Monday, September 15, 2008
A STORY FROM MY THERAPEUTIC WORK
I was contacted by a special education department because they had a teenager, who I will refer to as Bob who was having frequent aggressive incidents at school, had poor motivation, and whose attention was said to be fleeting. Bob struggled academically and had little interest in school. This is what was initially presented to me. So, I met Bob and his family. I first wanted to know something about Bob as a person and the world he was living in. Bob expressed to me that his family was disadvantaged and he often felt 'lost' among his siblings. Bob lacked confidence and felt that because he was not a good reader that school was basically pointless. He spoke alot about conflicts at home that he was exposed to and many times feeling belittled if he did not meet certain standards. My sessions revolved around first understanding his experience. From this, I worked with Bob in being able to come to a realization that all people encounter problems and they have no choice in this but we do have a choice in how we seek to think. I worked with Bob on non-violent communication and posed various scenarios as to how he might be able to work through conflicts with others. I allowed Bob to share his thoughts openly and honestly. I do not believe he had this opportunity before. In prior therapeutic programs that Bob had been involved in he was often taught programmed responses. I noticed this from the beginning as he often had answers to various dilemmas that appeared as if they came from a textbook. I encouraged Bob to be a critical thinker, to develop a higher level of independent thought. I explored with him some of his strengths and interests and began to encourage him to channel this into building confidence. I worked with Bob on a 'life map' to explore short term and long term attainable goals. We also made use of decision trees whereby we would evlauate his decisions and go through on explore the ramifications. He began to read books based on his interests, and this combined with some reading support arranged for him, led him to have more desire to read. As his confidence built, his reading gradually improved as well as his motivation. I spent some time in the community with Bob seeking to provide him positive validation and the opportunity to communicate this thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental atmosphere as he appeared to feel somewhat unheard and repressed before. I encouraged the family to begin to do likewise. I established a discipline plan with the family based on social reinforcement and provided some additional opportunities for outings provided that Bob was willing to follow through on a basic contract addressing what he would accomplish at home and school. The school staff noted marked improvement and the parents stated that the aggressive incidents were eliminated and that Bob appeared to have a more positive attitude. What went from a period of daily calls from the school over various dilemmas, now has become calls from the school to discuss what Bob has accomplished. I saw that Bob was a young person who had been hurt and did not feel a sense of worth. This is what led to him to react in ways that were at times destructive. School did not appear important because he could not grasp many areas, so previously had decided to shut down and give up. At the root of the problem was the desire for attention and validation and the concept of assumed disability that he had adopted. What if Bob had been told he had a chemical imbalance? That he was disordered and could not control his actions because of this so called disorder? Would this have resolved any inner conflicts for him? Would it have built his confidence? or would it have only perpetuated the problem? And so it seems in the education and mental health systems today. We are creating 'disability', we are allowing our children to languish, we are not meeting their true needs. We are forcing their conformity to a broken system.
Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D.
Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D.