Tuesday, October 4, 2022
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I let my daughter quit family therapy and take control of her own mental-health care. Now, we’re trying art therapy instead.

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  • My daughter and I have been seeing our family therapist for four years now.
  • Recently, she said she wanted to quit seeing our therapist but was open to seeing someone else.
  • I was hesitant at first, but letting her take control of her mental-health care is paying off.

Parenting my daughter works best on her timeline and on her terms, within reason. At 4 months old, she was restless in our bedroom so I put her in her own. She started sleeping through the night, prompting me to be very smug about sleep training, until I went and had another kid a few years later and learned my lesson. 

She self-weaned with little fanfare around a year and a half, potty-trained over the course of a weekend by age 3, and has been doing quite well without training wheels for some time now. But now, at age 8, when she recently mentioned she wanted to quit her therapist, I had big reservations. 

We’d been seeing a wonderful family therapist who owns a large practice for four years, since my daughter was first diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety when she was 4. We’re lucky to have her — the practice is so full its waiting list is closed, and therapists are in short supply all over. We alternate visits where my daughter sees the therapist alone, and at the next session, I meet with the therapist without my daughter and discuss parenting strategies.

In one of our parenting sessions a few months ago, the therapist mentioned that my daughter was refusing to talk to her. When I asked my daughter about it afterward, she shrugged and said she didn’t want to see that particular therapist anymore. She conceded she’d talk to another therapist, but this one wasn’t working for her. 

Letting go of our family therapist wasn’t easy

At first, I pushed back; I talked about how loving and smart this therapist was, how much she’d looked after our family these past few years, and how she’d helped us with school and at home. We kept up for a few months.  

In the next parenting session, the therapist said my daughter was still stonewalling her and suggested we find a new therapist. I said I didn’t want to give her up, but we agreed therapy wouldn’t work if my daughter wasn’t willing. She wasn’t offended — at least she didn’t let me see if she was — and said sometimes kids grow out of their healthcare providers as they get older. 

She suggested several other clinics and said we could always come back if we wanted to. I went on an exhausting — and exhaustive — search for a new provider. I asked every friend who had ever mentioned taking their kid to therapy where they went. 

Searching for a new therapist for my daughter

We have good insurance for mental-health care, so while there were options that theoretically accepted our coverage, many were not open for new patients. One practice rejected us because of something I wrote in the intake paperwork that led them to believe they did not have a provider that could meet our needs. One tried to match us with an intern who had not even begun a master’s program. Even with my daughter’s refusal to speak to our current provider at the time, I couldn’t see giving up her experience for someone so green.

Then our pediatrician recommended a clinic specializing in ADHD that was accepting new patients for art therapy. I texted my childhood best friend, who happens to be a psychiatrist, asking, “Is art therapy real?” and also asked our soon-to-be-ex-therapist for her blessing. Everyone thought it was a good idea to give it a try — including my art-loving daughter. 

Giving art therapy a try

At the first appointment, the therapist, who had short, pink hair — something my daughter would love for her own personal style — took us to an office filled with natural light. My daughter plopped on the floor with markers and immediately began drawing our long-deceased cat. The therapist said, “This session, your mom is going to sit in and I’m going to ask you both some questions.”

My daughter was monosyllabic in her responses at first and my heart sank. Then, something changed; she began to warm up, and soon we were all laughing at my funny, talkative child as she regaled us with her stories and opinions. The therapist promised that at the next appointment, there would be fewer questions and even more drawing. She also said that my daughter could decide if she wanted me to sit in the waiting room next time. 

After the appointment, I asked my daughter how she liked the new therapist and if she wanted to go back. “Yep,” she said. “Do you want me to stay in the waiting room?” I asked. She nodded, but not unkindly. She acted as if we were headed home from the park. She was happy and relaxed, which put me at ease, too. She’d had a nice time and it hadn’t been a big deal or a stressful event. 

She’s still so young. I control her life in so many ways. But I’m realizing that even at her age, she does know herself  — even better than I do. And when it comes to her own mental-health care, I can trust my daughter to lead her own process.

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