I gave a talk on October 10, 2010 to the Orthodox Mental Health Professionals of Cleveland at a home in Beachwood. Ten enthusiastic participants engaged in dialogue this Sunday evening for an hour and a half around the topic, “Helping Parents Help Their Children—Treatment Via The Parent.” I presented work with parents in a Therapeutic Pre-School and in evaluations and on-going treatments within a private practice setting. Jane Belkin, MSSA, LISW, a psychoanalytic colleague, had originally approached me to give this talk. The thesis presented was parents are our “allies.” They wish to do right by their children. They are pained when their children have emotional difficulties that get in their way. Every parent worries and must “work-through” the idea that going for help does not make a person a bad parent. It makes the parent a “concerned” parent or a “worried” parent. Connecting with a therapist who can be an ally in the work, helping the parent understand the emotional conflict the child is having is a relief. In this particular method of “treatment-via-the-parent,” the parent helps his or her own child understand the inner struggle better. Together they see what clues can be brought out and integrated, giving the child a better understanding of the nature of the trouble. Sometimes a better solution can be found without an individual therapy being needed.
This particular method has been perfected in the setting of the Hanna Perkins Therapeutic Pre- School and Kindergarten in Shaker Heights. The children attend school 5 days/week for about ½ a day. Work with the parents occurs weekly and is a part of the method. The history of the method in the psychoanalytic literature was covered, with the first “treatment-via-the- father” being “Little Hans”. In that essay Freud described being consulted by a father in order to help the father help his five-year- old child to understand the boy’s recent phobia about a biting horse.
A clinical vignette was shared in which the mother of 3 year-old Annie, got in better emotional contact with her child in the course of working weekly with a child psychoanalyst AKA “family helper.” The work ranged over a two-year period of time when the child was in a pre-school setting. This child was inhibited in her learning, until the mother could discuss a wide range of current realities in the child’s life that were hitherto not spoken of.
The unique feature of this work is the co-ordination with and between school staff, the parent with the worker, the teacher and the child psychoanalyst, all of which is focused to give the parent and the child more information about the origins of whatever difficulties are being experienced and the tools to begin to look at them and to cope in a better way. Work within the school was adjusted to affordable fees for the families involved.
The work was extended to evaluations outside a school setting and to older children as well—where the parent’s support and understanding of their children’s inside conflict is crucial.
Discussion was wide ranging. The role of how to help motivate parents to get some help for their child was deemed crucial. The role of embarrassment and shame was addressed. The positives of giving one’s child a chance for help for an emotional difficulty within a school setting were looked at from a variety of angles. There are some parents who wish to get their children within the Hanna Perkins setting, and look for even a tiny problem as being one to work on. Other parents must run into a difficulty over and over again before it might finally dawn on them that professional help “sooner” rather than “later” is the answer.
The individual clinicians had their own experiences to share in working with parents, which made for a lively exchange. Hanna Perkins also has a “Toddler and Mother Group” Wednesday and Thursday mornings for one and a half hours, with second group possibly in the wings for early 2011. Working methods are the same, but the mother stays with the toddler in the class the whole time, since the toddlers are so young. This talk is a “traveling talk.” Material and clinical examples can be varied and suited to the particular group requesting the talk on this topic.
Joanne Naegele, M.A, L. P. C.C. 2472 Overlook Rd., #4
Cleveland Hts., Ohio