Thursday, July 14, 2011

Here We Go Again

We had a visit last night at the treatment house, and a chance to meet T's therapist. The visit started out with a little "talk" that began "T is having some problems..." We heard about a food fight in the dining room, some talking out of turn in class, and some belligerence toward another kids. Then she said what we've heard so often from school administrators - she told him that he's on the verge of getting kicked out.

After that, she asked us to fill in some gaps in his history. Thanks to his social worker, who had to manage his intake at the treatment house for legal reasons, they have no history on him. All they know is that we've been trying to adopt him. So she asked me about his early childhood. As T and I walked her through it, she struggled to absorb the story. She kept asking about his birth mom. Finally, T said to her "I went into foster care at birth." She looked shocked. She asked if he was born drug addicted, and seemed surprised when we said yes. She asked the usual questions about childhood abuse, and the answer to every question was yes. I offered to draw her a timeline. I showed her how many placements he had, and the abuse that happened at various points along the timeline. I asked T's permission to speak freely about his history, which he granted, because he has always been frank and open about it. As the therapist listened, she teared up and could hardly talk. She told him how sorry she was with tears in her eyes. She saw what one always sees when one looks at the trajectory of T's early childhood: this is not supposed to happen.

This is the third or fourth time we've tried to get up to speed with a new therapist, only to find that they shy away from his history or have trouble absorbing the full force of its chaos and tragedy. This therapist has already diagnosed him and prescribed medicine on the basis of a few initial meetings. And yet she didn't know anything about his upbringing. She began the session by lecturing him about how he needed to try harder in the classroom, and yet she didn't know enough about his early childhood to understand why impulse control might be so challenging for him, or why it might be the case that he learned early on that negative attention is better than nothing. She let him know that he might be kicked out of the residential program, without understanding what that feels like to a kid who's lived in sixteen homes in his young life.

All this said, I like the treatment house and so does T. He is really doing the hard work there now, trying to learn to manage his behavior in the clear light of sobriety. He has good people on his side, and most important, he has other kids whom he supports and who support him in a true community. For as long as it lasts, it's a great gift and he knows it and he's making the most of it. He is open and aware in a way he's never been before.

But a part of me has sort of given up on therapy. I don't know why it is so hard to find a therapist who can be as frank and as open as he is about his abuse history. Until we do, he has other supports and he has formidable internal resources and he may just get what he needs through methods other than therapy. I used to put a lot of faith in therapy, but I don't anymore. Behavioral coaching, support groups, strong friendships, and connection to us have an obvious healing power. Therapy, so far, not so much. I am sure there are very able, knowledgeable therapists out there, but in my experience they're exceedingly hard to find and few programs are equipped for a child of his age and background. I've come to look at therapy as one method among many for healing, and, in the absence of a highly skilled and experienced practitioner, often not the best or most accessible.


Last Mom said...

I totally agree with you about therapy. I am sure there are good options - I read about traumatized kids with great therapists on blogs. There just aren't any in my area. We have tried therapy 3 times for our girl. One therapist only lasted 2 sessions. She was horrible and we fired her. The second lasted about 6 months before giving up because our daughter wouldn't let her in. The most recent lasted about 6 weeks before suggesting we stop because it didn't seem beneficial to our daughter at this time (and we were only pursuing it because it was required to get anxiety meds). Stopping therapy has actually caused our daughter to attach and trust us more each time, so there is benefit in that!

Sky said...

I have a severe trauma history...and it is hard. A source that may be able to help you is a center focused on couselling refugees from other countries...I'm sure there is one in la somewhere that does that. They might not be able to work with your son, but they are use to seeing individuals from wars and sex trafficking. They will know the best of the best who have lots of experience.

Trauma therapists who can work are out there. Some of it is asking the right questions up front. when looking for a therapist if they do not have experience with xyz types of abuse I hang up. If they don't understand complex ptsd and have experience it isn't worth my time to try. Some of it is luck. Some people just do not connect, and it is a sign that there its someone that will be able to connect with t better. Good luck. Don't loose hope.

marythemom said...

I'm so glad the therapist finally asked for and listened to his history. We've had so many therapists that wanted to make their "own judgments without being influenced by what we had to tell them"/ history. It's sooo stupid. While in RTF we hated that we couldn't choose our son's therapists (or fire them) so we basically had to wait until he was released.

Now I agree that therapy is not that effective (especially for this age), and I wish it were more intensive or there were more options (as you mentioned, group therapy might be a better choice.) It's all pretty frustrating. Glad that your son is advocating for himself and working hard.

Hugs and prayers,

Mama Drama Times Two said...

I agree. Therapy is a tool in the toolbox for sure - but not the only tool. T is lucky to have a combination of resources available to him : the most important being you - a solid set of adults willing to advocate and stick with him.

Julia said...

It sounds like you may have found what you need. I just wanted to offer something I've learned over the years when looking for therapists for myself.

It's been my experience that therapists who specialize in trauma are the best therapists, hands-down. They know how to share power; they hang on through the hard stuff; they can deal with conflict. I've found that you can very often find a good therapist if you look for one who is trained in EMDR (technique used in trauma treatment). It's not that you want EMDR for T, necessarily, but that training in EMDR--in my experience--tends to be a marker of a stand-out therapist.

Good luck.

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