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« Home for the Holidays: Dealing with Toxic Families | Main | 10 Ways to Help an "ADHD" Child - Without Medication »

November 20, 2009

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jss

This is interesting. I was the third of six children in a house with an alcoholic father and an older brother who bullied me since the day I showed up. I started with the acting out in early adolescence and it picked up some real steam into my teenage years. Many, many angry outbursts. My mother still refers to me as the problem child and I'm in my 40s now. And they all kept asking me what was 'wrong with me'. And the funny thing is I had no idea.

We do allow ourselves to walk through life completely blind don't we?

Kellen

Hi Jss,

Yes, that is the pattern! I'm not so sure that we allow ourselves to go through life blind. We can't see what is not put before us. We can only be responsible for it once it is pointed out to us. It sounds as if your eyes are wide open and searching.

I hope your family allows you to get out of that role. If not, I would have to ask why they need that role to exist. They may fight heartily to keep you in that role fearing that if you step out of it one of them may have to take it up.

Many ex-"problem children" find the articles on this blog regarding the Scapegoat Role to be helpful. You can find them using the navigation bar on the left of this post.

Thank you for the feedback. I wish you all the best.

John

I've been searching on information in the use of family therapy when the parent is the abuser. I totally disagree in putting the victim and abuser together without providing therapy for the victim first. I also believe that the abuser needs their own therapy but why is it that I continue to see case after case where family service providers are forcing children into family therapy with the abuser so they can rush reintegration? I would be interested in your thoughts and any research that you are aware of on this topic.

I

Hi John,

That's an excellent question. In writing this article I was focused primarily on older teens. But your question about reintegration when a child has alleged abuse, especially a small child, is very relevant.

I can only answer from my experience. A lot depends on the age of the child - and the family court system. An older teen might be able to hold their own in a family therapy session if the abuse was not sexual. That would have to be assessed by the therapist, or should be. For a younger child is makes no sense. They should be seen individually. The abuser should be seen individually. Then a decision about whether the abuser should have further contact should be made. That is how it should be.

Unfortunately, therapy where abuse is alleged either through Child Protective Services or during a divorce dispute, isn't guided by what's psychologically best for the child. As one family attorney put it to me, "Parents have rights. Children have no rights." And I have found that to be true. The court seems to place as the priority protecting the rights of the parent, even the abusive parent. The current father's rights movement further pushes the court to protect the father's rights regardless of what is alleged by the child or what is best for the child.

As a result, the therapy provided to abused children is often mandated by judges who have no education or training in child psychology or therapy. They often mandate reintegration thinking the therapist can "save" the family if they simply put them all together. There seems to be no awareness or concern for the effect this will have on the child, especially a child who has made an outcry.

And you are right. This is highly detrimental to the child. It totally denies the child's outcry. I am currently working with a 7 year old who has alleged sexual abuse by his father. Because it took him several months to work up the courage to make an outcry (due to his father's threats if he told) any physical evidence was destroyed by time. The judge has ordered the family into therapy for reintegration because the father's lawyer is screaming that his client has visitation rights which have been denied. So the therapy occurs and the child sits there completely terrified. The child is currently scheduled to be returned to his father for a monthly visitation because his father has visitation "rights".

The mother has been totally devastated by this. She has always assured her son that if anyone touched him in a way that felt "funny" he should tell her and she would protect him. The court has rendered her helpless to protect her son, totally destroying her role as mother, the protector.

My biggest concern is this: What does this teach children about making an outcry? If the father hurts this child again, will he tell again? I doubt it.

And that, I fear, will be the worst thing that could happen. If a child is convinced that nothing will happen if he makes an outcry, the abuser (father or mother) now has license to do as they please. This gives the abuser carte blanche not only to continue the abuse, but perhaps to increase the severity of the abuse. They know the child will not tell again.

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I want to take this moment to say that I really love this blog. It has been a good resource of information for me. Thank you so much admin.

Dr. Stephen Doyne Phd

I agree with much of what you've said, but I'm curious... do you see the entire family first or do you provide the "problem child" an opportunity to speak with you privately first?

Confronting a highly dysfunctional family w/violent behaviors seems a risky environment for a teen trying to escape such behaviors and knowing that honesty inflames them... unless you've had a chance to debrief one another, if you will.

I

Hello Dr. Doyne,

I couldn't agree more and each situation has to be assessed individually. I usually go along with whatever the family can handle to start with and "plant seeds" about what needs to happen to actually address the problem. A lot of parents are extremely resistant and sensitive to being labeled as the problem by a clinician. Some will absolutely refuse to participate in the process at all and refuse to consider any suggestion that anyone but the child has a problem. Other parents, even parents who have been abusive, are more willing to own their part in what is going on and want help - for themselves and their family.

If I can create a safe environment with strong boundaries and clear rules which limit blaming that is the ideal. I also work very hard to explain the concept of family systems theory and be very balanced in my listening and feedback.

However, if there is a power struggle, if there is a risk of violence or if the parents are unwilling to participate then I work with the child.

I've learned through the years that there are many times when all I can do is "plant seeds" that may come to fruition some time in the future.

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