“Parents’ Experiences of Their Adolescent’s Mental Health Treatment: Helplessness or agency – based hope.” 2018 Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
Jenny Brown. PhD
Parent helplessness and hope invested in external treatment
The longitudinal journey revealed changes across the course of parents’ treatment experience. A compelling ‘meta’ theme that emerged from the initial data analysis was that of ‘hope and helplessness’. As previously mentioned in methodology the actual word ‘hope’ was rarely used by parents and was not part of the research interview but many repeating phrases conveyed them. In attending to variations in expressions of hope and helplessness the connection of parent agency with hope emerged. This led to paying close attention in the relevant text in these sub-themes to aspects of treatment that might be connected to the themes of hope and agency. Hope is defined as “a cognitive process that is directed toward specific, future-oriented goals… [that] must be of sufficient value to the individual and have an intermediate probability of attainment (Weis & Ash, 2009: 356).” Agency is defined as “a parent’s beliefs in their ability to influence their child and the environment in ways that would foster the child’s development and success (Jones & Prinz, 2005: 342).” Simplified, hope is what the parent wishes for and agency is what the parent sees they can actively contribute towards that wish. At the commencement of their young person’s admission to Redbank House, all parents described having reached a point of desperation with many frustrating experiences in engaging with various child and adolescent mental health services. Their repeating narratives reveal a journey of confusion about services, and frustration with waiting lists and ‘dead ends’. Prior to admission at Redbank parents all expressed regularly feeling excluded from communication about their child’s treatment and a sense of blame or judgement from the ‘expert’ helper. Such negative experiences contributed to parents’ diminished hope in finding the right help for their child. While parents spoke of a lack of progress or an escalation of their child’s problems, they did report some helpful experiences in their previous dealings with services. Positive experiences were workers who listened to them, showed understanding of their difficulties, recognized their efforts, and showed a commitment to trying to assist their adolescent.
Each of these parents commenced their involvement in Redbank’s program desperately hoping that this service would be different to what they had experienced to date. They were also in need of some respite and experienced relief to have a program that would take on much of the responsibility of caring for and ‘fixing’ their child.
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In this edition of Family Matters, I talk with Dr. Jenny Brown about how she helps parents think about children with mental health challenges. We’ll explore how parents’ work on themselves can help foster maturity and resilience in their children. Dr. Brown is the founder and director of The Family Systems Institute in Sydney, Australia.
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The reciprocity between parents and their child’s mental health treatment systems, Family Systems: A Journal of Natural Systems Thinking in Psychiatry and the Sciences, 14:2, 2020 Jenny Brown. PhD Excerpts Any treatment may achieve some symptom relief for a child even if it does not address the underlying parental process. This can occur through anxiety…