Book Review: Winning Without Fighting:

3A Teacher’s Handbook of Effective Solutions for Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties in Students
by Matteo Papantuono, Claudette Portelli, and Padraic Gibson
Published by Malta University Publishing 2014
ISBN 978 99909 44 66 2

Reviewed by Ray Leonard MIAHIP

Carl Rogers, in conversation with some students, once took from his personal wallet a tattered piece of paper, upon which was a quote from Lao Tzu reflecting on how a leader’s excellence is when he is barely known to exist and when his work is done his charges will say ‘We did it ourselves!’ Such is the spirit of the model presented in this book, the result of decades of collaborative action research into the dynamics of change. Its great strength is the clarity it brings to the relationship between therapeutic work and external groups, such as families, schools and organisations. Furthermore, the attraction of such a model is that it allows for creative integration into an already humanistic model through the therapeutic relationship which is at once both empathic and self-correcting according to the client’s frame of reference.

The focus of the book is on the difficulties teachers meet with in their interactions with students. However, much of the material is drawn from therapeutic interventions and is intimately relevant to the therapeutic process. The authors present their theory and its background, profile specific common problems and develop a challenging section on non-ordinary interventions using case examples that outline the process. While the English translation of their material suffers from regular grammatical errors, it nonetheless points to the cross-cultural and collaborative nature of the model presented.

One of the cases which caught my imagination in this book is that of a student whose teachers named him ‘Miguel the Terrible’. The author describes Miguel’s behaviour as provocative-oppositional, disturbing the class, breaking the rules and inflicting self-injury. The author then looks at the underlying dominant sensation and perception:

Even though this might sound strange, I noticed that all his provocative- oppositive behaviour provided Miguel with secondary advantages…I came to understand that his dominant sensation was pleasure.

(Papantuono et al., 2014: 230)

The author gives a substantial list of attempted solutions, applied by a host of different responsible adults, many of which failed and some of which increased the pleasurable secondary gains for Miguel. The non-ordinary intervention applied here reminds me of detailed process work: taking an expression and accentuating it. So the teaching staff were encouraged to encourage the student to act out his problematic behaviour while students and teachers alike would stop to give him the attention he sought. Miguel was also given a positive responsibility which strengthened his self-esteem. The results were a healing of the problematic symptoms, a more confident and competent team of professionals, and a student who was better positioned to succeed with efficacy in his personal growth.

I recommend this publication as it begins a conversation that deeply respects individual persons trapped by interactional problems, and offers a resolution process so efficacious that the person experiences that ‘they did it themselves’.