I am seeing a couple of small children just now for therapy – both are lovely children and both have had traumas. One was bitten by a dog, the other was not hurt when a tree bough fell around him. In the aftermath, both have developed symptoms that make their lives harder. The first – not unreasonably – was terrified of dogs, hiding when one came near, breathing heavily and supremely vigilant so that she could see a dog almost when it was leaving the next town. The boy was playing with his brother in the park when the branch creaked and cracked and fell down. They needed a crane to lift it, and although he was not hurt, his parents came rushing over screaming and expecting to find his body among the leaves. He now worries about leaving his parents and being apart from them – and worries when he sees huge trees.
There are a number of approaches to this sort of problem and I usually describe what I do as ‘eclectic’, meaning I use lots of different approaches, whatever might work. So we have done a lot of memory stuff, using Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing, some drawing, I’ve used Emotional Freeing Techniques and might even use some hypnosis. We start with two particular things, trying to reduce the fearful memory and trying to build up confidence.
Confidence is initially built up as a theory and then we practise close and closer to real situations. This is harder when we are talking about trees falling over, but with regard to the dog, it was easy to find a dog and spend some time first getting physically closer and then encouraging her to stroke and play with the dog [obviously, I looked for a well-trained and pleasant animal.] My intention is to enable her to treat dogs with respect, and this is a difficult line to tread – friendly But careful. Not Anxious but Aware. And this has been going well, so that we now can go to the animal sanctuary and she is positive about the experience.
The boy has been rehearsing his experience in his head, going over what happened and what might have happened. I am trying to encourage him to realise that this was a once in a lifetime experience, beyond his control, and that playing in parks is alright.
What has become very clear to me is how important is the support of parents. The parents of the girl who was bitten are, themselves, frightened of dogs. [again, this seems reasonable]. They are anxious when she goes near a dog, worry that any dog might hurt her, be dirty, might snap…and they have not done any back-up work like taking her to the park or to meet dogs in a casual way. The only work has been with me, and it is not really satisfactory. Like any exercise, daily is so much better than occasionally, and her progress is less than I would have hoped. By contrast, the boy’s parents have done lots of exercises with him at home, so that he has gone through what happened again and again with the reassurance of his parents’ arms around him, and their promise that it is not likely to recur.
[Note:’ not likely’. It is not possible to promise something that is so far beyond our control. It is like promising your children that you will live for ever. You can only promise to try.]
Both children are coming on; they are delightful and I look forward to their increasing independence. But I could wish that her parents were better able to support what I am trying to do. I work with parents as a partnership. Together we are so very much stronger.