Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently asked questions about the “I Only Said” series of therapeutic novels for adolescents answered by Dr. Celia Banting
What is the purpose of this series?
The “I Only Said” series were written in response to the results of my PhD research thesis - to understand adolescent suicide attempts. I sought to understand this phenomena in order to develop a risk assessment tool that would identify those at risk of suicide who were not highlighted using current screening methods.
Many of the indicators were related to powerful negative injunctions assimilated during early childhood. I discovered that teenagers with family members who had committed suicide were 13 times more likely to attempt suicide; those with a Don’t Exist injunction, 4.2 times more likely; those with a Don’t Belong injunction, 2.2 times more likely; those with a Don’t Think injunction, 3 times more likely; those with low self worth, 4 times more likely; those with negative thinking patterns, 1.5 times more likely; those with an external locus of control, 2 times more likely; those with a negative relationship with a stepfather, 2.5 times more likely; those from single parent families, 1.7 times more likely; those who are impulse, 1.3 times more likely; those who wished they’d never been born, 3 times more likely; and those with low self-esteem, 1.7 times more likely to attempt suicide. These results appalled me and I felt compelled to do something to help young people who may be subject to these psychological and social factors.
I have an extensive career in working with young people and adults with problems, and I knew that if I wrote a text book or a self-help book, a person’s current frame of reference would censor everything I wrote. It’s what we humans do to be “comfortable” with the way we see our lives. I had to do something different in order to reach these people who hurt so much.
I learned, as an English probation officer, that people do not take kindly to being told what to do and they subconsciously resist, even if you can manage to engage them in some kind of program. So I had to find another way to reach those who were either suffering or on a path towards self-destruction, directly or indirectly.
Writing novels in the first person seemed to me to be the way forward. To write as the protagonist seemed a good way to help the reader identify with the main character, and once that union was made, the reader would then be taken through a course of therapy vicariously.
Thus, the purpose of this series is to reach as many people as possible who are hurting yet who are resistant to help.
Are these books suitable for middle school age children?
In my experience with children who have been hurt, their pain starts long before the age of 12 years. Those young people will welcome the scenarios depicted in each book. Children who are lucky enough to have a loving, supportive family will also benefit from the novels, for every child has to face bullying at school, in-groups and out-groups and the lure of pleasing others, which means casual sex, drinking alcohol and fitting in with their peers. Being a teenager is like scaling a path through a jungle. Our kids have pressures that leave our generation’s pressures obsolete.
Each novel addresses delicate issues and from my experience, those aged 12 years (and under) already know about first-hand. I have been mindful of the ethics in depicting these issues and have not seek to sensationalize them, but they exist.
I would suggest that there is something for every child in these books, if only the fairytales that teachers, counselors and parents can use to help them address the issues they will face as they enter puberty. So as a professional I would suggest that if you are uncertain as to whether they are suitable or not, you read the fairytales that are in italics in each book, and use them to generate discussions and lead process groups in your classes. Then target those children aged twelve and above that you know are dealing with the issues addressed in each book. I suggest that you offer the books as part of your counseling process so that you can guide them and use the therapeutic interventions as part of your work with each child.
Book nine, I Only Said I Wanted To Kill Myself; I Didn’t Really mean it, is especially suitable for children under twelve, but not before nine years old. This book has three great fairytales about behavior modification, with lots of imagery that would warrant picture and art work to express the child’s feelings. This book is written to reach all ages and so it has two chapters to elicit interest from teenagers, chapters one and twelve, but the main body of the book is Kenny’s story, which all children will be able to identify with and enjoy (my grandchildren love to hear about Kenny and his naughty antics). I included the first and last chapters, however, to bring it to an adolescent audience.
As a professional, teaching, helping and rearing children under the age of twelve years, I would use the fairytales in each book to generate discussion and group work in order to address the issues in each novel, rather than just hand the book to the child and allow them to draw their own conclusions. But in your professional opinion, if you find a child who is going through issues way beyond their years, please give them the books and allow them to find comfort and safety.
Given that there is a correlation between adolescents with behavioral problems and low academic achievement, would poor readers be able to benefit from these books?
This has been a big issue throughout the writing and production of the “I Only Said” series of books. Being dyslexic, I know what it feels like to fail at school; to feel stupid when writing assignments, yet answer all the mental arithmetic questions at once with no problem. I understand the confusion that can occur during the learning process. I failed miserably at school, but I discovered later in university that I’m dyslexic, and that’s when it all made sense. I have allowed my own cognitive processing problems to guide me when choosing the font for the books. I need an open, clear and big font to allow me to see each word. Only then can I put the words together to make a sentence. It has, therefore, been of the utmost importance to find the right font for the books so that they will be suitable for every reading ability. I am confident that the font my typesetter, Michelle VanGeest, and I have chosen will be suitable for those with learning difficulties. If I can see it and process it, I believe others with less profound disabilities can read my work. The manuscripts have been proof read by hundreds of kids that I’ve worked with and they love them.
It’s been a difficult process to write the books because I am blessed with a natural flair to be flamboyant and use descriptive words, yet I’ve had to curtail this writing style to engage all teenagers who perhaps wouldn’t understand complicated metaphors and analogies. That doesn’t mean that I’ll do the same for books written for adults though!!
What theoretic paradigms inform your therapeutic interventions?
I have an extensive academic history and a long, protracted personal journey history too. My first tuition into human dynamics was during my nursing degree, where I was first introduced to the world of psycho dynamics and the concept of a personal journey. My first lesson introduced me to Dr. Eric Berne’s Life Positions related to being OK or not OK, and basic counseling skills.
When I next encountered Dr. Berne’s theories they made so much sense, and appealed to my concrete, dyslexic brain. When I entered the University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom, and began to study psychology at honors level, I studied Transactional Analysis at Wealdon College, Crowborough, alongside my academic degree, which I believe enhanced the whole learning process. Throughout my academic program I learned about differing psychological paradigms, and saw all that Dr. Eric Berne had proclaimed decades before. His only mistake as far as I, and many of my colleagues believe, is that he fell foul to colloquialisms, and the easy speak, slang, of the day. He wanted to reach the masses, and it was his downfall, yet his work has been the most profound that I have met in my academic and personal career. Every therapeutic and psychological theory I’ve studied since, can be found in Dr. Eric Berne’s original theories.
That said, I can not subscribe to his theories exclusively, and I have embraced other psychological paradigms and take an eclectic approach towards therapy. I don’t believe that any one theory has all the answers. I use cognitive and cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodrama, Gestalt therapy, rational emotive behavior therapy, neuro-linguistic programing, person-centered and existential approaches.
I feel that I have had a truly comprehensive academic and clinical training and so I feel confident in proposing the therapies in my books as being theory based and clinically proven. I am constantly watchful for what works and what doesn’t. The therapeutic interventions in my books work. I have numerous letters from teenagers telling me so.
So my therapeutic interventions stem from an eclectic approach, taking what works from a myriad of psychological and therapy paradigms, and I’m aware also that the therapeutic approach is less import than the relationship between client and therapist, and that’s where sweet, strong, funny “Miss Tina” comes into the picture.
What is different about this series that makes it stand out from other counseling materials currently available?
Every clinician seeks the work of others to help them in their profession. The task to help people overcome their problems is so great that there can never be enough new materials to draw upon. The “I Only Said” series of therapeutic novels is an innovative way to “hook” resistive teenagers into therapy. Every clinician is used to resistive clients, those who sabotage the work eager therapists offer. Working vicariously through the main character in each novel is an ingenious way to hook the reader into the therapeutic process. They identify with the main character and before they realize it, they begin to engage with the therapists at “Beach Haven” who take them hand in hand through the painful process of reclaiming their lives.
This approach bypasses the resistance I’ve found in my own career as a nurse, a social worker and a probation officer. In my experience I’ve found that people resist advise, and resist even more strongly being told what to do. There can be no therapeutic process this way. This is why so many “programs” fail. Clients have to make their own decisions. They have to work through the process. Yet how can that be if they don’t engage? My series of therapeutic novels offers just that. The readers engages unknowingly as they identify with the main character, and then they work through the treatment issues that they would have if they’d engaged with a counselor in a doctor’s office or a treatment facility.
A primary concern for counselors and therapists is safety. How safe are these novels where an adolescent, who may be in a compromised emotional state, embarks upon the therapeutic process alone?
This is a very interesting question and one that all clinicians will be aware of. My answer to this is, that, yes, safety is of the utmost concern, but the reality is that the people who slip through the net and commit suicide have no safety. The majority of the young people in my PhD research hid their pain. They never told anyone how they felt, and so when they were assessed for suicidal intention, they weren’t identified as being at risk and later killed themselves in their prison cells.
The whole point of the “I Only Said” series of therapeutic novels is to provide a safe place for the reader to latch onto - a safe literary haven. How many people use books to escape into from everyday troubles? The “I Only Said” books offer a safe-haven where the nurturing from Miss Tina, Miss Cassie and Ken provides a mental image in teenagers’ minds, somewhere very different to the situations they may face everyday. The readers quickly become attached to these three main adult characters, which is intentional, and they learn what it feels like to have people who care about them, even if in their own home lives they don’t.
As teenagers identify with the main character, the therapy they learn vicariously changes their external locus of control to an internal locus of control. With an internal locus of control they are empowered, their self-esteem is raised and they’ll be able to make good choices, even if they don’t have any support at home, and have had a painful start in life.
The novels advocate understanding, not blame, unless a child has suffered abuse. No child should feel responsible for abuse. The novels seek to heal the family, not just the child, and therefore they are suitable for everyone aged 12 years and older, adults too. So many adults live with unresolved issues. I pray that these books will help them too, for then they’ll be better parents and we’ll have broken the cycle.
How awesome would that be!!