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Improving Communication Between Physically and/or Mentally Abusive Parents and Their Children

Cecilia Fabre, M.A.

Milton H. Erickson Institute of Cuernavaca

Edgar, a child of five, is the oldest son of a marriage that has lived with great economic and family pressures. The mother began going to therapy two years ago for her distress because of her pregnancy. She left treatment. A short while later, she asked for an emergency appointment. She told me by phone that she had just gotten Edgar out of the hospital, and he did not want to return home because she was afraid of his father who, in an attack of fury and impatience, had hit him against the wall, fracturing his cranium.

I met with the whole family in therapy because that permitted me to under- stand the family situation, to perceive their emotions and to explore their resources. Once I have an idea of the family structure and the context in which the problem occurred, I can tell a story (or build a story together with the children) that represents the problem and different solutions. In an abuse situation, it is necessary to censure actions, not the persons implicated, trying to see them as parents who make mistakes. In this case I constructed the story because the child was immobile in a chair, not wanting to look at anyone, much less participate.

I told them a story about a lion cub and its family. Mommy lion went out to work and to look for food, while Daddy lion stayed to guard his territory and did- n’t like to be disturbed. The lion cub really wanted to go hunting. He wanted to go out to explore. He saw the older lions roar and fight and he was dying to do it too. He wanted someone to play with him, but when Mommy arrived, she wanted to do anything but play. She was tired and wanted him to eat. The little cub began to think he was not interesting or important enough for his mother to play with him.

One day the little cub decided to do as the older lions did. He ran close by his father growling like the older lions, but Daddy lion did not move. The cub growled louder and louder without success. Finally he decided to bite the Daddy lion’s paws and ears to get his attention. He didn’t know that Daddy’s paws had been hurt many years ago. How surprised he was when he bit his daddy and his daddy gave him a shove, throwing him against a rock.

The poor little lion was hurt very badly. At this precise moment, Mommy came back from hunting. Scared, she ran to her cub and started to lick him. She growled very loudly at Daddy lion, more loudly than in other times. Daddy lion also ran to see what had happened to his little son. He hadn’t wanted to hurt his son and he didn’t know why he had let out such a strong blow and why his claws had come out when normally they only came out for attack and defense.

The story continues telling how the little cub had been healed at a special cave, but his little heart still felt very sad and something still hurt inside. All the family went to consult a Leopard therapist that helped the parents and cub to cure their wounds. Leopard told them, “Now is time to heal your wounds, before they become infected.”

While listening to the story, Edgard had drawn a picture of himself that showed the open wound in his head. He drew merthiolate and band aids over the wound and at the end of the session he felt calm about going home. His father talked about his own past psychiatric diagnoses and agreed to visit the psychiatrist again.

They came to three more sessions. Although the problems of the family environment continued, the father’s aggression disappeared and they became closer and more communicative.

The Ericksonian techniques utilized were: story telling, metaphors and reframing through the story.

Reference:

Robles, Teresa (1990) A concert for four brain hemispheres in psychotherapy, Alom Editores, México y (1991) Terapia cortada a la medida. Un seminario con Jeffrrey K. Zeig, Alom Editores, México.

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