Untangled: A Go-To Guide for Caregivers of Traumatized Children, Families, and Communities

By Omar Reda. Chehalem Press, 2019. 122 pages. $14/paperback.

Physician Omar Reda’s handbook for the caregivers of children suffering from trauma offers a welcome focus on compassion and love. It is part of Project Untangled, Reda’s organization, whose mission is “breaking the cycles of trauma-related dysfunction through connection, support, education, empowerment, and the mastery of healthy coping skills.” Reda and Project Untangled are located in Portland, Ore.; the website, projectuntangled.org, is rich with description and information.

Reda’s book is divided into sections that offer an outline of what trauma is, how children react to it, and appropriate ways for adults—both parents and the family unit as a whole—to support the healing process. The major sections are each followed by a list of open-ended questions to help caregivers or small groups personalize and further explore the issues raised in the book.

In a modern society that scholar Henry Giroux characterizes as a “culture of cruelty,” in which “get over it” has become a meme and “boo-hoo” emoticons are used to jeer at those who care about the fate of immigrant children, it is heartening to read Reda’s words that “love is the very definition of healing,” and that “love heals, as does kindness and respect.” These are truths that, as much as we may know them, warrant repetition as an antidote to what can seem a ceaseless barrage of harshness.

Some of the concepts Reda describes may feel basic to readers, such as a list of bullet points that describe children as, among other things, “beautiful as they are” and “young human beings.” These frequent bulleted lists summarizing points add to the book’s concision, and are a handy reference, but they often leave the reader longing for a deeper, more nuanced, and more complex examination of the important subject at hand.

The book’s list of traumatic events focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on the violent and the physical: geographic and cultural displacement, witnessing a violent event such as a mass shooting outside the home, living in a war zone, enduring domestic violence, and being the target of inappropriate sexual contact. It would be wonderful to see the list expand to more fully include spiritual traumas, such as the damage that can be done by religious groups or spiritual leaders, or by those perpetrating the destruction of the planet. The question sections, however, are open-ended enough to allow conversation to move in those directions.

Reda trained as a physician in Libya before receiving his master’s from Harvard in refugee and global mental health; he has suffered firsthand the effects of geographic displacement, which adds to his sensitivity on the trauma topic. One hopes a future book might more fully flesh out the lived experience and needs of trauma survivors, and how they feel they have been effectively helped. Nevertheless, this book’s emphasis on love is an apt starting point for trauma response.

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