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Woods, J. (1983). John Embling: Tom. Published by Penguin Books, 1983. Paperback, £1.75. J. Child Psychother., 9(2):198-200.

(1983). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 9(2):198-200

John Embling: Tom. Published by Penguin Books, 1983. Paperback, £1.75

Review by:
John Woods

To read Tom, “a child's life regained”, is an experience rather like the work with the emotionally disturbed and delinquent young adolescent boys described therein. It is exhausting, infuriating and all too often, defeating. The subtitle of this book suggests encouragement to those engaged in such work; however, the state of our current knowledge and treatment technqiue with this particular kind of child is refectled, sad to say, in the ambiguity and incompleteness of this particular account. It is a journal of three years’ work by a young teacher in one of Melbourne's outer suburban technical schools. He comes to devote much of his time, both in and out of school, to helping a thirteen year old boy whom he found illiterate, truanting, hard to reach, and drawn to self destructive delinquency. He identifies with the boy's victimization and joins with him against authorities — police, teachers etc. — who are seen as hateful, neglecting parental figures. His aim is to liberate the boy's own capacities for emotional growth and independent maturity. The book concludes with Tom “coming through” in the therapeutic work, but also with the author being sacked by the education authority who can no longer accept his methods.

From the first pages the account is dominated by a tone of moral indignation and condemnation for the school regime that is suspicious and hostile of the work in the struggling remedial department. Responsibility for Tom's state of deterioration and his unpromising future is laid at the doors of a punitive education system, a vindictive judiciary, and an uncaring community.

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