Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Attachment and Theraplay

Q. I heard your counselors were giving a talk on Attachment and Parenting this week at Camp of Champions. I am an adoptive/foster parent myself. Can you tell us a little bit about what this all means?

A. You heard correctly! Rachel Copeland, Rod Marshall, and Lisa Keane will be speaking on the topic Attachment and Bonding in Children. They will specifically focus on our foster parents and house parents with Alabama Baptist Children's Homes & Family Ministries. If you are interested in learning more about the treatment approach that they use in working with these kids click here.

I felt like your question could be best be answered by one of our foster parents who wrote about her experience. This mom has seen her child go from very little interaction or affection, to being very loving and cuddly. Read her story below. If you have any questions, feel free to post a comment. Enjoy!

"And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. Isaiah 30:21 (ESV)

We had been familiar with Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries (ABCH) for a while when God brought someone into our path who encouraged us to consider becoming respite foster parents. Children would stay with us for a short visit and then return to their foster home, much like an aunt and uncle would do for their nieces or nephews. Caring for a foster child for a few days at a time didn’t seem nearly as overwhelming as full-time foster care had.

By the next summer we had been trained and approved. Then the kids started coming. Sometimes it was one child, and other times it was a group of brothers and sisters. They would stay just a few days at a time, but we fell in love with them all.

This continued for several years until I became pregnant with our first child. We were preparing to take a break, but God had other plans, and He introduced us to Lauren*. She stayed with us often, and each time our burden for her grew. As my due date drew near, we put our respite services on hold – for everyone but Lauren.

Sometimes I’m still not sure how it all came about. What I do know is that God showed us very clearly that she was supposed to be a part of our lives. We became the full-time foster parents of Lauren when my son was just two months old. Three-and-a-half years later, she would become a part of our family forever as our adopted daughter.

Sometimes God speaks in a whisper, and other times His directions are so straightforward it seems as if He has rented every billboard in the city. There were two verses God used to speak to us during that time. The first was James 1:27: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” The second was 2 Corinthians 9:8: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

I now know why God made His will so very clear to us. He knew the difficulties that were soon to follow, and knew that anything less than this ear-deafening proclamation would have left room for us to doubt this was His will.

When Lauren first came, we were aware of her motor skill delays and other physical and emotional obstacles she was facing. Along with her beautiful smile came many doctor visits, therapy sessions and tantrums. An experienced teacher, I had taken classes on behavior management in addition to the seminars I had attended as a foster parent. The problem was, none of these approaches were working with Lauren. It didn’t matter how consistent I was, how cute the chart, how desirable the reward. Time outs were never effective because I couldn’t get her to sit in the time-out spot – much less stay there for any length of time.

Four years later, Lauren was a permanent part of our family, yet we were still searching for something that would help her overcome her need for control and problems with anxiety. Beyond this, I had begun to lose hope that Lauren would ever truly love me. Though she had improved some over the years, she still did not like to be touched. She would stiffen whenever I tried to sit with her or show her affection. I often felt that she saw me as her servant more than anything else.

During this time, I found out about a new play therapy that was being offered through Pathways Professional Counseling, the counseling ministry of ABCH. We had tried play therapy before, but this was different. This focused on four areas: structure, engagement, nurture, and challenge. The child and parent together participate in structured therapy times that are designed to address the child’s needs. (More here)

I was so encouraged when I met with the therapist after our initial evaluation. She understood and could see the deep emotional issues Lauren was experiencing.

We are now finished with our weekly Theraplay sessions, and the changes in Lauren are amazing. As with any child, there will always be issues to address, but for the first time I have hope. I am equipped with a new set of parenting tools, have a new perspective on behavior management, and have discipline techniques that work. Every time she climbs in my lap to sit with me or gives me a hug, I am thankful all over again.

This process has led me to think about my relationship with God. An important aspect of the therapy was correcting some of the incorrect perceptions Lauren held by frequently telling her how much we loved her and were there to take care of her.

I can often have incorrect thinking in my relationship with God. To combat this, I must flood my mind with truth by reading Scripture. Just like Lauren, I often want to be in control and do things my way. God is there with a place of rest and peace saying, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Instead of fighting or stiffening my back, I need to learn to rest in the One Who loves me completely and has my best interests at heart."

*Name changed for privacy.

If you have a question you would like to ask, EMAIL US: askanne@abchome.org or leave a comment. We would love to answer one of your questions.

*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.

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