Parenting a depressed teenager an Over View

Self Injury and the Journey…

Parents Are the Cause for Teenage Mutilation: How many times have I heard about how terrible I am as a mother from my Grace. I am terrible mom, I am a mean parent and yes, I am stupid-I know nothing of what it means to be a teenager these days. How many parents out there hear about how awful they are from their kids? I am told by so many of my friends who have teenagers themselves that these are common place words.

According to Grace, my husband and I are her cause of much of her anxiety. According to Grace we are often the cause of her self mutilating sessions.

FINDING HELP: When we first learned about her self injury (Grace came forward and told us), we sought out help immediately-okay…like the very next day we were looking for experts in self injury and family therapy. In a week’s time, Grace began individual therapy and my husband and I started parent coaching.

The parent coach worked for the psychologist’s office group. Our coach was a psychologist PhD with expertise in family systems. We were so desperate to make things work and to “heal” the disease of ‘cutting’ that we followed her advise for nearly 4 years.

MINDFUL PARENTING: We became  “careful.”  We did not to upset her. No more yelling, no more fighting, no more debating.  Okay-that is not completely true – as a parent of a teen, I must confess! I engaged in heated debates-still do. I continued to fight with my teen – still do.  And yes, I did yell, especially when it is half past 6 and she has to be on the school bus by 7 AND she is still in bed after multiple attempts to wake her beginning at 5 a.m.-still am guilty of that, too.


Grace-for-all (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The fact remains, in the beginning, the fear I had of Grace cutting each time I felt a conflict or disappointment was on the rise, this fear motivated so many of the decisions I made in hopes of avoiding a possible cutting session.  “If  mommy cannot make A happen, then b (Grace self injures) will occur…”  “If parents do this, then Grace self injures.”

Perfect cause and effect thinking! My parenting decisions were driven in part by guilt and fear. I felt enormously guilty, I had done something so wrong, my parenting had driven my child to self injury.

ADVISE from the PARENT COACH: The advise of our parenting coach at the time sounded so good. “Pick your battles, don’t sweat the small stuff, treat the cuts as wounds-clean em’ up and don’t over react. Don’t bring attention to the cutting, avoid conflicts and don’t take away all of the cutting utensils she uses.”

We were to become  “careful” and “mindful.”  Leave the mess in her room be. Just shut the door. School-well, that is secondary. Grace needs us to love her no matter what. We began to look at what meant the most to us.  No more yelling about homework or dirty rooms, no more fighting about bathing regularly, no more debating as to whether or not we attend church-if Grace did not want to go, it wasn’t the end of the world.  We were to stop engaging in all of these conflicts. Okay-that is not completely true – as a parent of a teen, I must confess! I engaged in heated debates-still do. I continued to fight with my teen – still do.  And yes, I did yell, especially when it is half past 6 and she has to be on the school bus by 7 and she is still in bed after multiple attempts to wake her beginning at 5 a.m.-still am guilty of that, too.

INSIGHTS FROM A CHILD PSYCHOLOGIST:  The insight and feedback the psychologist gave us at the time was, “she is so engaged in each session.” Okay, yep, I confess, I  feel pretty stupid writing this because I did not have the brain for asking follow up questions like, “What do you mean by engaged?”  “Is she able to share with you her feelings?”  “What strategies have you two come up with?” We got the causes from her therapist-she is unhappy and depressed.  BTW-there is no way we could really find out if Grace was sharing her innermost feeling because we, the parents, were told that sharing with Grace’s therapist about melt downs or cutting sessions or what fights happened at home would not help. It would only worsen the situation leaving Grace with an incredible challenge to learn to trust her therapist. Trust was so necessary to the path of healing and happiness.

DON’T  TELL  ON  YOUR  KID  (to her therapist) IF  She  Cuts:  As a matter of fact, if Grace cut superficially, we were told that we were not to share this with her therapist. We were told that these professionals consulted with their director and that this was the recommendation they were to go with-parents don’t tell on your kid if your kid cut-only if it were a serious cut. This became this professional group’s policy.

Family Dysfunction: This lead to the absolute perfect storm of family dysfunction. Don’t get me wrong, I got a lot out of my therapy and parent coaching. I had to look closely at ways I was parenting. Every week my husband and I got to review the mistakes we had made with Grace and rethink the situation and determine different approaches. There was someone to talk to about our parenting style. Let me tell you, its not a fun nor comfortable to have to do each week-review and reflect on the dysfunctional parenting choices I had made. These folks meant well, really believed in their psychological ideology, but really? Really? Don’t tell the therapist when your kid has cut unless it is deep? Don’t tell the therapist what has transpired that week in terms of teenage tantrums? Really??? I look back and now see how stupid that was.

Suicide Attempts At 15:  Grace ended up in the hospital after attempting suicide and while in partial hospitalization, Grace attempted again!  Do the math, after several years of parent coaching and therapy-you’d expect it to get better, right? The equation doesn’t add up, under the advise and care of a trained doctor of child psychology for several years, one should get better-not attempt suicide and cut even more!

DBT and SAVING OUR DAUGHTER’S LIFE:  Off we go to a second hospital program, you may know the type. You drop your kid off for part of the day and they work with a bunch of therapists for a handful of weeks. The second suicide attempt sent us in a completely different therapeutic direction following the philosophy of DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy).  I was hearing stuff like, “She has got to want this.”  “We are dealing with an extremely tough population. They don’t handle anxiety well so they using maladaptive coping mechanisms.”  “Don’t call this cutting, we use the term, SELF INJURY.” “We are going to teach her how to live with feeling uncomfortable.” “She must learn to deal with anxiety and stress because it is part of life.”  We were ready to do anything to keep Grace alive.

Grace is still with us. Thank God!!  She is our ultimate grace. She still continues to struggle with self injury and depression. We are now in family therapy and individual therapy. Life for us is a daily struggle with a teen who faces an addiction, this horrific compulsion to mutilate her body. Grace is our greatest joy, the love of our life and we are committed to helping this family and our Grace.  It is a dark journey and each day I struggle with her anger and depression And each night, I end my day thanking God we had one more day together.

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