Thursday, October 29, 2009

Do You Believe in Magic?

There are people who carry way more than they should in this world. They carry the burdens of their children, their spouses, their bosses, foreign countries, alien life forms, and angels in heavenly places. There are some who even carry the burdens of God, and just how arrogant is that, if I might ask? And, yes, I can ask, as I will admit I was once one of those people. I still have moments when I am drawn into the black hole vacuum of some needy person who is carrying too much weight and needs a partner to shoulder it, a hero to come from the heavens and take away their pain. Somehow these types of people can convince us that we are capable of taking away all their pain, and it's just so flattering to believe that. I soon find myself thinking, "Well, if he/she thinks I can solve all these problems, then maybe I can! I can and I will!" I haven't fallen into that trap in awhile, until yesterday.

I have been counseling children and families for almost 10 years, and there is a subtype of parents I encounter-- the desperate parents. These parents are having great difficulty accepting that they have a child with any type of disability or illness. Understandably, the pain of this type of acceptance is very scary and crushing. I drift in and out of acceptance regarding my own children's disabilities, but I accept it or I go crazy. That's the only two options unfortunately. Nonetheless, there are parents who hold onto hope that someday some magical person will come along with magic wand in hand, tap the head of their child and, all ADHD will disappear. Autism will shrink to nothing or severe mental illness will turn to mist and vanish. This magical person must only appear and be willing to impart her divine wisdom and allow their child to sit in her most holy presence, and all will be well.

I am getting better at spotting these types of parents, because I am prone to buying into their grandiose plans for me and their child. One of the first telltale signs is that many of these parents actually say something like this,"We have been to so many doctors and I am just exhausted with this process. Come work your magic!" I usually try to burst that bubble right from the start with, "Well, I hate to tell you this but you're going to learn it about me eventually... I'm human, no magic, sorry." Usually they don't believe me the first few times and continue to try to force magic from me. When the magic persists on not "working," then I begin seeing anger. It often sounds like this, "What have you been doing with my child all this time? All I ever see you do is playing with them. How is that going to help them!? Look, I really need help here! This is not what I thought it was going to be. I need you to talk to her teacher, and could you please tell her case manager that I need those housing forms? I'm not even sure I like this doctor anymore, are you going to be talking to him soon?" Essentially, this parent just took the enormous burden of caring for a sick or special needs child, held it out to me and asked, "Are you going to take this crap off my shoulders or not?"

Be forewarned, if you take the bait (and I have), this is what will play out. You, the therapist (or friend, spouse, etc), will take over the role of shouldering this burden. You will begin making the phone calls, researching the internet, buying the books, emailing the doctor, calling meetings at school, and lecturing the child to get with the program. Therapy sessions turn into what Mom or Dad wants you working on rather than what the child brings to the table for the day. Child clients become defensive and shut down, whether passively or aggressively. Therapists begin to burn out, get angry with the child for not cooperating with the plan! Basically, I have taken the anger and denial from the parents and made it mine. In the meantime, you are not likely seeing much progress with the child with this type of approach. Thus, parents are getting angrier and applying even more pressure. Therapist starts working even harder, gets angrier. Less progress, parents apply more pressure, therapist wears out.

Oh,well... mistake spotted. Time for me to back up and go back to plain old humanity. It was kind of fun for awhile believing I had superhero powers. I almost thought I cured one this time, but no. I've seen good, healthy, slow and steady progress with a child. One more case of the humdrum, slow and laborious work, eating your therapeutic fruits and vegetables, and being only a small part of someone's lifetime of growth. That's just how we humans heal. I guess that's just how we therapists learn too. Drats.

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