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Saying Goodbye to Therapy

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My son started therapy when he was six years old. His therapist used play to let him express his feelings, and sort through the traumas of his early life. She taught him that it was okay to talk about the ugly things, and that it was okay to hope for good things. She gave light to a child who had known an awful lot of darkness. He lived in a different state than me at that point. He lived with a different family too. In fact, he’s lived with three different families since that time.

I adopted my son when he was ten years old. By that point, he had endured abuse and neglect from his birth family, multiple placements in foster care, and one disrupted adoption. He was bright and energetic with a quick sense of humor, but he distrusted adults very deeply. And he had ten years of varied expectations from different families—different values, different sets of rules … ten years with no consistency to form his own foundation of beliefs and values. But he did want family, commitment, and something real and lasting.

I never had to make a decision about starting my son in therapy. I can imagine that some parents agonize over whether their child needs therapy or not. But therapy was mandated for my son. I found a clinic for him to attend before he even moved to my state, and we started appointments soon after he was here.  

In time, my son’s new therapist became like a branch of our family. She was someone my son trusted enough to talk honestly to. Typically, as a symptom of my son’s Reactive Attachment Disorder, he’ll be charming and somewhat false with adults. But his therapist got to see my son for who he really is—funny, endearing, troubled, sweet, stubborn, and defiant.

For the past three-and-a-half years, she’s helped us over major hurdles. With her help, my son learned how to communicate more effectively and to use tools to help him regain control when he was angry enough to lose it. She helped ease us through tough spots and gave both of us doses of strength when we were weak. She was a friend, a trusted source of reason, and a voice of calm when our family life was stormy.

Several times she mentioned closing our case file—our needs weren’t as great anymore, and our therapy goals hadn’t changed much. But I was horrified at the thought of stopping therapy. I didn’t trust that I was a good enough mother to parent my special-needs child without that extra help. I always envisioned that we’d stop going to therapy when all of my son’s difficult behaviors ceased.

Recently, I came to the conclusion that it was time to quit therapy. My son still has some major behavior issues. They are some of the same things I’ve been dealing with for years. Consequences, rewards, and even therapy are ways of teaching a child. My son has learned. He just doesn’t always choose to follow what he’s learned. I need to accept my son’s limitations as part of who he is. He’s challenging beyond measure, but he’s also wonderful beyond measure.

Though he still has issues, he’s come a long way. I think my son loves me more than he’s ever loved anyone. He loves me as much as he’s able—and that’s an incredible feat for someone with his past. Many of our early issues have been left completely behind us. In part, my son’s therapist is to thank for that.

As I hugged my son’s therapist good-bye the other day, tears welled in my eyes. I didn’t know how to thank her adequately. For so many years, she was the crutch that kept my little family walking and moving forward when we were hurt. But, though we’re far from perfect, we’re healed now.

It’s time for me and my son to walk on our own 

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