In A Bright Red Scream, Marilee Strong explodes the myths and stereotypes that have led many therapists to misdiagnose and mistreat cutters as failed suicides or masochists. Through interviews with dozens of psychiatrists, doctors, researchers, clinicians, and cutters, Strong explains how cutting can become a powerful coping mechanism for dealing with overwhelming emotional pain and gaining control over an out-of-control mind and body. She presents startling new biological research - including evidence of profound changes in brain chemistry and structure as a result of exposure to childhood trauma - that may explain why cutting is even more difficult to give up than alcohol or drug addictions or eating disorders. Finally, Strong includes information on what people with the affliction and those close to them can do to start the process of healing.
Strong's research into "cutters" combines journalistic passion with academic integrity. Through dozens of interviews conducted for a 1993 San Francisco Focus article, she explores the reasons that lead over two million Americans to injure themselves regularly and deliberately with such items as knives, razor blades and broken glass. Although most cutters are young women who have been emotionally, sexually, or physically abused as children, Strong's research shows that this specific type of self-harm also appears in other groups. Most interviewees here claim to use cutting to distance themselves from pain and rage, or to "feel something" after years of abuse have left them emotionally numb. The powerful first-person stories, in which the cutters describe their ritualistic methods and somewhat addictive cravings for seeing their own blood, highlight the problem and ultimately lead to understanding and sympathy for those who suffer from the disorder. (A foreword from University of Missouri-Columbia psychiatrist Armondo Favazza, author of Bodies Under Siege, discusses past difficulties in bringing the disorder to the public's attention.) In addition to presenting a psychological focus, Strong also investigates possible neurological and chemical changes that both abuse and cutting can cause. A brief foray into comparison with the American tattooing trend and scarification in other cultures proves to be the book's only weak point, drawing on hypotheses rather than concrete fact. The author recovers quickly, however, when she explores the comprehensive programs and treatments available to cutters. Riveting and dynamically written, this book is an important addition to psychological literature. Agent, Sandra Dijkstra. Author tour. (Oct.)