“Riverview Hospital for Children and Youth: A Culture of Promise”
Richard J. Wiseman
Wesleyan University Press
Middletown, Conn., 2015
Book highlights Riverview Hospital history
Reviewed by James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA-D
In 1962, with a fresh Ph.D. in hand, psychologist Richard J. Wiseman began employment at the Connecticut Valley Hospital. Years later, he was hired as coordinator of its Children’s Unit and ten years hence, the unit became Riverview Hospital.
This book is Wiseman’s account of his travails through a state-run mental health system and the evolution of child-care services under his direction.
When Wiseman started his professional career, children in Connecticut with serious mental health problems and some with developmental disabilities were served in adult psychiatric hospitals. The beginning chapters of the book relate the tedious steps that had to be taken in establishing exclusive children’s services as well as moving towards a residential treatment model.
Political battles, it seems, outweighed the therapeutic intentions at this nascent stage.
Wiseman catalogs his experiences by describing numerous encounters with administrators, hospital staff, university students, volunteers, and patients themselves. Most of this narrative is presented chronologically in the context of seminal and high-impact events.
These situations included everything from architectural renovations, dubious managerial decisions, financial constraints and changes to state governance that deeply impacted the work to be done.
The author retired 20 years after initiating the Children’s Unit. Commenting on his departure he writes: “I was at the top of my personal hill, and so I began some quiet introspection and found that my input in supervision was less than it used to be, I was dealing with the same personnel issues that I had dealt with a 100 times and I just didn’t have the level of enthusiasm that had kept me going for 20 years.” Indeed, the book is a testament to Wiseman’s tireless efforts on behalf of children and families.
“Riverview Hospital for Children and Youth” gives readers a first-hand telling of how one professional joined forces with like-minded colleagues in changing an often strident and resistant mental health system.
Through his unique historical perspective and interview quotes with many principal players, Wiseman is able to articulate the social-political forces that had to be overcome, ultimately advancing knowledge and respectable practices to the present day.
The other historical backdrop found in the book makes meaningful the development of treatment philosophy over the span of four decades. We see, for example, how Wiseman and his teams grappled with early iterations of milieu therapy, “behavior modification,” token economies, and therapeutic education.
Some of these seminal influences are illustrated in the book with reproductions of program manuals and staff handbooks.
There are chapters that bog down a bit with perhaps more details than are necessary and the names and testimonies of too many participants. However, there is much to recommend about the book, its message, and what was learned through trial-and-error, dedication, and forward thinking.
I suspect that mental health students, educators, and psychology practitioners will enjoy reading about Wiseman’s journey.
James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA-D, is Chief Clinical Officer, Clinical Solutions, Inc. and North East Educational and Developmental Support Center, Tewksbury, Mass..