When people finish their PhD in the Netherlands, they print it in book form and send it to colleagues, friends, and family. This practice has developed into a serious business and the books do a great job as ‘extended business cards’.
One of the toughest decisions in the publication process regards the cover (other people may argue the font, and a few may think that there are no tough decisions left after having finished a PhD manuscript ;-)). When I finished my projects on traumatic stress and recovery in children, I wanted to come up with a cover picture that both captured the topic and had personal meaning.
We sometimes tend to think that parents know what is important for children and that we will get the answer to a research question by applying standardized measures. To some extent that’s true. Parents understand much more of their children than we outsiders do and using standardized measures is an absolutely necessary part of research. But parents have their own bias. And we need to give our ‘study subjects’ the chance to point us to new perspectives.
To give research participants a strong message of respect, is to listen to their story. So in research design terms, not only do quantitative studies with standardized measures, but also conduct carefully developed in-depth interviews or ask for written feedback.
The unexpected finding in our interviews about dealing with traumatic events was that many of the participants – they were 8-12 years old – talked about the their cuddly animal. Cuddly animals made the children laugh, helped them to feel better, and were seen as an important support figure. Several mentioned cuddly animals when they gave tips for other children in similarly difficult situations: “They should have a cuddly bear”.
So the cuddly monkey is a reminder for me; we should never assume that we know how things work for people unless we have given them a voice to tell us their story. Also, for me it has this connotation of support. I wanted to focus on the recovery aspect of trauma, as that is what I want for these children.
I also wanted this cover of my PhD thesis to be something of personal significance. It pictures the present I got from my mum’s best friend just before I was born and that I cuddled a million times after (which can easily be seen :-)). It’s intriguing to hear how different people interpret this picture by the way; some see a sad monkey, others more the cuddly aspect. For me, it’s a symbol of support and warmth. In addition, this little monkey is photographed by my sister.
All in all, a very dear picture to me and I hope it will inspire to have a respectful, empowering, and supportive approach to children and adults who have been confronted with an event that turned their world upside down.