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Archive for December, 2009

Not all therapists are the same and each has a different approach to things.  One of the many mistakes we made for Amy during the first year was finding the wrong therapist.  In fact, Amy has shared with me recently that she always felt more guilty and worthless after her therapy sessions with her.

Amy’s suicide attempt came as a result of bullying.  She was really low in self esteem and felt victimized.  She needed a therapist who could be her ally and help her sort everything out.  Of course, this was easy to see one year into therapy but at the time we found her first therapist, we were just desperate for help.

I remember thinking that when we sent Amy to her first therapy appointment.  I felt like I was taking a kid with a broken arm to the doctor and saying “just fix it”.  We had chosen this therapist because she was referred to us by our family physician.  We didn’t do any pre-qualifying or asking any questions about her style.

Amy’s first therapist would have been great for a kid who had parents with weak parenting skills, for her approach was to become a “super-parent”.  She treated Amy’s symptoms of depression rather than getting to the root cause.  She gave Amy a laundry list of things to do – pick up her bedroom, turn in her homework, do her chores, etc.  Then, each week, she would grill Amy on her results and discuss any shortcomings.  Again, this would have been fine for a kid without discipline in the house but not what Amy needed.

My first clue that it wasn’t working out was after a year with this therapist.  We were disciplining Amy for something and she actually said,  in a begging tone of voice, “don’t tell Sally” (her therapist).

By that time we were much more savvy about what she needed and how to direct her care.  We started shopping for therapists, no small task!  We asked her psychiatrist and all of the caregivers in the hospital ward where she was being treated for recommendations.  Another place you can find them is on the website for your state department of mental health.

Working with a little more confidence and a lot less desperation, we started talking with potential therapists.  I had a list of questions which I asked them over the phone to try to do some pre-screening.  I asked them about their style and philosophy for treatment.  The questions were very open ended so I would get honest answers.

Some of the questions were:

1.  How do you establish your relationship with your clients?

2.  What are your thoughts on handling children with depression?

3.  Can you tell me about a client of yours who you successfully helped through their depression?

4.  What are your goals for treating children with depression?

5.  Where were you trained?

I recognize that each child is different and has different needs in a therapist.   However, you, as a parent, know what is best for your child.  You know how that child learns and grows, you’ve been helping them all of their life!  My focus was getting Amy to be happy and able to handle life by the time she becomes an adult.   I wanted someone to guide her along that path.

We found a new therapist, Jean, and the improvement was nearly immediate.  Jean was much more nurturing.  She made Amy feel safe and started to draw out Amy’s fears and worries and help her find ways to address them.  Amy has been with Jean for nearly two years now and it’s made all of the difference.

There is a downside to Jean, though.  Our insurance didn’t cover her appointments.  It’s been very much worth it though.  My advice to every parent is to remember that failure is not an option here.  You have to find the right fit for your child with every choice.  This means thinking outside of the box and considering other options, including a therapist who isn’t covered by the insurance.

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We made it through finals week with Amy. She’s doing so well now. She had a minor meltdown one evening when she couldn’t find something she needed for a class but otherwise it went well. She’s feeling confident about her exams.

It wasn’t always this way. When she was depressed, she felt so much more pressure to excel and subsequently burned out. In depression, anything less than a perfect score was a failure to her. I always thought that depression is a spiral, continuing to circle around the same thoughts but with each revolution you fall deeper. During finals week, Amy’s thought process was like this:
1. “I’m such a loser, I’ll never do well” to
2. “Other people can do well, so how do they do it?” to
3. “They study, I’ll work really hard and study.” to
4. “But since I’m such a loser, studying won’t work.” to
5. “But I never do well, I’m such a loser”

Has anyone else seen this type of pattern in their teen?

Anyway, Happy Holidays everyone!

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The Price of War

December 2, 2009 by

I’ve taken a few weeks off from this blog, but not for the more obvious reasons – the impending Thanksgiving visit by my in-laws! No, it’s been a time of reflection about whether I am up to continuing this.
I thought I had escaped unscathed from the emotional trauma of my daughter’s depression. I thought that I had neatly compartmentalized my feelings. I thought I was in control when I needed to be and falling apart when I had the chance. When your child is hurting, you rise to the occasion. I remember once when Amy’s sister was 5 and she cut open her finger. I was brave, I put my game face on and took her to the emergency room for stitches. No problem, no worries but I guess it’s different when it is a three year ordeal trying to keep your child from giving up and throwing herself into the abyss of despair.
Hank, my husband/Amy’s father and I learned how to hold it together when we needed to. We were brave for her, we were her advocates when we encountered problems in getting her help, we were partners in keeping her company so she was never alone. We leaned on each other at night, after she was asleep. We’d rant to each other, cry about our fears and worry over her future. We did learn a valuable lesson, though. We could not panic together – only one as allowed to panic at a time. If we panicked together, not only did we lose hope but we lost the focus on her treatment. As Hank said “This is one battle where failure is not an option”. That became our mantra during many a frightening time.
Anyway, back to my reason for taking time off. Amy is now participating in the speech team at her high school (pretty damn good considering where she’s been, huh?). As part of the deal, parents have to come to the meets and help judge. These meets are huge – 20 or so schools participating. They have about a dozen different events so parents never end up judging kids from their school let alone their own child.
I was signed up to judge three events, one of which was poetry. I’m going into this happy and content, enjoying watching Amy talk with her friends and thrilled by her confidence. I’m thinking that poetry is going to be about flowers and trees – you know, a Walt Whitman thing about choosing one of two paths. I should be so lucky. These kids chose tougher subject matter, in fact, two of the six decided to present poems about mental illness and suicide.
One was titled “How do you get so lonely?” , tackling the issue of depression. All I remember was something like, “how do you get so lonely that you choose to leave this life?”. Suddenly, it was as if I was back at home and Amy is begging me “Why won’t you let me kill myself?” The second one was about the sister of a girl who is in a mental institution. The description is so true to our experiences of Amy’s three stays in the hospital that it all comes flooding back.
Somehow, knowing that these kids at the speech team were just reciting words from poems without any knowledge of the real agony behind, made it even more surreal. You don’t “get” so lonely, it just happens to you. It creeps up on you like a thief and steals your life away from you. After the event, I went behind the high school and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.
There are some things in this world you should never have to know, like how many children are hurting out there. To see an entire ward of kids battling mental illness is overwhelming. The sadness you feel looking at their faces – confused and lost in their own private hell and not being able to be reached. The thing is, they really want to be reached. Something primitive is still there, hoping someone will get them out of it. They really want to be better! I think that’s what makes it so hard for them – they try but it just doesn’t happen.
Since then, I’ve not been able to get back to the blog. I just never expected it to still affect me like this. Amy hasn’t been hospitalized for a year and a half and she’s been stable for over a year. I thought it was behind me. I was wrong. It may never be. I and Amy have lived to tell of it, though. Hank and I did win the battle but I think we’re all still paying the price of war.

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