Published February 22, 2022
Graduate School of Education alumna Brittany Patterson, PhD ’15, wrote and self-published “The FIGHT,” a new book to help young people resolve and defuse conflict. Patterson, now an assistant professor at Baltimore’s University of Maryland School of Medicine and a faculty member at the National Center for School Mental Health, centered the story on a teen navigating a difficult situation and young people growing up with disadvantages and limited resources.
The book’s clear lessons in thoughtful decision-making easily apply to people from all backgrounds, she said. “It is a message that is generalizable. No one is removed from the need to use those skills” said Patterson.
In the book, Patterson reinterprets the word “FIGHT” as an acronym. Each letter represents strategy categories for navigating conflict: Feelings, Identity, Goals, Healthy coping, Thoughts. “Which FIGHT skills do you already use … ? Which FIGHT skills do you need to practice?” reads a prompt.
The illustrated story follows a teenage girl whose feelings are hurt when she is insulted in front of peers: “You start to feel embarrassed about the blatant disrespect, growing confused and upset—even fuming as you reflect,” reads the opening. Eventually, the unnamed heroine stands before two doors. One, labeled “Powerless,” illustrates the choice of jumping in and fighting. The other, “Powerful,” is for choosing healthier reactions to conflict, like letting emotions pass.
Patterson hopes the book will lead to discussions about the challenging situations everyone encounters. “The hope is that any person can pick up this book … and begin having conversations, normalizing conversations, around the fight we all approach in life and acknowledging that life is about fighting, but how you fight is the focus,” said Patterson. “You’re going to have to overcome many, many things in your life, but how you do it develops you into who you will be.”
She credits her studies in GSE's counseling psychology and school psychology doctoral program and her mentor—former University at Buffalo professor Gregory Fabiano—for helping to develop her career interests in working with young people impacted by trauma and racism. Her required program practicum hours were partially spent assisting Head Start preschool teachers with student behavior management skills. It was a formative experience during her UB graduate work. “It kind of established the roots for where I am now and what I do now,” she said. “From a very early stage, I was just in my niche.”
After GSE, an internship led her to Maryland: She worked in the mental health counseling office at Franklin Square Elementary/Middle School and then continued as a postdoctoral researcher. Both experiences were part of a program with the National Center for School Mental Health, based at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
She became a professor there in 2016 and wrote “The FIGHT” after she witnessed a misunderstanding at Franklin Square that nearly led to fisticuffs. As a therapist, she understood that fighting can be a reflexive reaction to trauma and feeling unsafe. School problems are compounded when challenging behavior patterns are reinforced by punitive reactions. She wanted the book to give students ideas for alternatives to conflict and help adults guide them.
Since “The FIGHT” was first published in 2021, the requests asking her to lead story discussions, and the reviews, have been heartening—including one writeup on Amazon from Fabiano, a clinical psychologist and now a psychology professor at Florida International University in University Park, Fla.
“There are many manuals and interventions that have been developed to help youth build skills and manage feelings, thoughts, and emotions, but there has not yet been a resource that is written with the youth in mind like ‘The FIGHT,’” he wrote.
Now she is working on a companion guide called “FIT,” for “Fighter In Training,” with activities like a vision board for imagining future obstacles and planning responses. “The idea is to go beyond discussion,” said Patterson. “The practice piece is just so critical in changing behavior.”
She’d like to help more educators and adults teach about healthy approaches to conflict. “We need a workforce, not just therapists,” said Patterson. “We need teachers. We need administration. We need a mentorship program. We need faith communities. We need coaches. We need ‘the village’ to consistently talk with our young people about all the ways we can fight.”