An Experience for a Lifetime

By Bill Schacht, MS, LCSW

Monday night’s CBS episode of “The Bachelorette” highlighted lady-in-looking JoJo Fletcher’s day-long  visits to the four remaining bachelors’ homes and families.   Throughout this show’s process, JoJo has demonstrated poise and wisdom engaging the men in a non-threatening manner that illuminates their partner potential strengths and weaknesses.

One hometown visit stood out as unique from the other three.  Bachelor Chase, prior to JoJo’s arrival, shared with the audience thoughts and feelings about being an adult child of a “very nasty” divorce.  Chase reveals his angst that JoJo may experience having to meet his father and mother separately and the fact that he had not seen his father in four years as enough negative to make him appear the weakest link in relationship to his competitors for her love.

He also expresses this concern to both mom and dad in the episode.

True to form, JoJo, who doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to inquiring relevant thoughts, feelings, and circumstances when “dating” her options, comes directly at Chase asking him what caused his parents’ divorce and if the childhood scars of family separation may have left him knowing that he is emotionally guarded about the risks of entering into commitment and marriage.

Chase cannot hide this possibility and does his best to tell JoJo that being a child of a painful divorce has him more committed to being who he needs to be in a successful marriage.

And, the negative transforms into a significant positive for Chase as he credits JoJo’s visit as the influence in he and his father meeting and reconnecting after a 48-month separation.

At the end of JoJo’s visit, Chase communicates into the camera that he is pleased and proud that both of his parents emerged from divorce into joyful, healthy relationships with their new spouses and families.

JoJo ends the segment with notable consideration of Chase’s family People of Divorce status.

The viewing reminds us that being People of Divorce is a life-long endeavor.  It also tells us that, as our children of divorce age and enter the dating and mating process, we must provide good support and guidance in helping them be present to and communicate their POD status and experience to potential partners – not as a matter of being or feeling flawed, rather as a matter of being wise and forthright!

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Getting Effective Therapist or Counseling Help For Your Child

“Getting Effective Therapist or Counseling Help For Your Child”

By Bill Schacht, MS, LCSW

Family separation and divorce create many complex challenges for children. The two most common experiences children report are…

  • Scary thoughts and feelings.
  • Being distracted (i.e. in school, etc.) because of uncertainty of the future of family life structure.

Children experiencing such fears and worries will begin to show symptoms both physical (i.e. headaches, insomnia, stomach aches, etc.) and psychological (i.e depression, anxiety, short temper, lack of participation or finding pleasure in activities which they previously enjoyed.

When children show theses signs of distress, parents, other relatives, and professionals with whom they are in contact (i.e. teachers, school counselors, clergy, pediatricians, etc.) will come to a conclusion that they need help from someone who has professional expertise in such cases (i.e. a psychologist or psychotherapist,etc.).

Let us all be clear that bad therapy is worse than no therapy just like a bad back surgery is much worse than no back surgery.

Psychotherapy is a service provided for people who have a clearly diagnosable mental health disorder. Most children showing symptoms from family change and divorce are have well within normal range of response to complex and massive family and residence changes. They are not “mentally ill” (see posted article on POD, “RED ALERT”).

Determining if they have a diagnosable condition or not is critical.

If you are going to seek an evaluation and possible treatment from a licensed mental health professional use the guide below to ensure that you child will be getting appropriate, safe and effective treatment.

Guide for Parents and Guardians Seeking Psychological Services For Children

Copyright 2006 -William D. Schacht, MS, LCSW

Your child may have been referred or recommended for psychological evaluation or counseling to an agency outside of your school system by a school psychologist, school social worker, counselor, or teacher. The following information can be used as a guide to assist you in helping your son or daughter secure psychological services that are useful and meet his or her needs. For further support, call Performance Enhancement Behavioral Health & Counseling Services at (414) 427-7347.

Question: Do you know for what reasons and services your child is being referred?

Points:

Ask what reasons the referral source is suggesting your child requires additional evaluation and/or service. Attention deficit, depression, anxiety, family situation adjustment are examples of such conditions.   The agency or mental health professional will ask you why you are seeking services for your child. This gives the therapist a starting point with your child. If you describe in writing a set of symptoms or behavior observations and how long your child has been experiencing these problems will be helpful to the therapist.

Your child could be referred for the following services…

Psychiatric Evaluation

Psychological Evaluation

AODA Assessment

Individual Psychotherapy

Family Counseling

Psychological Testing

Drug/Alcohol Counseling

What agency and mental health professional you choose should be skilled in the area assessed as the problem for your child. For example, if your child is being referred for adjustment issues due to a divorce, ask the therapist about his/her experience in dealing with marriage, family, and divorce adjustment issues. How many cases of this type have been seen?

Question: How do I know which therapist will be best for my child?

Points:

Word of mouth referral is a good process. School professionals, your primary care physician, your attorney (in divorce situations), and friends can be a good place to start. If you hear one agency or therapist name come up consistently, that is meaningful.

Make sure the therapist and agency are properly licensed. When choosing an agency (or clinic) ask if it is “State Mandated.”   This means it is accredited by the State of Wisconsin.

Ask the therapist if they are “licensed.”

Ask the therapist to tell you what his/her definitions are for…

“Psychological Evaluation” (Answer should include “accurate diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan with concrete measurable treatment objectives and measures of success and failure for each objective”).

“Psychotherapy”   (Answer should include “your child will learn how to make changes in his/her thinking patterns, emotional responses, and behaviors consistent with his/her treatment objectives”).

Therapist should communicate his/her philosophy on using psychotropic medications as part of treatment (medication masks symptoms, but many times does not address the underlying cause of the child’s problem).

Ask therapist how he/she will communicate with school personnel and the child’s primary care physician in regards to your child’s diagnosis and treatment. Good therapists see treatment as a team approach with other professionals who provide care and support for you child.

Question: How does treatment begin?

Points:

All treatment must begin with an effective evaluation. A good therapist should inform you of evaluation findings including…

  • Diagnosis
  • Prognosis
  • Treatment plan with concrete measurable treatment objectives and a projected number of sessions for each objective.
  • Measures of treatment success and failure and what adjustments to treatment will occur if treatment fails.

If the therapist cannot tell you these things, consider finding a different therapist.

Good therapy and medicinal treatment can only occur with accurate diagnosis. Inaccurate diagnosis can lead to improper treatment.   For example, if a child is diagnosed with ADHD when, in fact, the child is experiencing anxiety from a potential divorce situation, treatment can be detrimental, rather than useful. If a child is diagnosed with depression when, in fact, they are smoking pot twice a day and this is not known, treatment will not be useful.

Question: What is a “concrete, measurable treatment objective?”

Points:

For example, if your child is referred for social or performance anxiety, a vague, useless treatment goal would read’ “Reduce anxiety symptoms.” Of course! That is obvious!

A concrete measurable goal would read like these…

“Will attend speech class on every day he is scheduled to give a speech.”

“Will initiate social conversations with two other children in school she does not know within 6 weeks.”

“Will identify and eliminate obsessing about negative self thoughts in 4 weeks.”

These are real, meaningful type of objectives that are of immediate value to your child and you.

If treatment goals are not being met on projected timelines, ask the therapist for an explanation.   If you are not satisfied, seek a second opinion.

Question: What should I be willing to pay for my child’s treatment? What is good value?

Points:

Insurance benefits in mental health are rapidly decreasing for most health insurance plans.   Deductibles and co-pays are increasing.   Some quality providers choose not to be part of insurance panels that have low reimbursements. So, getting quality care at good cost value can requires good therapist selection and savvy consumerism.

Bad therapy is worse than no therapy.   Make sure your child has an effective therapist for his/her problem(s).

Consumers are trained that treatment cost should be assessed by fee per visit. This is not an accurate measure of true cost or consumer value.

Cost should be calculated by the therapist’s projected cost for your child’s entire treatment, rather than the cost of an evaluation or a therapy session.

For example, a $30 co-pay for 25 sessions is more than a $60 co-pay for 8 sessions if the resulting therapy outcome is the same.

Also consider how expensive it may be for you child not to receive effective treatment for his and her problem.   Marriage counseling that may cost you $3,000 out of pocket is less than $6,000 of attorney fees and family turmoil of a divorce.

For more information on selecting good psychological services for your child, call Performance Enhancement Behavioral Health & Counseling Services at…

(414) 858-1014

 

 

 

The Wonder of Compatability

“The Wonder of Compatibility”

By Bill Schacht, MS, LCSW

 They were just being served their salads as my 12 year old daughter, Hunter Rose, and I were being seated at our favorite Italian restaurant last Friday.  I noticed them out of the corner of my eye sitting across from one another at a small, cozy table.   I thought to myself, “What a sweet elderly couple,” as our waitress handed me a menu.

After we ordered, my eyes kept drifting to over to them.  I figured them in their mid 70’s; Hunter Rose had them somewhat younger as we observed her sipping her white wine and him pouring his beer from bottle to glass.  Her light blue, high collared, casual dress and his khaki pants with short sleeve, plaid shirt seemed to accentuate their age.  They both were wearing bifocals, slid halfway down their respective noses.  Both wore slim, gold wedding bands.

As we munched on our bread sticks, it was on my fourth look to their table that I realized they had not said a single word to one another.  They were into their main course.  Her eyes and focus were on the delicacies on her plate.  She hardly looked up or at him.   With each forkful of food he delivered to his mouth, he was people watching around the dining room and observing nature outside the nearby window.  Their contrast in style was attention getting.

For the next 70 minutes and until our check was paid, there were many glances over to observe their continued, vigilant silence.  They were still leisurely enjoying coffee and dessert as we headed for the exit.

On the drive home, we could not stop discussing and wondering how this couple, that we imagined had been married for numerous decades,  preferred to experience their dinner date in quiet and without eye contact.  We pondered how that worked for them.  But, we both agreed that we had felt a strong unconditional love that flowed between them.

We asked ourselves, “What is the secret to compatibility over a lifelong marriage?”  And, paradoxically, what causes the pleasurable compatibility that couples believe they have on their wedding day to vanish into divorce?

Why do so many couples throw the towel in when they seemingly have so much to build upon while others cherish and continue their commitment when they seem to have so little in common?

If asked, we would all say that couple “compatibility” is a necessary element of a successful long-term marriage.  But, what exactly does that mean?  How will we define it in our existing or future love relationship?  How will we explain it to our dating children?

These questions call for…

“POD WISDOM”

Let’s take it upon ourselves as an Association to answer them.  Go to the “Forum” accompanying this blog and share your thoughts what defines “compatibility” in a successful marriage relationship.  And, weigh in on our new “Compatibility Poll.”  We’ll share our combined wisdom on the subject with the world!

What To Do With an Angry COD (Child of Divorce)

What To Do With an Angry COD (Child of Divorce)

by Bill Schacht, MS, LSCW

On our free monthly pod cast this week for members who have taken our KIDS-IN-A-BREAK: Providing the Necessary Support for Your Child of Divorce seminar,  POD member Tara shared that her 10 year old son is exhibiting an intermittent pattern of anger and tantrum in a variety of situations including when he wants something, when he does not want to do what is asked of him, when he does not get what he wants, and in certain performance situations.  She asked, “What can I do, Bill?”

Any useful answer requires careful consideration of the many factors that are causing her son’s angry mood and correlated behavior.

Anger issues are present in many families that divorce.  Tara shared that she and her ex engaged in many anger-fueled arguments that her son witnessed.  So, knowing something about anger is a good starting point.

Anger is an emotion.  But, it is not a primary response.  Anger is usually either fear turned outward, misdirected passion, caused by hormonal change, or a combination of these.

When a dog becomes frightened, it will do one of two things.  It may cower or roll on its back in a submissive position.  It is communicating to the attacker, “Don’t hurt me.”  Or, the dog will convert its fear to anger and growl and show its teeth in an attempt to keep the threat at a distance.

Humans, when frightened, will many times do the same.  They will non-consciously convert their fear to anger and express that to the scary person or situation.  An example of this is when a person gets cut off on the expressway by another driver in a way that an accident in barely avoided.  A knee-jerk reaction of rage response is a quick conversion of high level fear into an anger response.

COD’s have many fears in family separation situations.  And, many suppress their fears.  Then, it squirts out as anger.

So, one way to effectively respond to child’s or adult’s anger is to ask, “Is there something that is frightening you?”  This simple question will many times deflect the anger and cause the person who is angry to get to the primary cause – something that is frightening.

Anger as “misdirected passion” is when people are not experiencing enough positive stimulation.  They are just not having enough fun.  All humans require stimulation; we need to be aroused.  What we get from arousal is releases of dopamine, adrenaline, and endorphins – all neuro-chemicals that get us to feel good.  When we do not generate enough arousal through healthy and fun activity, the human system can begin to seek arousal through creating mischief.  And, getting angry is one way to get a significant shot of adrenaline up our spine.

When a couple in relationship counseling begins by telling me that they “fight all the time,” I immediately ask, “Can you tell what the two of you have done together in the past two months for fun and pleasure?”   In 90% of the couples the response is, “Not much,” and many declare little or no sexual activity.

So, with an angry son or a battling spouse, it is good to ask if that person is having enough fun – getting the positive arousal they need.  I see many COD’s expressing anger when their parents are not playing with them enough or just not doing enough fun stuff with them.

The hormonal factor of anger can be a rapid fluctuation of estrogen (menstrual cycle related in women) or a build-up of testosterone in a male (not enough sexual release).  We’ll eliminate this in Tara’s son’s case.

If Tara’s son did observe many episodes of his parents fighting with dad or both parents in a high anger state, we can hypothesize that his behavior is simply learned.  If children see that adults respond to not getting what they want, trying to get what they want, or to avoid responsibility or natural consequences by becoming very angry, they will come to believe that anger is the appropriate response in those situations.

Next time you are feeling angry, ask yourself…

Is there something frightening me?

Am I not having enough fun?

Is it my cycle or not having sexual release?

If your child is angry, check the first two and ponder how much anger and fighting your child may have been exposed to in your family.  Please share your wisdom and experiences with the rest of the Association.

Adult POD Children, Holiday Complexity

“Adult POD Children,  Holiday Complexity”

Family separation and divorce bestows upon the involved children unforeseen, complex, life challenges for most of their remaining lives.  These inevitable situations many times get dumped into the laps of the kids with the divorced parents oblivious to the negative impact on the children’s lives and relationships.

There is no manual for these situations; no protocols, no “right way” to go about it.  Even as adults, these children are afraid to seriously discuss such situations with their parents.  And, when they marry, their spouses often adopt that fear and avoid addressing the issues, even when they cause serious problems within their marriage.

As members of PEOPLE OF DIVORCE – The Association, our value to each other is to report and discuss these complex situations.  This allows the membership to share what remedies they have tried that have succeeded or failed.

Consider the current situation of Elisha and James.  This married, 30ish couple has two young children.

James’ parents divorced when he was 8 years old.  But, the family was always very close and spent much time together.  Even after his mother and father remarried, gatherings in both new households continue to host weekly family interactions. Elisha will say that there is so much socializing within James’ family that, if unchecked, every weekend and some week nights would be spent in the company of his mother’s or father’s extended families.

Elisha’s parents married young and have a solid marriage of 40 years. Her family gets together, but not nearly as much as her husband’s.   Elisha’s family members enjoy their interactions, but are they are not as close and interdependent as James’ family.

James’ wants to spend as much time with his family as possible.  Elisha says she fights all the time with James for time to spend with him alone, together with their kids, and with her family.  The amount of time they spend with James’ family also has reduced their socialization with other couples and friends to almost zilch.

So, where is the real complexity?  Christmas.

James asserts that, because his mom and dad have different families, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day time should be split 1/3 – 1/3 – 1/3.  Elisha demands that this time be a 50-50 time divide between her family and his two.  Elisha asks James why her parents should be penalized by losing time with their grandchildren at Christmas for maintaining a happy marriage. She asks James to consider if her parents were also divorced and remarried, would he not be agreeable to splitting the holiday 25-25-25-25 across the four parent households?

Neither will budge on the issue.  Lack of resolution has resulted in other aspects of their relationship to break down.  The problem extends to children’s birthdays and other holidays.

Because  James and Elisha refuse to discuss the issue with their parents, they are clueless to the impact of it on their kids’ marriage.

Elisha is to the point of believing that, if James’ cannot “let go” of his family a little bit and they don’t crack this nut, it could cause them to divorce.

Imagine that two more kids could end up becoming children of divorce because their parents could not agree on with whom they will spend Christmas!

Sounds silly, doesn’t it?  But, it is a real example of the unintended consequences and natural complexity of POD children.

If you have had a similar experience, post a comment.  Share what you have done to remedy such situations.  What do you think should be the protocol in this circumstance?  Let’s talk about it in the POD community and help Elisha and James work it out!

POD Member Experiences Dating Discrimination

Just viewing the trailer to the new Adam Scott movie A.C.O.D. ( http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-207_162-57598847/adam-scott-is-an-a.c.o.d-in-new-trailer/ ) brings to mind the story 27 year old male POD Association member, Juan, recently shared with me.

Juan had divorced a year ago and started dating six months after.

Juan met Mia through an Internet dating site he joined.  After a few emails and phone calls, they decided to meet.  Juan was attracted to Mia immediately.  Over dinner, he shared with her that he was previously married and divorced (hereafter, termed a “MAD”) and she shared that she had been in two live-in committed relationships (hereafter, termed a “LIC”) that failed.

In thinking and feeling that Mia was a good potential match, a second date was even more enjoyable.  During that date, Juan shared the details of what led to his divorce. His marriage failed to sustain his wife’s change of life plans.

She was an exceptional athlete and, two years into their marriage, she told Juan that she wanted to pursue a goal of being chosen to the USA Olympic team in her sport.  This endeavor necessitated that she would have to move around the country several times in the course of a year to achieve selection goals required to make Team USA.  Juan had just secured a teaching job in the city in which his family lived since his childhood.  To follow her would not only mean he would have to give up his job, but also that he could not be assured he could keep a contract commitment to teach in any city for even a full school year.  His dream was to always reside close to his family.

There were other issues in their marriage, but this was the situation that ultimately led them to divorce. They had no children.

Mia politely listened to Juan’s story and then explained what caused the death of her two live-in relationships.

Juan believed their mutual sharing added more strength to their seedling dating status.

Juan called Mia for a third date.  He noticed her different tone of voice even as she said, “Oh, hello.”  Mia responded to his date request by telling him that she did not want to continue to date.  Juan asked, “Why?”  She responded, “Because you are divorced.”

In telling me the story, Juan was perplexed and confused.  There was something that he just could not understand.  How could Mia’s reason for dismissing him be for a divorce when she had two extended, failed, live-in relationships in her record book?  What was the difference, really?

This is a cultural phenomenon in America today.

A hundred years ago, if Mia had cohabitated with a man outside of wedlock, she would have drawn the scrutiny of her family and the community.

Recent statistics reveal that 8.1 million American households are inhabited by unmarried heterosexual couples. Today, pre-marital cohabitation which fails is looked upon with different eyes than divorce.    A person with four live-in fails is somehow distinct from four divorces logged.

This is especially notable when considering that LIC’s may struggle with commitment issues in the first place or may be less willing or skilled at working hard through relationship breakdowns.

Juan asked me, “Isn’t the break-up of a live-in, committed relationship like a divorce?”  I suggested to him that we could call that a live-in-committed-divorce (hereafter, a “LICD”).

Is it naive to think that the separation of a committed, long-term, live-in couple is less emotionally draining or less of a life punch in the gut than a divorce?   If they have children, are they less effected?

What do you think?  Please tell the members…