Review of Dibs In Search of Self: Book by Virginia Axline
Synopsis: The Story of one little boy and his journey through childhood life up to his mid-teens, and also an insight into psychotherapy - how it works and what it can mean to people on a practical level.
The book chronicles a series of play therapy sessions over a period of one year with a boy (Dibs) who comes from a wealthy and highly educated family. Despite signs that he is gifted; his mother, father, and most of his teachers perceive him as having an emotional or cognitive disorder. Dibs presents abnormal social behaviour by continuously isolating himself, rarely speaking, and physically lashing out at those around him. When Axline first meets Dibs' parents, they describe her as their son's last hope. The book details the interactions between Dibs and Axline and utilizes actual session transcripts for dialogue.
This is a fascinating read for anyone who is interested in childhood development, or who has even had children, or has ever worked with children, or what has ever been a child.
In short, even if you are already aware of how we develop as a result of the interactions that we encounter as a child this report of what happened in this one case can resonate with us based on our own ideas, memories and experience.
Through the diary of her interactions with the child she calls Dibs Axline shows us how she was able to help him grow, and deal with the issues that he faced with parents who seemed to have very little idea about how to treat him.
The passages detail incidents that can demonstrate great ways to relate to children and remind us about things that we may not always be aware of, even if we are aware of them..
“When the five minutes were up, we will go back to his room. I didn't ask him if he wanted to go. There was no real choice for him to make I didn't ask him if he would like to come back again. He might not want to commit himself besides that decision was not up to him to make I didn't say that I would see him next week because I had not yet completed the plans with his mother. This child has been hurt enough without my introducing promises. That might not materialize. I didn't ask him if he had had a good time. Why should he be pinned down to an evaluation of the expression? It's just as if a child's play is his natural way of expressing himself. Why should we cast in a rigid mould of stereotype response. The child is only confused by questions have been answered by someone else before he is asked.” When we look into passages like this it can show us how we should think carefully about the questions we ask and he what we say matters more than we sometimes realise.
It’s difficult when you already work with children and parents to read this book and not feel that the parents clearly are very responsible for the actions of the child. We do learn during the course of the book that things have not always been easy at home, and it is to the parents credit that they continue Dibs’ sessions and they grow as parents in understanding themselves too.
Sometimes it is very difficult to keep firmly in mind the fact that the parents to have reasons for what they do, have reasons locked in the depths of their personalities for their inability to love, to understand, to give of themselves to their children.
Is Dibs In Search of Self a Real Person?
By the time Dibs has reached the end of his time with Axline his changes are something that he also is aware of. He started at the age of five and was just six when he finished but his own self awareness has increased with his confidence and understanding of his circumstances in a way that seems beyond his years.
“this is my last visit to the playroom” he said speaking into the microphone, “this is dibs talking this is my voice I came to the playroom I did so many things in the playroom I am dibs.” there was a long pause “I am dibs” he repeated slowly, “maybe in the fall I will come back again for a visit maybe for just one more visits after the summer I'm going away for the summer and I will be beside the ocean I will listen to the waves I will play in the sand”
We find later that Dibs has moved just up the street to Axline and she hears him outside her window and recognises his voice, delighting in his interactions with another child. She even meets him and his parents on the street and Dibs reminds her of his time with fond remembrance.
It is a fascinating book and a great read in itself. Axline is at pains to point out that everything happened, the names have been changed but the rest of the story is based on actual diaries and transcripts of events.
It is tempting to wonder if as a story it is all a little too convenient, especially when Dibs happens to move in up the street, but in therapy story telling is a very compelling and effective way to make change, so perhaps it doesn’t matter if parts of the tale relate to more than one person who becomes an amalgam that creates Dibs. Perhaps my feeling that he is more than one case is wrong and it is a credit to the book that I feel almost wrong in even putting that theory across.