An interview with integrative psychiatrist Henry Emmons who integrates mind-body and natural therapies, mindfulness and Buddhist teachings, and compassion and insight into his clinical work. Henry developed the Resilience Training Program, which is currently offered at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.
We’ve tackled thirty-one questions this month. Answering them will help you look at what’s going on in your child’s life from a much broader perspective, one that takes into account the many pitfalls of the mental disorder paradigm and that includes the significant alternatives available to you.
The Concerned Parents’ Project grew out of the idea that there may be parents out there who are confused and bewildered by the mixed messages on what it is to have normal and healthy childhood experiences. We posted a new question and answer for parents each day in March — a summary of all thirty-one questions can be found here.
You have your own life, your own needs, and your own challenges. If parenting is demoralizing you or depleting you, you need your own self-care and support. You may be caught in a vortex of difficulty, trying to deal not only with one child but with his or her siblings, with your mate, with your parents—and then there are all of your social and existential needs, your need for friends, meaning, and all the rest. Life lived this way is like a hurricane.
Let’s say that your child has been extremely sad, has been diagnosed with a so-called mental disorder and put on so-called psychiatric medication, and is now quite worse, deeper in despair, and talking about suicide more often.
If you’ve tried to help your child in some way, whether via a traditional psychiatric intervention or via something else, the next question to address is whether your child is getting better, whether the situation remains unchanged, or whether your child’s situation has worsened.
Let’s say that your child is despondent. You might send your child down the road of mental disorder labeling and chemicals. But surely there are other things you might also try, either instead of the label-and-chemical route or simultaneous with that route.
Human beings have always taken substances because of their effects. We are very accustomed to this idea. What we are not accustomed to doing is taking a close look at why we are taking a given substance.
If a mental health professional would like to give your child a mental disorder label, for instance the label ADHD, inquire as to his or her rationale for doing so.
The profit motive is a powerful motive in human affairs. Pharmaceutical companies make huge profits by supplying powerful chemicals called psychiatric medications that are touted as safely and effectively treating things called mental disorders.
So-called mental disorders are not “diagnosed” based on causes that can be tested for (or even articulated) but are instead “diagnosed” according to what are called symptom pictures. This is a highly questionable practice.
You may decide that you can’t do enough to help your child reduce his or her experience of distress by yourself. Where should you turn for help? It amounts to a very different decision to take your child to a child psychologist whose speciality is talk and uses techniques like play therapy or to take your child to a psychiatrist who routinely “diagnoses mental disorders” and then “prescribes medication.”
What if your child’s school difficulties have to do with poor eyesight or poor hearing? What if his or her lethargy, pain complaints, or sleeplessness are symptoms of a medical condition? See if you can rule out genuine organic and biological causes for the “symptoms” that your child is displaying before supposing that they are “symptoms” of a “mental disorder.”
How do you describe your own difficulties to yourself and to others? Do you say things like, “Oh, I have ADD and our little Bobby has it too”? Or “Depression runs in our family”? Or “We can’t seem to get Sally’s anxiety meds right—but I have the same problem myself”?
Human beings do not automatically love other human beings. Nor is love a stable, impregnable sort of thing. You may have lost patience with your child, feel oppressed by him or her, or in some other way lost that loving feeling.
Who hasn’t watched a young child obsessively build a tall structure out of blocks, knock it down, build it up again, knock it down again, and keep doing that for a long half hour? What is going on there?
Have you checked in with the people in your circle and your community: your mate, your other children, your parents, and anyone else who knows your child well? What are their thoughts about what’s going on?
Have you asked your child what’s going on? Asking is very different from accusing or interrogating.
Let’s say that you come to recognize that your child’s acting out has to do with the fact that you and your mate are obliged to move every few years for work. That obligatory move is putting a strain on your child, who must continually deal with being an outsider at a new school.
If your mate belittles your child and your child grows sad and withdrawn, your child certainly has a problem. But isn’t your mate the...
Researchers estimate that as much as a quarter of the population is authoritarian: bullying, controlling, punishing, and just plain mean.
Trauma and abuse produce distress. Sometimes called “adverse childhood experiences,” even a single traumatic event, incident of abuse, or adverse childhood experience can cause difficulties in the moment and lifetime negative consequences.
Kids can feel family stress in their bones. Your young child may not know that you and your mate are struggling to pay the bills or regularly at each other’s throat but he or she is very well aware that something is going on
You might not think that your child having a prominent part in the school play might prove a source of serious stress for him or her. But it might. The same might hold true for an upcoming piano recital, spelling bee, public event or competition.
If your child’s circumstances change, he or she is likely to react to those changes. Is your child in a new school? Doing new, harder schoolwork? Dealing with your separation or divorce? Living in a new town? Dealing with a new sibling?