After a lengthy 2-hour session and a series of questions asked of both mother and teenaged son, the psychiatrist wrote: “the mother is over exaggerating her son’s behavior. He can’t possibly have all the symptoms she describes.” Later, the mother said, “I was completely ignored; this doctor affirmed [my son’s] disrespect for me, in front of me, and [my son] got the idea I was full of it and didn’t need to take his meds.” She felt her authority had been undermined, and that she lost an opportunity to get treatment for her son sooner. He was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, and hospitalized several times.
What makes this situation tragic, to me, is that early medication, prior to the first psychotic break, prevents the loss of gray matter that occurs in schizophrenia. This doctor’s unprofessional and judgmental behavior hurt the recovery prospects for this family. And sadly, this kind of dismissal of parents is common. I’ve heard many complain that doctors, therapists, or teachers don’t listen to them, or that they subtly or overtly blame parents for their child’s problems. Researchers found this to be widely true. In an article titled “Uncharted Waters – The Experience of Parents of Young People with Mental Health Problems,” the author writes:
“Parents’ distress is exacerbated by their need for expertise, but from those who don’t take their concerns seriously.”
Harden, J, 2005. Qualitative Health Research, 15(2), 207-223.
I always appeared to be overly upset and stressed whenever I brought my child to see her psychiatrist because, leading up to any appointment, were a series of challenges and acts of resistance that were stressful and frustrating. It appeared to the psychiatrist, time and time again, that I was the problem… just like she suspected. All I could do was sit in the waiting room while my daughter was in session, and imagine she was saying terrible things about me. All I could do was wonder if the psychiatrist could see through it all and know that I, the mom, was doing everything possible to help my daughter, that I was a good parent. Could the doctor see this and give me some hope?
Don’t accept being treated this way.
Insist that the whole family get time with the therapist, without the troubled child or teen, to check-in and see how everyone is doing. Make the appointment and tell the therapist why. Your family needs to say things they wouldn’t ordinarily say when the child is around. They need to open up secrets and let out difficult feelings without the fear of setting off an explosion later. The therapist should be astute enough to get the full story, and use this as an opportunity to help the family work through challenges in ways that support everyone’s well being.
Insist on being told what to expect. Another common experience is that parents are not told what to expect from treatment or why. You need to know everything they know, even if the professionals are still unclear about a diagnosis or treatment approach. Your child may have many physiological or psychological tests, expensive medications, or visits to many different kinds of ‘ologists’, and you may still not be clear on where the inquiry is going, why, and what the doctors or therapists are looking for.
Insist that they consider your daily experiences. Since a therapist observes your child only during an appointment, they aren’t fully aware of the types of situations that aggravate your child’s behavior. You are the expert on your child and their behavior patterns; you are the expert on what drives them, and on what drives them crazy. You know that, behind-the-scenes, much of what your child does is easily missed by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist. An experienced professional will listen to you and ask more questions. You should expect them to seek clarity on your child instead of assuming they already know everything about them and your family.
Team up. It takes both you and the professional working together to comprehend your child’ nature and arrive at a working diagnosis and treatment that works. Develop a partnership and a shared vision with the therapist so you can, together, do what’s best for your child. And don’t forget, since you have all the responsibilities, your needs must always be considered in spite of what a therapist thinks is best. If your family is not included, then it’s not the best.