I'm on a number of professional "list serves" that exchange ideas, resources in which colleagues also seek referrals from one another. Something just crossed my eye that saddened me regarding how calloused we have become to one another's pain.
Callousing is not necessarily a bad thing. Our feet are very calloused. They endure great amounts of pressure and demands in carrying the weight of our bodies as we depend on them daily without our consideration to the demands made upon them. Professionals learn how to callous as well. The emergency physician has to learn to callous to the pain of the patient in order to properly diagnose and treat the problem. A physician focusing only on the pain of the wound may not do very well in treating it. That's why physicians are trained to not treat their families.
In the field of mental health we are trained to strike a balance. We we have to create an emotional connection with clients - after all, that's a large part that motivates their first call. They need to speak with someone who they can trust, someone who convincingly understands at an emotional and intimate level whatever they're experiencing. At the same time mental health professionals must not get too drawn into the pain of their clients lest they lose their professional objectivity. The balancing of these two things, objectivity with empathy is an ongoing and difficult balance to be struck.
So, while reviewing my in-box, it caught my eye when a request for a therapist for a child was made. The child, the note said, had "no underlying issues." So far so good. Some kidsvjust want to talk having had to external crises or precipitant. The next sentence, however, stated that the child's parents had recently divorced.
Yes, divorce rates are high, and that's a valuable topic of discussion for another time. But for it to be so commonplace that we describe a child who has suffered the dissolution of their family structure to not be an "underlying issue" seems to me a bit too calloused a presumption.
Have you ever broken a bone? A finger, wrist, arm or leg? Or have you brought a family member or friend to the hospital with a broken bone? When it's yours, it's not so simple, even though broken bones are common and usually easily repaired.
I will hold that a child's losing the structure of the family is indeed an underlying issue. It's huge. Let's remember what the function of parents provide a child: A child from it's first moments in this world creates emotional bonds with parents. Throughout it's infancy and for years to come it learns how to distinguish between it's primary caretakers. Usually that involves two parents. Sometimes it's one, or a parent and some other adult, maybe a grandparent. Whomever the primary caretaker/s are is with whom the child creates a primary attachment that is the model of attachment in the future. Parents provide the child with a foundation upon which the child depends. When that foundation gives way the entire structure of the child's life is changed, regardless if the structure of the family is a single parent, same gendered, multi-generational or typical.
Fascinating research has been done in the wake of children's experiences after severe earthquakes. The one thing they had always been able to depend upon, the earth's stability, now having been compromised, effects the child's experience of security and safety. So too the parental unit that becomes unstable, jeopardizing the entire emotional foundation upon which the child has build his or her emotional world.
Regardless of the frequency with which such traumatizing events occur, I pray that we not become so calloused so as to diminish the weight of the value of typical family structure.