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Review of "Please Don't Label My Child"

By Scott M. Shannon
Rodale, 2007
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H., on May 5th 2009
Please Don't Label My Child

Please Don't Label My Child harshly decries a perceived rampant "labeling" of children with various psychiatric diagnoses.  The author, Scott M. Shannon, is a pediatric psychiatrist in private practice (in Colorado).  The mantra of Shannon is that the real causes of a child's emotional and mental distress should be identified and treated, rather than simply prescribing drugs for the treatment of observed symptoms.  But according to Shannon, emotionally suffering children all too often are tagged by doctors with psychiatric diagnostic "labels", and then drugged for symptom relief.  An important, adverse consequence of this doctor-diagnosis-drug cycle, in the view of Shannon, is that the true, underlying causes of a child's emotional and mental disturbance may remain unidentified and untreated.  The cardinal aspiration of Shannon, in this very lay reader friendly styled book, is to empower parents to sever the fetters of the doctor-diagnosis-drug cycle shackling the emotional and mental health of their children.

Without any interest in being churlish, some notable properties of this book warrant critical mention.  Particularly, Shannon does not provide citations to his textual research sources.  The omission of citations to research studies, which may underpin Shannon's views with supporting scientific data, importantly diminishes the book's value from an academic perspective.  From that perspective, the book may be evaluated critically as being relatively long on views, albeit short on science.

In a related critical vein, the level of scientific sophistication of the textual contents may fall considerably short of the elevated scientific height which may be sought by academics.  In substance, as in style, the book as written most closely fits lay readers.

In his very determined efforts to break the doctor-diagnosis-drug cycle, Shannon is dependent partly on anecdotal data.  These data, pertaining to patients of Shannon, are often woven artfully into the text in a manner interestingly germane to a particular chapter's substantive focus.  The fleshing out of recounted anecdotal details with informative commentary is an important means used by Shannon throughout the book to strengthen its instructive value.  But critical readers may caution that anecdotal data are a weak surrogate for scientific data, and that the injecting of these data into the textual corpus acts to dilute the academic potency of the text.

The specific views of Shannon with respect to the emotional and mental health of children flow powerfully and copiously throughout the text.  And the book abounds, as well, with multitudinous practical suggestions to parents concerning the betterment of the emotional and mental health of their children.  But to the extent that the views and suggestions of Shannon are shaped by his specific private practice experiences, cautious readers may admonish that in significant ways the sub cohort of children who are patients of Shannon may be unrepresentative of the full cohort of children.

It is the trenchantly held belief of Shannon that multifarious "brain stressors" may impinge adversely on the emotional and mental well being of children.  As conceptualized by Shannon, these stressors collectively have a sixfold nature:  relational, nutritional, environmental, familial, educational, and traumatic.  Each of the six component parts garners the insightful, informative and chapter long attention of Shannon.

In Chapter 3, Shannon strives assiduously to disentangle the knottily tied strands binding a child, the child's relationship with the primary caregiver, and the effects of that relationship on the child's brain development.  Topics broached pithily, in this context, envelop the concepts of  "attunement" and "attachment".

The stressor category of nutrition comes under the microscope of Shannon's illumining scrutiny in Chapter 4.  The focus, sharply, is on proper nutrition for a child's emotional and mental health.

The brain stressor raptly engaging the expert attention of Shannon, in Chapter 5, is the environment (of the home).  The crux of the chapter is collecting some understanding of the possible effects of the home environment on a child's emotional and mental health.

In intellectually enlightening fashion, Shannon, in Chapter 6, shines a spotlight of scrutiny on the question of how family relationships may affect a child's brain development.  In this regard, a web of interconnected topics are examined briefly, encompassing; stress, divorce, and resilience.

The brain stressor of education consumes the energy of Shannon, in Chapter 7.  The overarching focus of the chapter is on the possible effects of school on a child's social and mental development.

The remaining brain stressor category of trauma is the cynosure of Chapter 8.  In this chapter, Shannon discourses engagingly on possible effects of trauma on a child's brain.

In concluding Chapter 9, Shannon expounds on the subject of parenting children for emotional and mental health.  Towards this end, Shannon offers abundant advice intended to guide parents regarding helping their children develop:  a strong sense of self identity; the ability to self regulate; and, also, resilience.

The numerous appendices joined to the text's far end are a distinctive feature of the book's structural anatomy.  The various appendices envelop glossaries, questionnaires as well as other materials helpful potentially to parents.

A steely strength of this book is that, as the discerning reader carefully traverses its length and breadth, a great many unresolved issues associated with the sundry brain stressors discussed by Shannon can be identified, which are quite worthy of scientific investigation.

The impassioned efforts of Shannon should be of vast interest to all parents.  The views advanced forthrightly by Shannon  should, as well, arouse the intellectual appetites of widely ranging professional groups, extending to:  pediatricians, child psychiatrists, psychologists, pediatric neurologists, behavioral therapists, practitioners of holistic medicine, herbal medicine specialists, pharmacists, pharmacologists, pharmaceutical industry professionals, neuroscientists, neurobiologists, neurophysiologists, nutritionists, child advocates, social workers, and family medicine doctors.

© 2009 Leo Uzych

Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University. His area of special professional interest is healthcare.