In a previous post, I discussed recognizing the concept that just because a person is displaying craziness does not mean that we should label the person crazy. Since that posting, I have assessed multiple child clients who came into my office with many labels. These labels consist of “I’m stupid”, “I’m no good”, “I’m crazy”, “I’m bipolar”, “I’m ADHD”, “I’m bad”, “I can’t do anything right”, “I’m the problem”, “I’m Satan”, “I’m a demon”, etc. All these labels should have a valid “because statement” afterwards if they were true, but they never do. I’m sure you could fill in multiple other labels you heard from your clients.
I get so disgusted by these labels because I know they are not accurate. I inquire where this label comes from and most, if not all, originates from the parent(s). As compassionately as I can be towards these parents, I try to gently guide them into proper communication with their children. I ask them to focus on the positive and never label their child the bad action. Once I provide my recommendations, the flood gate of immaturity, I mean excuses, pour out of the parent(s) mouth(s). “He is…, she can’t…he will never…she doesn’t…I tried once…that doesn’t work…if you had to live with…" etc.
As the child runs wild in the counseling room or constantly interrupts anyone who is talking, the parent(s) remain silent and still or just whines and complains. I ask if what they are doing is working and the parent just gives me a dumbfounded look. When they eventually say “no”, I tell them to stop doing what you are doing and try something different, another dumbfounded look. Knowing that I could just say “whatever you are doing, just do the opposite and you will see differences” would probably be vague because common sense usually is vague for parent(s) who have tried everything already.
A good number of these parents ask me, “Isn’t there a magical pill that can take care of this problem”? After I smile and poise myself for “the conversation”, I calmly discuss all reasons why anyone would display “crazy behavior”. I reveal to them what they already know but do not accept about their family structure. I explain the positive parenting mechanisms that will be successful if they choose to put in some hard work and be consistent. I reinforce that parenting is a very hard job especially if you have let the craziness run wild in your family for many years. I tell them not to expect everything to be fixed by popping a pill and don’t expect one or two counseling sessions to undo 5+ years of non-parenting.
Very few but some parent(s) get it and take right off from the start. They understand that they did spare the rod and spoiled the child. They let their child do whatever they wanted without any consequences and now they are experiencing outside agencies like daycares, schools, police, and juvenile detention centers telling them to take care of the problem. Until the parent stops labeling the child the problem and understands their family structure, no relief will occur.
Counseling is a very useful process if and when parent(s) and client(s) want to change and put in some hard work. Counseling does not and will not work if the cognitive distortion of labeling and mislabeling continues without any change or willingness to change from the parent(s). Are people really crazy? No, but behavior sure can be.
Josh Andrews is a counselor at a behavioral health agency working with children, adolescents, and families. His professional interests include the spiritual side of humankind, cognitive behavior therapy, reality therapy, and advancing the knowledge and practice of professional counseling.