I recently worked with a Mum of 3 who has given me permission to share elements of our work together; her main reason for this was the extent of the fear she felt when supporting her son with his emerging compulsions – she wants other parents to take what they need from their experience.
My client approached me with concerns that her son was showing signs of compulsions, she knew by speaking to him that the compulsions had developed as a consequence of his fantasy thinking. He plays a game which involves a scary character that seemed to threaten his ability to keep himself safe.
My client had experience of compulsions in her own childhood and was aware of how they can grow and become ‘out of control’; she wanted her son to have a different experience than she did.
We started by exploring what compulsions were, we spoke about their nature, their purpose and the difficulties that can arise from relying on them – therefore the need for intervention. We spoke about her son’s interests and abilities so that whatever intervention we came up with, we knew he would fully engage. It was really important in this process that my client understood that information alone wouldn’t be enough to soothe her son – we needed to find a way that gave him information but that also attended to the emotional components which were fear, vulnerability, helplessness and isolation.
Through collaboration, my client found a way to show her son that his thoughts are under his control, she created ways for him to explore his ability to think differently, to be aware of his emotions and use his thinking to inform his behaviours i.e. to consider what he needed to do to make himself feel better. My client’s son is creative and she realised that his compulsions where his creative new ways to keep himself safe. We worked on the importance of monitoring his tapping but not focusing on it – that way there was no shame, but instead an invitation to try something creatively different.
My client knew that her son would struggle to hear and believe this from her, so taking the same advice given earlier in our work, she created a character. That character wrote her son a letter and explained all what we had discussed in a fun and supportive way – he was so excited to have help and as my client expected, he threw himself into the activities.
My client reported that the work wasn’t easy – he was upset at times, clearly shaken by the power of his own imagination and the threat to his safety he experienced. However, my client was able to reassure her son that feelings were OK, feelings have really useful information and so we need to listen to them and treat them well.
He was managing his fears, increasing his ability and confidence to keep himself safe, he wasn’t helpless or stuck and he wasn’t alone – coaching sessions helped this Mum find a way to meet her son’s needs. She used it to overcome the missing knowledge she had about her son’s experience, she used it to see the world through a little boy’s eyes and she was able to show him he was OK, he was safe and he wasn’t alone.