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Without a guiding theory to influence selection of interventions, “try anything” eclecticism is like choosing a potluck meal while blindfolded.  Among the pitfalls of green thumb eclecticism are:

1.  The flaws of folk psychology.  “Doing what comes naturally” with troubled and troublesome youth often entails attacking or avoiding them.  These fight/flight responses are highly counterproductive.  Harsh punishment easily escalates into hostility, and kindness often is exploited; if a whipping or a dose of love were all that were required, these kids would have been cured long ago.

2.  Contradictions in methodology.  If techniques drawn from different models are mixed together in potluck fashion, confusion sets in about what to do when theories suggest prescriptions that run counter to one another (Quay & Werry, 1988).  For example, is planfully ignoring angry behavior better, or should one see this anger as a cry for help and communicate with the child?

3.  Incompatibility with teamwork.  When various team members invent idiosyncratic models of treatment, conflict and chaos reign.  Russian youth work pioneer Makarenk(?) (1956) observed that five weak educators inspired by the same principles is a better configuration than 10 good educators all working according to their own opinion.

4.  Inconsistency with children.  In programs in which adults are confused or inconsistent, anxious students become more agitated and antisocial students more manipulative.  The most volatile possible combination is a dysfunctional staff team confronting a cunning and cohesive negative peer group.

Fortunately, we are not confined to naïve “green thumb” eclecticism, as a number of thoughtful approaches merge multiple methods.  Before presenting our own model, we briefly highlight four major approaches to the reeducation of troubled children.

Perspectives on Psychoeducation

In his book, Caring for Troubled Children, Whittaker (1980) identified four principal approaches that have shaped practice in North American programs of reeducation.  These all represent different ways of defining emotional and behavioral problems, and they lead to different intervention strategies.  Listed in historical sequence, the four models are:

1.  Psychodynamic:  Children are viewed as “disturbed” because of underlying emotional problems and unmet needs.

2.  Behavioral:  Children are viewed as “disordered” because of maladaptive patterns of learned behavior.

3.  Sociological:  Children are viewed as “maladjusted” because of association with peers who embrace negative values and behavior.

4.  Ecological:  Various ecosystems in the child’s environment are seen as creating conflict and “dis-ease” in children.

EDMS 512, Hood

Summer 2006

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