Monday, April 2, 2012

Not Ashamed to Admit We're Getting Therapy

 About a month ago, I sat around a table with the lovely ladies of my weekly prayer group, all of us sipping our tea.  It was my turn to share my requests.  Casting aside my vain concerns to "keep up appearances" I said something like this,

"I'm tired of feeling like a terrible mother.  Every day is a battlefield.  I'm worn out.  My patience is paper thin.  Something has got to change, but I'm at a loss as to what to do."

There.  I said it.  It was my first step.  My cry for help.  Honestly I didn't expect much.  Just the usual, "This too shall pass."  "Hang in there. Motherhood is hard but worth it."  That's really not what I what I wanted to hear.  That's what I'd been telling myself, and... it wasn't helping. 

(This face is for real.)

I wanted help.  I wanted someone to say, "It doesn't have to be this way, and here's how..."  But that seemed like too much to hope for, so I didn't let myself hope.  

But then, then, a woman two chairs to my right spoke up.  "You know, we've been seeing a family therapist, and it has made a world of difference in our home.  He's been helping us with our 3 year-old son, and honestly, it's been like learning to fly."

Yes.  This is what I want.  This is what we need.  And my heart began to hope.

So we began our journey into family therapy.  I was so hungry for change, for real tools that would make a difference that is was hard to wade through the initial steps: consultation, diagnosis, observation.  But I trusted that it was necessary, so I waited.

We talked about goals.  What do I want to see change?  I want peace in our home.  I want for each direction I give my daughter to not be met with defiance.  I want to feel like our disciple measures are effective.  I want to make it through a day without screaming tantrums from both kids. 

The therapist wisely helped us formulate measurable, attainable goals: 
(The therapist says we'll focus on Ellie and then apply the principles to Aiden as he grows.)
-  Reduce temper tantrums by 80%
-  Increase compliance by 80%
-  Decrease acts of aggression towards her brother by 80%

Someone is telling me these goals can become reality, and he's going to show us how!  Hope flamed alive.

Finally the day came when the therapists "puts our tool belt on."  We get practically taught how this will happen.  It's called P.C.I.T, Parent Child Interaction Therapy.  He shows us a video about it.  It's based around an acronym. 

This is where I inwardly shout, "Seriously??"  I dislike...ahem, despise acronyms.  Apologies to those of you who love them, but there's just something about them that makes my brain want to turn off.  But I forced my brain to stay on.  It goes like this:

Praise- give both specific and general praise for your child.
Reflect- say back the appropriate talk your child is saying. 
Imitate- do what your child does (the appropriate play). 
Describe- talk through what you and your child are doing.
Enthusiasm -  kids love it.

The therapists then tells us that we're going to spend weekly sessions for at least the next month working on these skills, and after that we'll get to discipline.  This is where I want to walk out.  A month before we get to discipline??  Maybe he misunderstood, but that's why we're here.  I know how to praise my kids.

But I stay quiet and listen.  He talks of the importance of strengthening the parent child relationship, so that the child doesn't see you primarily as an authoritarian figure, but as someone who is meeting her emotional needs.  Her desire to please me will then grow immensely and her defiance fade.  By the time we get to disciple, many of the issues will already be resolved, he says.

I think I have a good relationship with my daughter.  We both know that our love for each other is deep and strong.  But I do have to admit that on a daily basis, our hearts feel pitted against one another in an on-going battle.  Despite my undying love for her, she does drive me crazy.  And despite her bond with me, maybe I'm not meeting her emotional needs like I think I am.

So we resolve to give this a try.  I go in with Ellie for our first session of "special play time."  The therapist sits outside the room behind a one-way mirror speaking to me through an ear piece, keeping track of what I'm saying to her.  Ellie's to follow the rules, sit in her chair and play nicely.  I'm to fill her up with praise, reflection and description and to refrain from giving any commands or asking questions.  He says commands and questions are obviously a necessary part of daily life, but for special play time we avoid these.  The goal is for her to lead this time, to freely be her, and for me to be fully engaged in her.       

It's hardest to avoid questions.  But I think hard about my every word as we play.  We have fun, and it goes well.  The therapist says it's one of the best first sessions he's ever seen, and I think, "Yeah, praise is very encouraging and motivating." 

And my daughter is glowing.  I feel the tension between us drained out.  I think, "This is good."

So goes our journey with therapy.  We still have a ways to go, our goals still to be met.  We're implementing some discipline strategies the therapists suggested (a bit early because we begged), and it's helping.  But mostly, I'm thinking hard about my words, and we're doing daily special play time at home.

Peace and joy are seeping into our home.  My patience is miraculously growing thicker.  I have the help I longed for but didn't know was possible.  I have hope.                        


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Danielle. Way to go, having the courage to ask for help! You are doing it as much for your children as you are for your own sanity, and I suspect it truly will pay out, even though it'll be a long process ahead of you! Oh, and your unashamed testimony of this will go a long way towards helping other parents see that its ok to ask for help on how to be the kind of parents you want to be for your children!

    1. Yes, as much for my children as for my own sanity! Thanks for the encouragement. I do hope that my vulnerability will help other parents know they are not alone, and help is so so good.

  2. Hi Danielle, I'm going to cut and paste this acronym as a reminder on my desktop--every mom could use this in some form, even with older children (like me)! May you experience more and more joy on this journey.

    1. Thanks, Paula! Yeah, they truly are important skills to apply to kids of all ages!

  3. I love this wisdom: "He talks of the importance of strengthening the parent child relationship, so that the child doesn't see you primarily as an authoritarian figure, but as someone who is meeting her emotional needs." Just this week I had a wake-up moment where I realized I didn't want to be that authority figure only ... I wanted to be a friend too, but I didn't know how to reconcile friend and mother really well in my head. I like how he framed it--as someone who helps to meet my children's emotional needs. Beautiful.

    1. Yes! I'd always heard the tensions of the mother/friend described in terms of a balancing act. It's so much more helpful to see myself as one who is to help meet my children's emotional needs. I love that it struck a chord with you. Thanks for reading!

  4. Beautiful post! I've never done family therapy but I've done a lot of personal and marital therapy, and it has helped me and my relationships so much. Thanks for being brave to follow this route, and share it with the world.