While healing is hard, 13-year-old Bobby* has found a way to do it using his creativity. The young man who works with Brooke, one of our Clinical Therapists at HopeSprings Counseling Services, likes doing hands-on activities during therapy so he worked with his biological mother during family therapy to create a therapeutic board game called “Froggy Family.”
“In the game, players start as tadpoles and grow up to be frogs, while facing many snakes along the way,” Brooke explained. “The snakes represent hurdles in life. The goal of the game is to be a “healthy family.”
The game’s cards address adverse situations like being removed from your home, a parent leaving for days, coping with anger, and substance abuse – things all too familiar to Bobby. Throughout Bobby’s childhood, his mom often went on drug binges and left him and his sister home alone, sometimes for a few days. Nan*, a caring neighbor and mother herself, stepped in and took care of them when this happened. She also took them to therapy, scheduled visits with their mom, and tried to get their mom into a substance abuse treatment program. Eventually, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) got involved and asked Nan to take official guardianship of the children.
In 2016, Bobby was hospitalized due to aggression but wouldn’t participate in therapeutic services with the provider that was referred. Nan had heard that HopeSprings was trauma-focused and sought services there instead. At first, Bobby was quiet in sessions and continued to have outbursts at home and at school, especially after visits with his mom. So Brooke advocated for Bobby’s visits with his mom occur in the form of family therapy at HopeSprings and the court agreed.
With family therapy, Brooke is seeing real progress with Bobby. He talks more freely about the things that have happened with his mom and like with the creation of the board game, he takes more initiative in therapy. Bobby’s mom has been more consistent with visits and even bought the materials to make the game. She also now recognizes that being with Nan is the best thing for Bobby right now.
“Bobby and his mom have tried a few visits outside of family therapy but after those Bobby still had outbursts,” Brooke said. “I am confident that as we continue the good work we’re doing in family therapy at HopeSprings, Bobby will be able to process through and learn to tolerate the stress of these visits.”
Brooke’s expertise goes well beyond their therapy sessions. After completing Bobby’s brain map – a study that examines how our early childhood experiences change our brain’s structure – Brooke made recommendations to both his school and to Nan. Brooke also continued to educate the school staff about the impact of trauma on the brain and advocated for support services to help Bobby.
Traumatized youth are often operating from the lower part of their brain stem, where it’s survival mode, rather than being able to use their frontal system and think things through. They need therapeutically sensitive interventions to get developmentally back on track.
Bobby had fallen behind in school, but as a result of the collaboration between Brooke and the school, he was working at grade level in both math and reading and year’s end. He was also transitioning back to a regular education classroom for part of the school day and was off all medications. And Nan’s willingness to learn from Brooke about trauma has given her the tools to respond to Bobby’s outbursts in a more nurturing and supportive way that takes into account his early life experiences.
It’s so good to see Bobby winning at the game of life!
*Our story is real but names have been changed to protect the privacy of our clients.