Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

What's Happening in Our Family? Understanding Sexual Abuse through Metaphors

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

What's Happening in Our Family? Understanding Sexual Abuse through Metaphors

Article excerpt

CONSTANCE M. OSTIS: What's Happening in Our Family? Understanding sexual abuse through metaphors. Brandon, VT: Safer Society Press, 2002, 209 pp., $20.00, ISBN 1-884444-65-2.

Professional literature on child abuse has become almost unmanageably profuse, yet we still come upon arresting books with novel features. What's Happening in Our Family by Constance M. Ostis, a long-time experienced clinical social work therapist in this field, is such a book, deserving careful attention for a number of reasons.

First of all the book is meant to be read by the shattered family members themselves. It is written in language accessible to an average high school student, and all specific professional terms or concepts are carefully explained, thus offering an excellent supplement to psychotherapy for all the members of the affected family. It addresses the pain, the needs, and the role of each family member involved in the web of abuse. The child victim, his or her "by-standing" siblings, and the nonabusing parent will all find, here, helpful and indeed compelling information and guidance. This list does not exclude the perpetrator himself, who, if open to help and change, could learn much from Ostis's enlightening book.

The book is clearly organized, leading us sequentially from Part One, Looking at Sexual Abuse in the Family, to Part Two, How Much Harm. Part Four deals with Treatment and Restitution. Along the way each chapter answers all the questions that come to mind when thinking about sexual child abuse, such as: Why do abusers do it? (Chapter 4); Why the whole family needs treatment? (Chapter 8). Part Five, Remain Separate or Reunify: Making the Best Decision for Your Family is exceptionally interesting. In its three chapters Ostis carefully spells out the criteria an abuser would have to meet before even visitation, and, especially, family reunion can be contemplated. While the author does not vilify the abuser, she remains unequivocal that sexual child abuse is a crime for which she holds the abuser totally responsible (Chapter 10: Child Sexual Abuse is More than a Family Problem: It's a Crime). I was pleased to see that an appendix spells out the important difference between mutual childish sexual exploration, and real child abuse, thus warning us against inappropriate reactions. A second appendix gives useful Assessment Guidelines.

Apart from its function as bibliotherapy, the book's second unusual feature is announced in its subtitle: Understanding Sexual Abuse through Metaphors. …

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