Too Scared to Cry: Psychic Trauma in Childhood ---- Lenore Terr

As a psychologist and a psychologist-in-training I read a lot of books. And I can say that despite many books being helpful, and informative or even downright formative of who I have become as a clinician and a person, there are very few books that helped me change the outcome of a person’s treatment so definitively as Too Scared to Cry by Lenore Terr.

Too Scared to Cry is first a chronicle of Lenore Terr’s longitudinal study of the Chowchilla Bus kidnapping and other traumatic experiences lived by children. But it is foremost a completely thorough map of the terrain of the impact of trauma on children and their development and behavior. It is the best kind of research: it is thorough and detailed, and it is practical and understandable. 

That said, this is no ‘how to’ book. It is an ‘understand why’ book. It helps you see what was invisible and makes it visible. She covers the aftereffects of trauma—primarily single incident trauma- rage, denial, numbing and guilt. She covers how trauma affects memory, the experience of time, dreams and relationships. What it looks like in play and at ‘work.’ She dispels myths and creates a living picture of how children cope with the aftereffects using the resources they have.

In my internship year I worked with a young girl who was hit by a car. She was walking in a crosswalk in front of a bus so she didn’t see the car on the other side of the bus. A year after this incident through a series of other events she was placed on a child inpatient unit. While she was on the unit she told her clinician there that she had the power to ‘see through objects.’ If you didn’t understand the effect of trauma, you would imagine that this was psychosis, and this is what happened on the unit. She was put on anti-psychotic medication. But she wasn’t psychotic, she was traumatized. And the wish to see through things, the wish to have the magical powers to keep the trauma from ever happening again is a common symptom. To be able to see through things, to know when bad things are going to happen. These are common, but not well known as symptoms of trauma. Because of Lenore Terr’s book, I was able to talk to the treatment team and have her taken off medication that was potentially harmful, and have the actual issue of trauma addressed. 

She uses stories and examples from her research and her clinical practice to explain the different phenomena and she does so without a lot of jargon —making it useful for both clinicians and for anyone involved with children. Since traumatized children, hopefully, grow up to be adults, it is an invaluable asset to understanding the impact of trauma for clinicians who work with adults or adults who lived through childhood trauma. And, while it focuses on the impact of trauma on children, much of what is in the book can be helpful in understanding adult trauma as well.