Book Review: Boy in the Cupboard by Shane Dunphy

I just finished another amazing Shane Dunphy book. I recommend all of these books to psychology or social work students or professionals. But especially students or those thinking about going into the field as it candidly addresses the ethical/ professional as well as emotional/ personal issues of being a social worker or working in the mental health field.

In this book Shane is working on a couple of very tough cases. The first is with a boy named Letovi. He’s part of a Romanian family. Shane is called in because the boy is hoarding food and is very isolated from the other children at his preschool. Shane makes a quick and insensitive assessment of the mother as just being too lazy to give her kid lunch/ breakfast ETC. After talking to someone more versed in Romanian culture and the possible struggles of the family entering this country fleeing persecution and possible gang violence, Shane is much more able to connect with the family and want to help. He starts by getting the family a new couch as the one they have is literally falling apart and it’s the only bed in the house. He connects with Letovi through learning some basic Romanian and in this way builds a bridge of communication and establishes himself as an ally.

Things become very complicated however when Letovi comes to the preschool extremely physically injured beaten and with a broken arm. Of course Shane suspects the husband but is convinced by his wife and others who know the culture of gang violence that this was a gang related incident. That The father is involved in gang activity which is it’s whole other underworld and culture. Shane perhaps foolishly jumps into this world aided by an odd ex-criminal turned child protection worker, and discovers a world filled with danger but also where deep alliances are formed. Even when the violence affects him personally he fights for this desperate and fragile family.

His second case envolves Edgar. He’s living at a residential home. His mother is continuously neglecting him and he’s been in and out of care. Edgar is extremely hard to handle as he’ll do anything possible to push people away. From making nasty comments to destroying their personal property. Shane is determined to connect with Edgar. This case also touches him as his colleague Melanie has not been able to make much of an impact and feels she has failed. Shane is met with Edgar’s manipulative and unemotional nature. Looking at the case from an attachment perspective it’s possible Edgar has an attachment disorder. The signs of unemotionality, lack of remorse, manipulation destroying property ETC are all very much present. Shane though very annoyed at Edgar’s antics continues to try and connect with the boy.

They find a surprising opening in Edgar’s love of history. They come upone the story of a saint of a local church. This saint Oliver was beheaded for whatever crimes he committed. Edgar somehow identifies with him and says he must be sad and lonely. In this way he’s able to let shane a little into his world.

The story of Edgar sadly doesn’t have a happy ending as Shane feels that even though he tried his best Edgar isn’t capable of forming relationships.

A subplot envolves his colleague Melanie and her spiral into alcoholism and depression. Shane pulls her out just in time and is able to witness her pain of child abuse she herself had dealt with. It shows how as someone in the mental health field you have to watch out for your own demons coming up and often you need an outside perspective a friend who knows the emotional hazards of the job to help you keep from burning completely out.

These stories explore cultural issues, attachment disorder, and the personal toll this job can take on someone silently struggling with their own issues. Again I feel there are important lessons in the details of each story for those studying at any level. I feel this way about all of Shane’s books and feel they should be required reading in entry level classes.

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