How Do I Find the Right Help?
One of the first things we were blindsided by when we adopted our kids was the marked lack of professional help that actually exists out there in the world for issues related to developmental trauma. We had read all the books, we did all the research, we knew what to look for…and we were still as naive as the rest of the world. Even with all the study and learning we had done, we still assumed that once we got home from adoption adventure in Eastern Europe, we’d be able to do what we’ve always done and all would be well. We’d get the kids listed on the insurance, pull up the list of providers, and get the kids into whatever help they needed to adjust to their new life.
Oh my, were we ever in for a rude awakening! Our first glimpse of reality came several weeks before we even got home. I well remember the day shortly after we had been to court and our adoption had just been granted. We were staying in a cramped, hot hotel located on a busy road right smack in the middle of town. Our long-awaited precious child had just moved in with us. Much to our surprise, he was also not at all the same kid we had just spent several weeks with at his orphanage!
Long story short, we had absolutely no “honeymoon” with our little darlings. Literally within an hour of coming home, everything changed. He ran away every time we took our eyes off him. He bit me every chance he could. He stole whatever he wanted and was beating me black and blue. As if that wasn’t enough, he also climbed on my shoulders and very literally tried to break my neck. In sheer desperation, we placed an international call at $1.80 per minute to the person who had done our home study and approved us to adopt our children. We had no idea at the time this is what traumatized and scared kids do. Nor did we know how deeply traumatized and scared this child really was. All we knew is we needed some help to know how to help this child.
We were stunned at the response we got. “Tell him to hit a pillow instead of you.” Are you kidding me? Did you not just hear what I said? First of all, this kid doesn’t speak English. Second, he’s very literally beating me up and trying to break my neck. I can’t stop him. My husband can’t stop him. When and if the translator is around, she can’t stop him either…and you want me to tell him to hit a pillow?
Thankfully, we have learned a lot since that day. That terrified child has now grown into a respectable young man who is helpful, kind, and loves his mama. It has been a journey of ups and downs. Sometimes we have had help. Other times we haven’t. One thing is for sure, though…precious little of the help we have had was found by searching our insurance roster!
5 Quick Tips for Finding the Right Help
I want to share some quick pointers with you today on how to find the help that is right for you. Some of this we learned from experience…and some of it is stuff we wish we would have known and done a whole lot sooner than we did. It would have made our transition and healing process so much smoother!
1. Name the beast
The very first step in finding the right help is to figure out, at least at a surface level, what it is you’re really dealing with. That sounds a little backwards, right? In the medical world, when we are sick we go to a doctor. Their job is to figure out what is wrong and make a diagnosis. Then they figure out a course of treatment for whatever ails us.
That isn’t always the best or even most appropriate course of action when you’re dealing with mental health related issues, though. Why? Mental health issues are a lot more subjective and very easy to misdiagnose, especially since many different conditions share the same set of symptoms.
Before jumping into any type of a treatment program with someone, do some homework. If you are parenting hurt kids, specifically research things like Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), Developmental Trauma, complex PTSD and dissociative disorders, FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders), autism spectrum disorders, and mood disorders. If any of those sound like your kid, start making a long list of questions. Ask the potential helpers what they know about these conditions, what their treatment approaches are, and how much experience they have in successfully treating said conditions.
2. Get the right help for the right person first
Kids aren’t the only ones who need help. Parents do too! The very best thing you can do to help your kids and your family heal is to get the right support and training for yourself as a parent (and especially as a mom) first.
Healing doesn’t happen by spending an hour a week in a therapist’s office. It happens at home. Good helpers know this. As such, they never banish mom to the waiting room. They make sure you as a parent are being trained to do the heavy lifting and bulk of the hard therapeutic work with your child. As most of our kids were hurt within the context of relationship trauma, that is also where it needs to heal.
Parents can’t make that happen unless their own emotional buckets are full and their own needs are being met. It isn’t enough to piggyback on your kids’ therapy appointments or their therapist. Even if you are the one paying the bills and you attend every session, your child is still the primary client and the focus will always be on them. If lasting healing is what you are after, it is imperative that your helpers work with you as the parent first and your child second.
Regretfully, this is the biggest mistakes I made for way too long myself. After all, I was fine and my kids were the crazy ones. Right? Only after my own body and mental health cracked under the pressure did I listen and realize that treating kids before parents leads to burned out, overwhelmed, and exhausted parents and kids who are still spinning their wheels and pulling all their same crazy stuff.
3. Use the right tools for the job
This business of parenting tough kids is not a smooth ride. We aren’t dealing with normal circumstances. Our special kids require special parenting techniques and skills. We parents require specialized education, training, tools, and support in order to make it work. Make sure the helpers you choose understand that “normal” parenting tools and methods don’t work with our special kids.
Make sure your helpers also understand the intense dynamics these complex issues bring into the home. Make sure they understand how every member of the family is affected. Make sure they are committed to helping support and educate both parents and kids as they navigate this turbulent journey together.
4. Credentials Matter
Not all help is created equal. Just like any other profession in the world, medical and mental health professionals (including doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, social workers, etc) only specialize in 1-2 areas, even though they may advertise that they treat them all. Look for people who have extensive training in trauma. If they will be treating your kids or you have an extensive trauma history yourself, make sure your helpers have certified training specifically in trauma work. It is perfectly ok and appropriate to ask to see their certificate. It is also important to make sure the program they are certified through involved more than just reading a book, a weekend retreat, or attending a few workshops.
Please also remember that just because someone is covered by your insurance plan doesn’t mean they can actually help you. A therapist who doesn’t have the right training, is inexperienced, or insists on treating your child alone can very easily make the problems worse instead of better. On the flip side, a therapist with the right training and a solid understanding of the issues you are dealing with is worth their weight in gold. They are, however, hard to find, so ask a lot of questions.
5. Look for alternatives
Therapy isn’t the only answer. In fact, for many people, it may even be the wrong answer. Have you ever considered coaching as an alternative to therapy? If you don’t know much about parent coaching or have never considered it as an option, check it out! You might be surprised to learn how quickly and how much it can help you turn thing around.
There are numerous other alternative options out there as well. Some are fantastic. Some are quackery. Don’t be afraid to look at all of them. Each person responds differently to each method. Your perfect fit may well be something you’ve never even considered before.
Please, however, do not fall into the trap of “I can’t afford it” just because insurance doesn’t pay for it. Those alternative may actually be less expensive than traditional treatment in the long run. This is particularly true if the alternative methods work better, faster, and more effectively for your particular issues than traditional methods do.
Taking it home
What were your thoughts as you read through this? Are you receiving the help, support, and tools you need as a parent to effectively calm the chaos and navigate the storms? Does your family have the right support in place to help everyone heal and move forward? Are there alternative options out there that might be a better fit for you?
You know what the definition of insanity is, right? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. My invitation to you today is to take whatever steps are necessary to break that cycle. If things aren’t working, try something different. If you are sinking faster than your child is getting better, seek help for yourself first. Things really can and do turn around. There IS hope.