What It Takes To Pull Me Through by David L. Marcus

In lieu of the recent events of my job, I thought that I’d post something on a more positive note about kids and therapy. I’ve been reading an incredible book by David Marcus called What it Takes to Pull me Through: Why Teenagers Get in Trouble and How Four of Them Got Out. The book actually chronicles the story of a group of about 13 kids at a therapeutic boarding home called Swift River in Massachusetts, but it’s main focus is on four teens.

We follow the story of Mary Alice, a rich white girl struggling with an eating disorder, drug abuse and unprotected sex while putting on the perfect front; DJ, a young boy with ADD who is self destructive and has always had problems with the fact that he was adopted; Tyrone, a young black boy growing up in a poor neighborhood without a father figure who is disinterested in anything except for video games; and a young Spanish girl who is broken by the death of her mother and her dark past. This book is not fictional, it is real.

Swift river is a 14 month intensive therapy program where the kids are constantly examining themselves and their pasts. There are highs and lows as is expected. Not everyone makes it through the program. Some people slip up so bad that they’re thrown out because they’re too much of a risk to the other kids.

I can’t tell you how many times I teared up reading this book. It reminded me so much of the clients that I’ve worked with over the past year. It’s amazing what some of these kids have gone through and it’s amazing what they are capable of getting through when given the chance. Some kids just need that extra nudge and the program in this book was that extra nudge for these kids. Their lives after the 14 month treatment were far from perfect but they were miles better than they were when they first stepped foot on the Swift River campus.

Adolescents have a lot to struggle through these days. It’s not easy to be a teen in today’s world. There’s so much pressure put on them to be the perfect weight, to look a certain way, to talk and walk a certain way, to have a certain skin color, to come from a certain background, live in a certain neighborhood, wear certain clothes, listen to certain music, date certain people, follow a certain religion…this is just skimming the surface. Some things teens can control and some they can’t. But some teens will go to any lengths they can to try to control it.

That’s just one issue: trying to fit in….there are tens, hundreds of other issues that teens face that I could go on with: parenting, sexuality, identity, responsibility…It’s a rough time for sure. I think that this book would be a great read for any parents out there, whether you have a child going through rough times or not. It’s a raw and honest look at some of the real issues that teens face. It’s a rare window into the minds of teens and their reactions to life’s stressors. This book would also be perfect for teens going through some sort of crisis. It would be great to read the stories of others that they could relate to. And certainly, this is a great book for counselors. The counselors in this program were all amazing and had such a huge impact on these children.

Highly recommend this one to everyone.

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  1. Carl V. #

    Sounds like recommended reading for anyone working with kids!

    It takes special people to work with teenagers. I have worked with all ages during my career in mental health and by far the most difficult to deal with are the teens. I applaud people who have a heart to work with troubled youth.

  2. Chris #

    Carl, You see for me it’s the total opposite. I have a hard time working with adults…unless I’m talking with parents about their children. I do ok with adults but I’m much more comfortable with children. I wouldn’t say it takes special people to work with teenagers, I think that different people just mesh better with different populations. When I was at my last internship I had the opportunity to work with children/adolescents, adults with general mental health issues, adults with substance abuse issues, and people with eating disorders. 100 % preferred kids! I had my own rough times during my teenage years as well, so I’m sure that has quite a bit to do with it. I seemed to make it out ok and that’s what led me to want to become a counselor, so I guess it’s natural that I would want to go back to helping other kids make it out ok as well.

  3. Carl V. #

    That is why it is great that we all have different passions for working with different groups of people. I am glad that I tried working with all ages so that I had a chance to experience all that I did. Now that I am in administration I am where I enjoy being the most, as frustrating as the job is at times.

  4. Debi #


    I’m stopping by to let you know that I’ve set up a separate blog for the What’s in a Name? challenge. I hope you’ll be able to stop by once in while to see what contests are going on and to leave links to any reviews you write. Thanks again for joining!


  5. Debi #

    I was happy to find that our library does have this book, and I definitely plan to pick it up when Annie and I get there next week.

    You know, this is a good time to say a big “thank you!” to you for the work you do. I agree with Carl about it taking a special kind of person to work with teens and young people. And I have personal reasons for being grateful that there are people like you out there that are willing to do it. (Reasons that I don’t want to broadcast to the world at large, but maybe I’ll e-mail you about it someday.) Anyway, THANK YOU, Chris! And I hope that soon you’ll be back in a place that allows you to help these kids once again!

  6. Chris #

    Carl, I couldn’t agree more! I find that in mental health especially everyone has their one area that they really enjoy which really ends up working well for the people they serve. And just like you say it takes special people to work with kids, I say it takes special people to work in administration! I could never do that! I remember the Social Services Director at the hospital I worked at before and I did not envy his job! He had his own caseload and also had to deal with angry families, audits, other social workers/counselors, etc. God bless you :p

    Annie, Awesome that you set up the blog for the challenge! Can’t wait to get started :)

    Debi, So glad you’re getting the book :) It’s a great one. And thanks for all your kind words :) From my experience the majority of counselors who choose to work with this population had their own fair share of trials and tribulations during their teenage years. It’s a big asset to have that empathy when counseling teens but it’s rough at the same time. You really have to be careful not to put too much of yourself into your clients. I learned that lesson quickly! I hope I can find another job soon too doing what I enjoy. There’s not many out there, but I’ll find one hopefully!

  7. Carl V. #

    God bless me?…God HELP me is more appropriate, ha!

  8. jpderosnay #

    wow, this sounds like a very important book. i really hope teens get to read this.


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