Supporting clients and families in the process of acceptance and charting a path towards healthier communication
We often see a form of grief and loss taking place in times of transition to alternative educational settings. Specifically, we regularly speak with parents and students about letting go of the ideal image they wished they had with respect to neurotypical adolescent development and traditional academic trajectories. This conflict frequently seems to underpin the challenges that occur in healthy relationships. Through the process of challenging maladaptive patterns, families can chart a path towards healthier, more connected and communicative relationships.
Most parents struggle with the notion of “sending their child away” and in effect being forced to confront their potential shortcomings as a parent. Hence, it is only natural for one to experience a grieving process that goes along with confronting this reality. Similar to grief and loss experienced from the death of a loved one, frequently we see people experience varying degrees of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance in the process of engaging children in treatment and magnifying parental challenges.
Often these stages of grief manifest in the form of maladaptive patterns such as blaming, rationalizing, intimidation, running away, avoidance, isolation, self-harm or suicidal ideation. Frequently these patterns are a coping strategy to deal with difficult emotions that might be hard to express. Through treatment in wilderness, we are able to address and exhaust these underlying, maladaptive patterns that are in effect avoiding the need to address core concerns related to clinical depression, anxiety, bottling of emotions and conflict in relationships. We are also able to support families in accepting past choices and family dynamics, while also finding alternative ways of relating moving forward.
Connected to the process of acceptance, often we see improved communication and decreased conflict as a result of families engaging in the treatment process. Research indicates that adolescents who have more conflicts with their parents have more externalizing and internalizing problems; lower levels of self‐esteem, well‐being, and adjustment to school; and more frequent substance use (Tucker, 2003). Additionally, once expectations about how individuals need to renegotiate relationships in a mutually beneficial way, parents reduce their control, conflict usually diminishes, and parents and adolescents may reestablish closeness (Branje, 2018). In the process of challenging adolescents to relate differently to the world around them and take control of their own lives and a healthy, adaptive way, we not only see a decrease in these negative tendencies and an increase in positive prosocial behaviors, but greater acceptance of the value of alternative educational and treatment modalities. In short, through treatment and intentional space in relationships, we see the quality of parent-adolescent relationships improve.
At True North, we work diligently to not only address underlying clinical issues and concerns, but we also aim to support clients and families in the process of accepting identified social, emotional and educational needs. On the path to acceptance, parents and adolescents must grieve the loss of ideals, and work towards accepting the reality that exists. Unlike the loss of a loved one, this reality need not be all negative. In fact, research conducted through the ongoing NATSAP assessments being administered before and after treatment at True North seem to indicate there are significant positive outcomes for improved relationships and healthier communication between family members as a result of their embracing getting treatment in the continuum of care. In the process of letting go of alternative ideals and working to embrace new, uncharted realities, parents and clients seem to not only survive but thrive.
Branje, S. (2018). Development of parent–adolescent relationships: Conflict interactions as a mechanism of change. Child Development Perspectives, 12, 3, 171-176. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12278, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cdep.12278
Tucker, C. J., McHale, S. M., & Crouter, A. C. (2003). Dimensions of mothers’ and fathers’ differential treatment of siblings: Links with adolescents’ sex‐typed personal qualities. Family Relations, 52, 82–89. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2003.00082.x