Book Review: The Wreck Redeemed

The Wreck Redeemed: Stories of Suffering and Hope
Richard Elms , Richard Elms, 2017

Richard Elms is a Mental Health Social Worker who has worked in a variety of settings as a therapist, trainer and consultant. He is deeply embedded in the Australian context, working in New South Wales. He also provides supervision to others who work in the field and draws on a rich and varied range of clinical examples to answer the questions relating to suffering and hope in the modern context.

Elms presents a picture of the work of narrative therapy and gives insights into the use of this approach in working with those who are broken as the result of abuse. He cites the work of the father of narrative therapy, Michael White and gives a detailed explanation of how the use of ‘storying’ can bring hope to victims of abuse and to those who have experienced a troubled pathway in life. Elms identifies as a Christian with his motivation and understanding of his work deeply influenced by his faith and God’s word, the Bible. In a series of case studies and explanatory chapters, he links the work of narrative therapy and the practice of telling our stories to the Bible. The story of the Bible is linked to many of the stories in the book and he makes useful references to God’s story and his work of redemption in his Son. The case studies are not for the faint hearted as they depict many of the situations that present in a clinical setting and are sad and heartbreaking. They are many of the struggles that ordinary Australians live with and have experienced. There are also clear links to a Christian response to such suffering.

In Elm’s use of narrative therapy he gives the reader an introduction to the stages of work with individuals, couples and families. As people tell their story he examines the story with them, sharing his reflections, seeking to understand, repositioning the story and the person’s view of their part in the story, developing a new story and in the process building hope. He seeks to work with those who have experienced trauma to develop a fuller picture of their story that incorporates their experiences of suffering but is not limited to them. He uses concepts such as creating a map for life, the social and cultural context of stories, deconstruction of the story, creating alternative stories, multiple listening and the place of community in providing support to those who have suffered. Each of these concepts is introduced and explained with reference to a case study and the detail of an individual’s struggle to overcome the suffering they have experienced. God’s story in the Bible is threaded through The Wreck Redeemed. Elms provides helpful explanations and linkages from the stories in the Bible, the work of the apostle Paul and the Holy Spirit, and ultimately the work of Jesus Christ.

Many of the case studies outline the struggles that those who have been abused and suffered trauma have had in their understanding of God. Elms provides a number of excellent accounts of conversations with those he is working with as they have struggled to understand their experience in the context of a loving God. The first case study with an indigenous child sets out his preparedness to work through all her questions and seeks to help her understand her cultural context and her current circumstances. He demonstrates how to be responsive to her particular situation and is not afraid to enter into the realm of what are often difficult questions relating to spirituality and how abuse can affect our understanding of God. Elms works at her pace seeking to find links that are relevant to her life experience to help her build a story of hope. In this case study and many others in the book, a child or young person presents with very difficult behaviour. Elms’ use of narrative therapy provides an understanding of how our emotions, behaviours and overall mental health are affected by our history and need to be understood in this context. Many of the situations presented will be experienced in the life of a parish. Elms shows the need for expertise in managing these situations on a clinical level, however also provides excellent insights and models a way of approaching each individual that is helpful for anyone involved in parish life or any other kind of ministry. Many will find this book helpful.

The Wreck Redeemed is packed with insights from a career spent responding to those who have suffered. It gives some very specific instruction as to how people function and how those who have suffered can find a pathway through to hope. It is also very clear about the kind of work that those who have harmed others need to do in order to repair their relationships. He offers insights into what is happening in a person and in a society that results in the vulnerable suffering. He also provides a biblical understanding as to the origins of such behaviour and the distortions that have led to oppression and suffering. At a time when the church has a reputation to rebuild, many of Elms’ insights provide a pathway to restoration of relationship and hope. I would have found this book very helpful when starting out on my career as a Social Worker and would recommend it as a helpful addition to any reading list.

Pauline Dixon, WA.