction that comes from having had a full and rich experience.

I sometimes lend clients and colleagues books from my library. Kay's first book, Invisible Wounds is the only one I have had to replace four times, clearly one which some people could not bring themselves to part with. I think Challenged by Childhood will be one that could well meet a similar fate.

Written by Lesley King
- Psychotherapist and Registered Psychologist
- Past President of New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists