Today my son’s therapist apologized to me. (Go ahead, take a moment to pick yourself up off the floor, then keep reading…) If you’re the parent of a child diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder (RAD) you know just how significant this is.
As parents of children with developmental trauma, one of our biggest pain points is dealing with therapists who don’t “get it.” They blame us, are manipulated by our kids, and offer our families little practical help. At best they’re ineffective, at worst they cause enormous damage.
My son’s current therapist, we’ll call her Amy, has made the classic blunders we’re all so familiar with.
- She tells my son all he really needs is my love, excusing him from responsibility.
- She praises his cunning circumvention of rules as “trying really, really hard.”
- She disagrees with me openly and emphatically in front of my son.
- She makes me the “bad guy” in therapy sessions.
- She prioritizes her relationship with my son over mine.
Can I get a show of hands? I sure know most of us are struggling with these very same issues.
But today something unexpected happened. I confronted Amy and she acknowledged she could have handled things better and apologized. We then worked together to come up with a reasonable path forward. I very nearly fell off my chair.
In retrospect, here are a few things that may have contributed to this success:
- I was confident, not defensive. When we act defensively, therapists are quick to write us off as unreasonable, close minded and pissed off. It’s important to be in a place where we know our rights and can speak as confidently and unemotionally as we might in a business presentation.
- I didn’t get personal. We’ve all been offended and hurt by therapists and it’s easy to become wrapped up in those feelings. But when we do, our confrontation goes off the rails. In the end, the conversation shouldn’t be about our feelings at all. It should be about the needs of our child.
- I focused on my child. Don’t talk about what the therapist has done to you, or how they have made you feel. Keep the focus on what’s best for your child. My child needs to be safe. My child needs to build a strong secure relationship with me. These are specific things you and the therapist can agree on.
- I was specific and kept it simple. If you walk into these conversation with a laundry list of problems, it’s far too easy to get lost in the weeds. Pick one specific issue that highlights the underlying problems to focus on. Make it specific, actionable, and simple. Pick something as objective as possible.
I was reasonable. What can you expect out of a confrontation? You’re not going to change the therapist’s style or philosophy. You’re unlikely to educate them on RAD and DTD, although you might crack open the door for that. What you should be able to do, is come to an understanding and agree to some ground rules.
It sure felt good when Amy apologized to me, but that mattered far less than the action plan we put into place. With a common goal established we agreed to:
- Meet prior to family therapy sessions to agree on how news will be delivered to my son and how to approach what will be discussed in the session.
- If a topic comes up that we need a sidebar on, before discussing in front of my son, I’ll use a code word and she’ll put off that topic until after we’ve had a time to talk privately.
Every therapist, family, and child is different. Some therapists are easier to work with than others and this isn’t a one-size-fits all formula for every situation. Still, I hope reflecting on my experience may provide a useful starting point as you work hard to advocate for your kids and help them get the therapy they need.
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