Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A challenge

Here’s an unpleasant consideration for therapists who work with older teenagers: What do you do when their home life is toxic and their parents uneducable?  Don’t tell me it is rare that parents can’t be changed to understanding, respect and humility regarding their children.  It is rarer that they can.  You are there to help the child.  But what do you think “help” means?

We all know how things can turn south when we protect our client by calling Children Services.  The undermined parent may yank him or her from our sight.  But what about all those times that are just too subtle for Children Services, where the teen is oppressed by absurd restrictions, standards of behavior or production that are the parent’s revenge needs or his projections of himself, father’s tyrant rages, mother’s self-centeredness, both parents’ neglect or immaturity?

An older minor (fifteen, sixteen, seventeen) is typically insecurely attached to his present and looking askance at his future, and is simultaneously averse – anathema-level averse – to leaning back into the arms of parents who have been painful.  This is not the situation where you can effect family reconciliation at anything deeper than some brittle détente.  It could be intolerable: Even if parents were to become angels, it is too late for their son or daughter to regressively melt and shrink into their newfound care.

So what do you do?  What do you do after the gifts of empathy and support, and possibly some low-level catharsis that isn’t so white hot to rend the child’s psyche or family bonds?  Can you encourage the young man’s autonomy need, when it’s that potential which has been crippled in such a home?  (Encourage him to run, when his walk is unsteady?)  Do you believe, as your psychological philosophy, that parents-right-or-wrong is the ultimate definer of harmony?

There is a therapist I know who works with troubled adolescent girls – the kind of youngsters I’m talking about – by doing collages.  I’m sure everyone is happy with the results.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.