As a counsellor, I have had quite a few opportunities to deal with people who had numerous issues with themselves and their surroundings. The crux of this study will be focusing on the story of my adolescent client ‘Dave’ and the effect it had on my personality. This experience gave me the lesson that dealing with an almost grown up child is not easy and an assortment of various traits is needed for the purpose; these traits include patience, firmness, an understanding attitude, creating an atmosphere which encourages the child to express his views and problems without any apprehensions. Children in this age group are not only aggressive, but also emotionally insecure. They want to be independent but also want to be taken care of. The more they desire freedom, the more they require emotional attachment with their families.
Dave had developed dependence on alcohol and drugs. He was not an addict but had all the probabilities of becoming one. His dependence on alcohol and drugs was not because of the desire to blend in with the ‘cool’ kids at school. But it served as a refuge for him, from the issues prevalent in his home. The situation at his home was far from satisfactory, and combined with the recent break-up of Dave with his partner of 4 years; Dave retreated into a state of solitary confinement.
This was the story of how he developed the problem of low-self-esteem, depression and addiction. He often felt suicidal and perceived himself as a bad omen for every single person around him. He came to believe that he was the main cause for every dispute at home. The truth was far from it but his self-demeaning thought process made him believe that he was responsible for everything that went wrong in the lives of people around him. This attitude had to be dealt with firmly because not only was it damaging the entire personality of Dave, it was making it impossible for him to survive.
According to Beck, (1979)” Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is an active and a well thought-out method of dealing with numerous psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxieties and phobias.” It goes without mentioning that every individual’s behaviour is established by the way he perceives the world. Beliefs and ideas of Dave had become negative by the time I was approached to assist him.
The first and foremost thing I did was to make him recognize his feelings and thoughts. Most of his thoughts were negative and revolved around his perception that he was the cause of every dispute. However, by talking about what bothered him and made him upset, he was able to feel better and relieved. He needed to communicate so that all the frustration embedded inside his heart could a way out and finally, he could learn to let go of problems to be able to enjoy his life.
Beck (1967, 1976), stated that people who are depressed usually perceive everything in the world as negative. Every single thing that happened in their childhood and adolescent life is perceived as negative. They get pessimistic if they cannot get a job, date or even get social with a good peer group. Everything depresses them whether it is a dispute between their parents, disapproval from parents or teachers or also harassment at school & workplace. They do not perceive anything as positive and have lost the element of hope in their lives.
By making use of Rational Emotive Therapy (Ellis, 1997), I was able to deal with emotional insecurities and irrational expectations Dave had from himself. He wanted to be a perfectionist but this desire did him more harm than good. His failure to rise to his own expectations resulted in an increasingly low self-esteem and low confidence. This was an obstacle that I had to overcome, to be able to help Dave.
He had to realise that it was more important to be satisfied with oneself as compared to scoring extraordinarily high in academics or anything else for that matter. He came to realize that his ideas, perception, way of thinking and personality determined his success as an individual. This excellence was a measure of his academic knowledge, not his personality traits. Anything external would never possibly do justice to the wonderful personality he owned. I believe our academic or sports achievement may give us success and fame but it is out personality, our thoughts and our ideas which essentially determine what kind of a person we are.
Initially, Dave was not only aggressive but also violent. His choice of words hinted at the bottled-up anger and frustration which he had not been able to get rid of. However, when he calmed down, he started sharing his deepest secrets. His parents’ never ending conflicts tore him apart. It was as if he had to choose between his mother and father. The abusive relationship between the people he loved the most, merely served to rob him off his emotional security and sense of well-being.
The negativity in his cognitions had to be addressed practically and he himself had to realise that he was depressed but there was a way of dealing with this depression. I encouraged him to participate and involve himself in different kinds of activities. He started participating in football and debate competitions
He had a good academic record but was not much popular in school. He felt completely pessimistic about himself but I countered that negativity by suggesting him to do one act of kindness on a daily basis. This gave a boost to his self-esteem and he started to come to peace with himself. With the negativity losing its grip on Dave, I started working on his self-confidence and self-respect.
Dave was very judgemental and overtly critical of the people around him. This was one of the reasons why people avoided friendship when it concerned him. Mindfulness was another technique which I had to use on Dave so that instead of being judgemental and critical about anyone, he becomes friendly with the people around him. This also increased his level of concentration in any activity he put his heart into and also helped him realise the severity of his negative ideas. He was able to realise that accepting people with all their imperfections is an important part of developing a healthy relationship with anyone.
Even after this, Dave had a variety of issues at home. Hearing his parents fight about trivial issues served to make him nervous, confused and emotionally violent. Witnessing these fights on a regular basis was proving to be detrimental to both his mental and physical well-being.
Although he started becoming friendly with his class fellows and neighbours, it would still take time to build relationship with them. He felt lonely at times and this loneliness was the major cause of depression. I encouraged him to go to hangouts, movies and sports events with his friends. It was important for him to learn how to communicate with friends and how to develop long-lasting relationships with them.
The above mentioned approaches were according to a theory which focused on the individual client I was dealing this. However, to reach to the core of his problem, I also had to employ the family systems theory. This theory was about the influence people have on their own families.
Dave might have been an adolescent but his habits and traits were not only his. They had a major amount of involvement or similarity with one or both of his parents. This theory takes into consideration that people cannot exist on their own and any trait or personality issue they have developed is more often than not, a result of the behaviour of people around them.
Dave’s relationship with his family was not even communicative. He could not tell his parents if he had a problem or if there was something that worried him. He could not speak to them about his fears, apprehensions and tensions. When there is no communication between parents and child, these kinds of issues do crop up, specifically when the child was not blessed with any kind of emotional support in any form. He did not have trustworthy friends, sympathetic relatives or even a loving partner for that matter. Anyhow, the relationship Dave’s parents had with each other was also not up to the mark.
None of them was supportive, caring or generous when it came to relationships. Their choice of words and tone could never be considered acceptable under normal circumstances. When there was no peace of any kind at his home, Dave had no other option but to look into external pleasures to make him feel free of his emotional pain. This theory deserved a practical application in this case because everyone was troubled due to peculiar fights and issues.
There was a varying level of impact on everyone, with Dave it was the highest but even others were bothered by it to some extent. Applying the communication theory, I taught Dave’s parents the art of communicating problems to each other without any hint of aggression or hostility. It took them a while to get used to it but eventually, they were able to communicate with softer words and softer tone.
According to systems theory (Titelman, 1998), it was my duty to work on both Dave and his family so that their communication problem is uprooted from its origins. When his parents began to realize the impact of their meaningless arguments on Dave, they set quite a few rules for themselves. These rules included no harsh words or arguments in front of Dave and increased participation in his social & academic life. They realized the importance of their emotional support and gravity of the condition of Dave.
It was important to make Dave feel that he was needed and appreciated for being wonderful just the way he was. His parents also felt the need for a stable atmosphere at home where Dave could share his thoughts, fears and dreams. They had to perform their duty of a good parent and hence they formulated some rules. These rules were also in line with the family system’s theory wherein acceptable boundaries and rules were set by the family members for the prosperity and the well-being of the entire family.
His parents gradually started working on their own relationship and eliminated the traces of doubt and mistrust embedded between them. This led to a higher level of understanding and commitment between them. Mainly because of this, Dave’s condition had improved quite significantly. He became more outgoing, confident and satisfied. Only the fact that his parents were not fighting much, made him perceive the whole world greener than it really was.
This case made me realize the importance of a friendly relationship between spouses. Children need to be loved, cared for and appreciated just like a budding flower. They will only blossom happily when they do not have to worry about the relationship problems of their parents. Reasonless fights and meaningless arguments only serve in making relationships sour.
The sweetness of love and care gets reduced to the state non-existence. I have realized that different kind of therapeutic systems and models need to be integrating with similar theories and concepts so that their cumulative effect can be maximized. In this case also, I did not merely work for the mental well-being of Dave or his family; I worked for their combined well-being as a family, in terms of physical and mental health. The notion that psychology only works for the mind does not work for me. I believe that well-being is not just a state-of-mind but it is the physical and mental prosperity. One can feel happy and satisfied only when both of these states are healthy, sound and prosperous.
This case gave me an opportunity to look closely at blood relations and recognize the factors which contribute greatly to the well-being of the entire family. It made me realize that it is important to be there for children and give unconditional emotional support at all times. Children or elders, it is important to make everyone feel needed and appreciated. Similarly, it is vital for the whole family to be tolerant and kind towards each other if relationships are to be nurtured. For someone to be confident and outgoing, it is important that a stable environment at home is given. Fights, arguments and issues do not solve any problem. They only increase the problems. Discussion solves problems and that is what should be done instead of fighting endlessly.
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Ellis A. & Dryden W. (1997) The Practice of Real Emotive Behaviour New York. USA. Springer Publishing Company.
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