The people who sign up for this work are the smartest, bravest, most creative, compassionate and stalwart professionals any agency can ask for. They venture into neighborhoods few people would choose to visit – including the people forced to live there. They enter homes where people struggle with loss, anger, addiction, abuse and mental illness.
And sometimes, those are just the children.
Add to this equation the siblings and adults around them, many also facing the same struggles. Welcome to In Home Therapy.
The good news: it works.
Rose, age 7, came to our attention late last year when she was referred by an outpatient clinician who believed her client’s angry, impulsive, sometimes explosive behaviors might benefit from another set of eyes and ears. Why does a child this young get so very mad so often – swearing, shouting, refusing to follow rules at home and at school?
Our team – a master’s level therapist and her bachelor’s-level Therapeutic Training & Support partner (TT & S)– met Rose and her family and did what they do best – watched, listened and looked for what was going right first of all. They saw a Mom and Dad who clearly loved their kids (there also was a preschooler at home). It was clear they truly wanted a peaceful home and closer family relationships. But they were at a loss to understand why their home was filled with yelling, slamming, stomping and demands.
Then there was Rose. “She is one of the saddest-looking kids I’ve ever seen,” the therapist said. “And sometimes she just looked like she had no feelings at all.” For a few weeks, it seemed nothing the team tried was getting through. Mom and Dad were asked to change their way of speaking to each other and to their kids, from the volume to the actual words: Ask politely. Don’t repeat requests 10 times. Use positive language. Praise even the slightest appropriate response or act (“I asked you to clean off the table so you can do your homework and you did. That’s great. Thanks for playing with your sister while I make dinner. It’s really helpful.”) And above all, let the kids see you, the parents, using the same method of communication with each other.
Rose’s T T & S started to look for ways the child could express herself without words. Art and play therapy exercises gave her those ways. Instead of her voice, her pictures screamed isolation, fear, worry.
It was hard for everyone for a while. One parent struggled with recovery from substance abuse and relapsed several times during our time together. Rose drew that too.
After just a few months, it seemed to come together. Mom & Dad showed a more “united front”. The kids knew there were rules that would be enforced no matter what they did. If they didn’t have to run the show with out of control behavior, that meant they could just be kids.
Within six months we were having our favorite conversation: The “You’ve Got This” talk, otherwise called Transition. It means the family was seeing nearly all the things they wanted to happen when we first met: they were spending family time together. There was a lot less yelling and a lot more laughing. And Rose had found her words: “I’m mad right now…I feel scared that (parent) is gone again…I’m sad that a boy at school made fun of me.” And she was still drawing, writing and squeezing a stress ball she had made with her T T & S when it got to be too much.
When we celebrated with the family at our last visit, we knew the family still had some things to work out. But it was their work now. They had found the tools and used them well.
It’s all anyone could have hoped for.