voices of pioneers A Larry Brendtro

voices of pioneers
Al Trieschman on Tough but S a d Children
Larry Brendtro
bert E. Trieschman ( 1 93 1 - 1 984), Founder and Executive
Director of the Walker Home and School in Needham, MA,
achieved international recognition for his work with troubled
children. I was privileged to share a conference platform with AI
on the occasion of one of his last addresses. He told the profes­
sionals in the audience that he was prepared to reveal the most
significant observation that one could ever make about troubled
children. The audience strained to hear the discovery, and AI de­
clared with a characteristic radiance: 'The most important ob­
servation you will ever make is when you discover that you have
become a glimmer in the eyes of a child, and the child has be­
come a glimmer in your eyes as well !"
Albert E. Trieschman 1 931 - 1 984
Al brought the sophistication of his Harvard Ph.D. in psy­
chology to the front-line problems of working with troubled
children in their moments of rage and despair. His classic
1 969 publication, The Other Twenty-Three Hours, extends
treatment beyond the therapy session to the total living­
learning ecology of the child. Before founding the Walker
program, Al served as a staff psychologist at the Judge Baker
Guidance Center and the Children' s Hospital Medical
Center, Boston, Massachusetts . He was also a faculty mem­
ber in psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School and past
president of the American Association of Children' s
Residential Centers .
Throughout his distinguished career, Al Trieschman never
lost touch with what it means to be a child, nor with the trou­
bled and joyous feelings that are part of growing up. His
own career was shaped by his mentor, Dr. Robert White of
Harvard, who pioneered in theories of competence motiva­
tion. The following excerpts from Children A way From
Home (Whittaker and Trieschman, 1 972) show Trieschman' s
focus on the potential for competence and normalcy in the
most troubled of children.
54 .. JEB-P
"I am going to raise hell if I can 't find my model airplane. "
hildren who hate often are
:�il.dren who hav� s.uffered so
Another teaching device i s the use that staff make of thier
cned out," unwlllmg or un­
own affective state s . When we feel disappointment, experience
able to deal with any more sadnes s . The child' s sadnes s
loss , and then model and share this emotional experience with
many losses that they are
and sense of l o s s are easily overlooked in our eagerness t o "get
children, our example is subj ect to imitation. When we ourselves
things under control . "
can ventilate, keep working, use a little humor, the children can
We are inclined to help them deal with
anger, when perhaps we should focus on developing their com­
use the opportunity to be observant pupils.
When we exploit small segments of reality to teach about
petence to deal with loss.
In our work with hyperaggressive children at Walker, w e
dealing with sadness, we make use of innumerable opportunities
have b e e n forced t o think about ways we could help children
that occur daily such as the end of a pleasant game or the loss of
learn to deal with loss and sadne s s , while we were coping with
a favorite coulselor until tomorrow . At these times , it i s al so
their acting out behavior. We find opportunities for teaching
possible to use the technique of encouraging partial replace­
about sadness in the circumstances of daily living .
ments for losses, such as reattachments to a new friend, or even
our notions help the adults who encounter the child in the 23
transitory withdrawal. The child who does not know how to use
hours outside therapy to be constructive agents of change in the
solitude has a tremendous investment in warding off sadnes s by
child ' s life .
being constantly in the thick of things .
S ome events have the clear ring o f loss-the home - sickness
of new arrivals, the discharge of a child' s close friend, the death
of a pet, the leaving of a favorite staff member- these "big­
This youngster might
need to learn to develop the capacity to be alone and find that
there i s a "constancy of people" who still accept him on return.
It is important to note that we have not focussed on patholog­
league" events are rarely overlooked. S ome of the small lossses
ical depres sion or distortions of the mourning proces s .
that present worthwhile opportunities to help children develop
these occur - and with frequency among disturbed children ­
loss-bearing include broken or missing toys , no mail , losing a
but we emphasize that learning to master loss is a human neces­
game, difficulty in mastering a skill.
Teaching loss-bearing ca­
pacities at such times not only helps extend the emotional com­
sity, not j ust a "cure" to mental illne s s .
Our techniques help
adults make an alliance with that part of the child struggling
p e t e n c e of c h i l d r e n , b u t a l s o h e l p s keep b e h a v i o r w i th i n
against his difficulties . This i s an alliance for teaching emotional
reasonable limits .
To encourage a child to ventilate his feelings of sadness di­
rectly i s a useful teaching device .
One might say to a child,
"one of the things you can do first when you ' re feeling s ad like
this is to cry .
It' s all right.
be able to stop . "
The tears won ' t last forever; you ' ll
One might suggest a private place to an older
child too embarrassed to cry openly in the company of peers .
An equally useful device is to help a child develop the capac­
ity to repres s or suppre s s sadne s s , to "forget about it." There are
times that for the benefit of helping a child repair his life and
proceed to grow , crying must stop . If the child is to learn skills
and participate in scholastic affairs, the task of "putting the sad­
ness in the back of his mind" has to be given to the child .
T h e language of feelings can be used to teach a n d remind
children o f pos sible ways of behaving when " s a d . "
One can
teach a child that when he hames feelings and can talk about
them, he c an kno w them himself and then tell others how he
feels .
To enhance the awarenes s of feelings , the techniques of
roleplaying , improvisation, and acting can be used.
The legacy of A l Trieschman continues in his writings, in the
work of the Walker School, and in the activities of the A lbert E.
Trieschman Center, a national resource center providing advo­
cacy, research, and training to help practitione rs find better
ways of working with high- risk children, youth, and their fami­
Fo r fu rth e r i nfo rm a t i o n , c o n ta c t D r. Floyd A lw o n ,
D i re c t o r, t h e Tri e s c h m a n Ce n t e r, 1 9 68 C e n t r a l A v e n u e ,
Needham, MA 021 92, phone (61 7) 449-0626.
The foregoing was condensed from Albert Trieschman and Bernard
Levine ( 1 972), "Helping Children Learn to Deal with S adness" in
Whittaker, J . and Trieschman, A. (Eds . ) Children Away from Home:
A S o u r c e b o o k of R e s i d e n t i a l T r e a t m e n t . C h i c a g o : A l d i n e
Publishing Company .
Trieschman, A . , Whittaker, J . , and B rendtro, L. ( 1 969).
The Other
23 Hours: Child Care Work with Emotionally Disturbed Children
in a Therapeutic Milieu. New York: Aldine du Gruyter. This book
is also available in German, Danish, Dutch, and Japanese editions .
SUMMER 1 993 . 55