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Gem Of The First Water

Review of First Edition, California, 1990
By Dr George W. Hynd

This review was published in 1990 when Dr Hynd was Chair : Division for Education of Exceptional Children, College of Education, University of Georgia, USA. He is currently Dean of the School of Education at Purdue University.

For those of us who work with seriously troubled children and adolescents, there are only so many tried and true approaches to therapy. Clearly play therapy, group therapy, role playing, behavioral therapy and other approaches all have their value in assisting these children in acquiring some sense of control over their behavior. However, one of the most significant difficulties in working with children and young adolescents is that they frequently have insufficient insight in to their own behavior and how it impacts on others.

Ron Phillips has provided us with a first a truly unique and dynamic approach to aid troubled children and adolescents in gaining insight into the potential of their own resources to solve the difficulties they face. Through the art of storytelling, Gem of the First Water provides a vehicle for developing insight into how one goes about effective positive decision-making.

Based on his experiences as the director of a residential treatment program, Phillips evolved story-telling as a means of gaining the interest, identification and insight of children otherwise unreachable through more traditional therapy. Gem of the First Water is an engaging story of a boy who is selfish and rude. As Phillips notes, he is much like many other children who externalize their troubles and blame their parents, teachers or significant others. Traveling through the metaphoric Land of Confusion, he must confront a number of creatures including the Rage-On and the Commodore of Lies. Through this adventure he eventually realizes that his true enemies are his own negative feelings and the ineffective decisions he makes. He confronts and masters his own negative feelings through the challenges he must face on his journey. In one of the later chapters, The Valley of the Shadow, the boy must apply all that he has learned despite the many temptations presented to him. However, he has come to realize his potential for good decisions and eventually prevails. These chapters are so well written that the lessons to be learned emerge clearly. There should be no doubt that this engaging fable is masterfully told and provides a perfect medium for insightful discussion and positive change.

While this book could certainly be used for bibliotherapy with those children and young adolescents who posses some degree of insight into their own behavior, it can be most productively employed in group therapy settings. In fact, the good news is that this book is the first of three books planned in this series. Importantly, however, Phillips is in the process of completing a therapist’s manual. This soon to be published manual provides insight into how to tell stories in an effective manner, how to make the personal connection and how to elicit effective discussion. In the manual, chapter summaries are also included with suggestions as to questions that may stimulate discussion. Overall, the manual is an outstanding contribution and will aid the therapist greatly in making the most effective use of the story-telling technique.

Gem of the First Water is a wonderful story that Phillips acknowledges was significantly influenced by the writings of J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S.Lewis. In fact the fable is every bit as engaging as the stories written by these authors. Most importantly, though, the therapeutic approach of William Glasser is conveyed and this story-telling approach to therapy may be an excellent way to effect positive change in children and adolescents who feel cast adrift by their life circumstances. This book and the story-telling technique in therapy are highly recommended for psychologists and therapists who work with seriously troubled children and adolescents.

George W. Hynd


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