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Integrated Support and Treatment for Mental Health

Our goal with kids is to maintain a connection with their hearts while teaching skills, boundaries, and behavior. If we lose their heart during the process, nothing else will matter. – Sarah Boyd

 

The above quote captures the importance of the parent-child relationship in helping kids function in their daily lives, and grow into confident adults.   This idea, that the relationship is the client,  has become paramount in the work being done at Children’s Therapy Network. 

 

Director Jen Bluske, Occupational Therapist and Parent Coach, has been an advocate for this type of treatment approach for almost a decade.  

 

Jen was originally drawn to the field of  Occupational Therapy (OT)  because of its emphasis on child development and the integration of brain and body systems, and because of its ability to affect change and improve functioning for kids.  In her 25 years as an OT for children,  “I was able to hone my ability to see a child and understand their emotional side, physical side, and cognitive side, and (then) be able to create shifts in the brain to create function, or to provide accommodations and supports to create function in their environments.” 

 

About 10 years  ago, Jen realized she was bumping up against one of the roadblocks that is so common for professionals treating children- the shifts made in individual sessions weren’t translating to home.  In essence, while there might have been improvements in a child’s engagement in session, the skills and functioning weren’t showing up in their natural environments.    Parents would return and say the activities or suggestions provided didn’t work, or that the progress didn’t “stick.”  

 

Jen started having parents come into OT sessions, and saw first hand the importance of the parent in helping a child feel safe, regulated, and to learn a new skill.   “I always tell parents they are the best conduit for change in their child.”   

 

Helping parents look beneath behaviors and diagnoses to find the underlying skill deficits and patterns became a guiding philosophy.  “I realized it didn’t matter if I could regulate a child, it mattered if the parent knew how to do it.”   While her years of experience in scaffolding skills were invaluable, Jen needed a way to communicate to parents how to do the same thing.  

 

At this time, there was also an increasing number of kids coming into the clinic with mental health diagnoses who hadn’t responded well to traditional cognitive behavioral therapy.  Jen thought these kids could be reached by going in “through the body and the nervous system” and by working within a strong family foundation.   And so parent coaching became a part of CTN’s work.  

 

It was important to Jen that any parent coaching program was grounded in the idea of  the whole child, not just behavior, and the relationship between parent and child was paramount.   While family systems therapy has been around as a treatment model for a while, CTN is pioneering the idea Occupational Therapy and parent coaching together may offer the best therapeutic gains.   

 

The relationship you have with your child shapes the structure and function of their brain. – Dr. Dan Siegel

 

How do OT and PC work together to create change/progress?  

 

The field of Interpersonal neurobiology may hold some of the answers.  Also called relational neuroscience, it provides a working model which describes human development and functioning as a product of the interaction of the body, mind and relationships.  Heavily rooted in attachment theory,  it describes  how the brain develops based on the interplay of genes in the context of relationships   Occupational Therapy can be the tool to help kids develop their brains/skills, while parent coaching offers parents the chance to work on the parent-child relationship.  

 

The idea of relationship-based teaching also holds some insight.  The College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota (2009) explains: “The idea in education is that the relationship with a safe and regulated adult can be a scaffold for the child.  Adults can serve to support the child’s emerging abilities until these are solid enough to stand alone. For a relationship to work, the child needs the adult to be reflective (observing, mirroring, paying attention to possible reasons for distress) and in tune with her needs. Attunement is a child development concept that is useful: the child needs the adult to get in tune so that the natural rhythm of care can serve both their needs. Children also need adults to know how to read them emotionally: to put into words what is happening, both inside the child and in the situation (relationship and setting). This ability to read a situation is beyond most children’s capacities. Emotionally responsive adults provide this social and emotional information.”  

 

While this is specific to teaching, the ideas can be easily transferred to the parent-child relationship, and Jen’s early work in coaching made it clear that parents are looking for support in being emotionally responsive and regulated themselves.   “I need to bring to light the idea that parents have their own nervous system.”   Creating little moments of awareness, along with a newfound connection to their nervous systems, is enough to create change for parents. 

 

“You can shift one tiny thing for a parent, and a whole cascade of change can happen for the family”

 

Want to learn more?   Tune into the recent podcast Integration Strategies for Mental Health Challenges which can be found on

  • Or by searching "Where They’re Planted”, or “Lit Path Studios” wherever you listen to podcasts!

 

If you are ready to get support parenting your child check out the Thriving Parents Collective website.

Looking for Occupational Therapy?  Sign up here for a free intake!

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