ACA Blog

Joan Phillips
Jun 29, 2010

Summertime, and the Visitation and Childcare Issues Go Crazy...

Not the usual finish to that line. No- the living is not 'easy' for most parents in the summertime. Multiply any problems by 10 for each factor families have to deal with: minimal access to affordable childcare, absence of willing or able relatives to help out, inability to pay for or get their children transported to the many good summer programs that often exist, conflict over "whose week is it" or needs for flexibility around vacations or trips, etc. etc. It's enough to make a counselor scream, so imagine what clients feel when faced with these difficulties.

I find that children's behavior problems and poor parenting practices seem to multiply in the presence of all these stressors, and even if clients came for a more intrapsychic issue such as depression or anxiety. Until the life stressors are at least addressed and acknowledged- very little progress is made.

But am I a caseworker, mentor, parenting coordinator, benefits worker? or a counselor, marriage and family therapist and art therapist as my credentials point out? I reluctantly have to realize that I am all those things in some ways and more if I want to be an effective and compassionate helper to my clients. At the very minimum, a willingness to stay aware of community resources and make good referrals is essential. When I was raising kids it was easier to be aware of these resources since I was personally seeking them out as well. But even with my children grown and launched I have made it a point to know the parenting and child care resources of my community. I supervise young and childless interns that also feel at a loss for knowing such resources or how to find them- so this can all be very stressful for the counselor.

One way I handle the stress this all brings to me is to integrate the referral process or information seeking process into the actual session rather than agreeing to find resources and share them at a future session. You don't have to know the answers in order to demonstrate for a client how to find them. For example, if a client is struggling with what kind of summer programs might be appropriate for their child, we might look in-session at the brochures from different day camps, or even call programs to ask questions or request scholarships. Many programs will give scholarships but you have to ask, and its not listed on the brochure. Taking care of these things in-session is both efficient use of my time as well as a good chance to model the "how-to" of finding out things. Many folks just don't seek information instead relying on old thought patterns or wrong assumptions. "That's just for rich kids" or "I can't get them there without a car" might be challenged by learning the real facts or availability of a camp run mini-bus. Cognitive change is not just an internal process but one of demonstrating skills in practice.

I might start the call but then say "let me put his mom and the phone and she will give you the particulars" after establishing a connection for a resource. Now summer stress becomes a re-framed process of learning how to solve problems. I feel better already!

Joan Phillips is a counselor, art therapist, and marriage and family therapist. She maintains a private practice and teaches at the University of Oklahoma.

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