Breaking up is hard to do

Progress is not possible without change.  This statement that one of my college professors used as their daily mantra has been swirling around in my mind lately.  We have broken up with P’s counselor and let me just say breaking up is hard to do.  There is replaying conversations wondering when did the relationship go south.  Did we overreact to the situation?  Did we misinterpret the counselor’s message?  Counseling is a slow and steady race, two steps forward and one step back type of work.  My thought is how can we look to see progress if we are second guessing the work that is being done.

P has been in counseling and play therapy for five years.  We have made the commitment to take P to play therapy sessions to help him work on social skills, making and keeping friends, feelings, and how to handle those feelings.  The reason we started counseling in the first place was that P got upset with a friend that caused his friend to get hurt.  We were blown away that the situation escalated so quickly to the point of injury.  We knew that we needed help immediately.  That first counselor we saw saw us through some of the toughest times we have had with P.  The defiance in school, the meltdowns at home, developing social skills, elopement issues, and his autism diagnosis.  After four years, it was a mutual decision to move on as progress had plateaued after all that time. That led us to our current situation with the new counselor.

There are definite signs that will tell you if your counselor or therapist isn’t working for you.  If you have that funny feeling in the pit of your stomach, listen to it.  It might be time to reevaluate what is working and what isn’t working.  What are your goals?  Have you made progress?  Do you feel that the counselor/therapist is still the right person to help you reach those goals?  We have learned a hard lesson by playing the devils advocate against our own feelings and questions.  I want to share with you some of the signs that my husband and I missed because we were afraid we might hurt the therapist’s feelings.

  1. Your sessions seem to focus too much on them.  Yes, even with children’s play therapy a therapist can use the time to talk about their feelings, their opinions, or their life.  It can turn out to be a very unhealthy balance if there is no relation or hook back to the situation that is happening in play therapy.
  2. They just don’t seem to get your experiences.  I needed some perspective about situations at home when I see amped up feelings that usually result in meltdowns; however, I was dismissed.  I ended listening to stories of the counselor’s children that had no similarities to our own.  Leaving a therapy session frustrated is never an ideal situation because it can put a stop to any progress that was made.
  3. The counselor does not respond actively.  An active response is a sign that someone is listening and following along with the narrative that is playing out in the counseling session.  Those signs might be an “I see” or “tell me more.”  The inability to follow along usually results in silence or getting distracted.  It’s easy to dismiss that with maybe they were having a bad day or preoccupied.  But once again, that can leave feelings of resentment if you are not getting any sort of feedback.
  4. You don’t trust them.  If your gut is telling something is not right, listen to it.  Your intuition will give you signs that something isn’t jiving or a potentially toxic environment.  Especially if the counselor is consistently late or shuffles around saying a lot of words, but never really says anything useful.

Sometimes the signs are big and clear.  Sometimes they come to us as small moments that make us say huh?  I experienced one of those moments.  I was taking care of our co-pay while making casual conversation with the counselor.  When out of nowhere the therapist jumps up and down waving the cash in the air saying, “Now, I have some cash to spend tonight!”  That moment made me go huh? And left with way more questions than answers.  But it was one those smalls signs that added up to something big in my gut that said something is not quite right.

In our house, we have made mental health just as much a priority as our physical health.  The triggers and stressors for P become our triggers and stressors as well.  It has become essential for a play therapist to understand our needs as a family.  Just like any profession, there is a range of counselors/therapists where some will click with you and others won’t.  That’s fine.  A good therapist understands that they won’t click with every child/family that comes to them.  As parents, we have had to be honest, as awkward as it can be, to break up with the therapist.   However, just as much as we want truth and honesty, it is only fair to do the same in the breakup.  We had to end the counseling sessions because the relationship wasn’t working.

In your mental health journey, have you had to break up with a counselor?  Do you have advice or story to share?

All my best to you,

Heather

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