A mother reaches out for answers

The last article introduced us to Elizabeth, a single parent, divorced mother of two girls. She works full-time and spends time working out to keep physically fit. She has come to counseling to discuss a sensitive matter. Her older daughter, age 17, an honor student, has been caught intoxicated from alcohol. Elizabeth’s response is quite dramatic as she begins to describe and unfold her problem.

She arrives at her second session from work. She is fashionably dressed given the standard of her administrative position. She quickly apologizes for her teary outburst at our initial meeting. I let her know that her response may have been normal under the circumstances. I ask her to give me a character sketch of her daughter, Julia, age 17. She describes Julia as a highly intelligent, self-motivated girl who is popular at school. She’s involved in an assortment of school clubs. Her body shape is similar to Elizabeth’s. She’s tall, thin and wiry. She’s on the gymnastics team, where she excels and on the volleyball team, where she starts as a blocker and spiker. She often gets home before Elizabeth. She and her younger sister, Natasha, help prepare dinner four nights a week. Elizabeth arrives home around sevenish.

I ask Elizabeth about the time table of when she caught her daughter intoxicated. How did she find out? How did she react to the situation? Where did this happen? How did Julia react? Lots of questions liken to a detective seeking puzzle parts to gain clarity. Nevertheless, there’s possibly more vital information that Elizabeth may not yet reveal. I keep in mind an important axiom. No matter what a client presents as a problem, the focus must be on the client. That’s not to label it as fault or blame. This is Elizabeth’s experience and opportunity for holistic growth. Yes, I don’t minimize Elizabeth’s concern for Julia. Rarely have I found that a single presenting problem is in a vacuum, therefore, easily resolved.

I listen intently to Elizabeth. I ask her what kind of help she is looking for.

Is this a child-adolescent problem? Is this a family matter? Do I encourage Elizabeth to involve Julia’s dad in the process? There’s these and untold possibilities for me to decide upon a therapeutic strategy. Keeping in mind Elizabeth’s coping skills, we proceed with a plan and to aid this family. Rule of thumb … one person’s problem, be it physical, medical, emotional or mental is a whole family’s problem. To not be affected is a problem unto itself.

Elizabeth wants me to meet Julia. Julia will come to the next session with Elizabeth. For now, we’ll focus on the family dynamic. We’ll keep Natasha temporarily on the sidelines. Sometime later, we’ll decide when I introduce her to the family therapy system. I encourage Elizabeth to share the process with Julia’s dad, Peter. We’ll keep open his entry in the fold.

Along this continuum, I keep special attention to Elizabeth. I wonder what’s possibly going on beyond her surface tension. While we work on the family, I don’t want to underscore Elizabeth’s anxiety. Is something percolating beneath the surface of her psyche? More to come.

Let there be peace and let it begin with me.

Marshall Greenstein, a Cassadaga resident, holds a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling and is a licensed marriage and family counselor and a licensed mental health counselor in New York state. He has regular office hours at Hutton and Greenstein Counseling Services, 501 E. Third St., Suite 2B, Jamestown, 484-7756. For more information or to suggest topics, email editorial@observertoday.com