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There are things that cannot be said, things that lay waiting to be said but are not, and things that we refuse to say. The literature on trauma emphasizes the difficulty of speaking about terrible events. This seems to be a real phenomenon, and it is a platitude of psychoanalysis that finding ways to put such unspeakable experiences into words is an important and necessary step on the way to psychic healing. We might add that it is a necessary step on the way to social healing too, as the silencing of social wrongs perpetuates suffering and oppression, and finding a voice is a way of challenging these continuities. But hard as speaking out may be, it is the failures of listening that really count: the difficulty that witnesses have when faced with the demand to listen to a testimony that implicates them directly or indirectly, or requires some kind of painful action in response, or possibly simply shows how emotionally challenging it is to witness a suffering that cannot be remedied. This chapter draws on psychoanalysis to explore the haunting effects of such unrecognized experiences. A key question is how to respond to these in ways that allow silenced voices to be heard.
Peer interaction problems are often difficult to ameliorate in a clinical setting. In this study, four boys, whose many problems included difficulties with peer relationships, were given social skills training in a group over ten sessions. The main aim was to improve cooperative play, effective communication and conflict resolution skills by using a general problem-solving framework combining behavioural and cognitive techniques. The formal measures failed to show change, which may be due in part to inadequacies in the measures. Reports from therapists, teachers and parents suggested that there was considerable change within sessions, some improvement at school but very little at home.
In recent years, a growing body of research has established that children who have poor peer relationships are particularly at risk for the development of later psychiatric and antisocial disorders — for instance, they are more likely to drop out of school, be later identified as juvenile delinquents, and have mental health problems in adult life (Asher et al., 1977). Children who are picked out by their peers as isolated or rejected are particularly vulnerable (Cowen et al., 1973; Roff et al., 1972). This finding has led researchers to evaluate “popularity” by sociometric tests which involve asking children who their friends are and who they dislike. Such sociometric scores have been shown to have moderate reliability (Roff et al., 1972), but much depends on the type of question asked (Oden & Asher, 1977). In particular, it is clear that sociometric acceptance has different correlates from sociometric rejection, the former being more an index of amount of social participation (Combs & Slaby, 1977), the latter of its quality.
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