Us Versus Them

As I have mentioned before, my son Dan’s nine-week stay at an intensive residential treatment program for obsessive-compulsive disorder was a mixed blessing.  While the Exposure Response Prevention Therapy used there allowed him to reclaim his life, we had many concerns and complaints regarding the program. One of the big issues my husband and I dealt with was how he and I were regarded by the staff. They saw us as overbearing, controlling parents, and instead of encouraging Dan to include us in the major decisions regarding how he should proceed with his life, they  discouraged him from consulting with us about anything.

I think about this part of Dan’s journey sometimes and I always end up asking myself the same question: “Was it us? Did we really come across as overpowering and manipulative with our son?”  I honestly don’t think so and am still baffled by what happened. I don’t have an explanation, but I have some thoughts which may be helpful to those considering a residential program for their child.

For one thing, the staff at this program not only saw Dan in the worst condition of his life, they saw his parents in pretty bad shape as well. By the time Dan entered this program, he had been dealing with severe OCD for several months; OCD so bad that he would often spend entire days just laying on the floor, doing absolutely nothing. Not surprisingly, our whole family was affected by this situation, and my husband’s and my nerves were frayed. We were exhausted, stressed, confused, and most of all, terrified. While family and friends who knew us well saw us as caring parents who weren’t quite “ourselves,” the staff at the program didn’t really know us at all. I’m sure they saw us as a dysfunctional family, and, to tell you the truth, by the time Dan arrived at the program, we were. Still, while we weren’t in great shape, we weren’t raving maniacs either.

Another issue was Dan’s age. He had turned nineteen the week before starting the program, and was considered an adult. The staff felt he should make his own decisions regarding how long he should stay and whether he should go back to school. This still floors me. Of course Dan’s opinion mattered, but we should absolutely have been included in these discussions.  What amazes me most is that the staff knew how bad Dan’s OCD was. How could they expect a nineteen year old who was barely functioning to make these major life decisions without his family’s input? Why should he have to? Ultimately, we did have control over Dan’s length of stay, as we were paying for it.

Dan had enough to deal with without the added stress arising from feeling torn between his parents and the staff  with whom he had grown so close. I wish it hadn’t been Us vs. Them, and I’m still not sure exactly how or why that came to be, or how we could have avoided it. And while I know the staff may very well have had Dan’s best interests at heart, he was still just one of their many clients. But he’s our son. And nobody cares about him, loves him, and is as totally vested in his well-being as we are. We had to remind Dan’s social worker and therapists of this fact many times, and we shouldn’t have had to at all.

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4 Responses to Us Versus Them

  1. It sounds like a very difficult situation. It sounds like the institution had some preconceived notions about you, or probably about parents of patients in general. I’m glad you were able to resolve things and Dan was able to go back to school.

    I’m sure your family didn’t need this extra stress during such a difficult time. I hope your experience helps others going through something similar.

  2. ocdtalk says:

    That’s what I’m hoping too, Tina. Thanks for commenting!

  3. 71 & Sunny says:

    Janet, your posting reminds me of a very interesting book that I read called “Brave Girl Eating.” It was about a family that was helping their daughter who was anorexic. The woman (the mom) who wrote the book brought up the very same issue. She felt that there were all kinds of assumptions that those who struggle with anorexia come from dysfunctional families. However, the author made the point that yes, by the time treatment is started, everyone is overwrought, beyond exhausted, and feeling desperate. Of course, they are dysfunctional by that point! And that is when the treatment team meets them, and the treatment team has no previous experience with the family for comparison. Excellent point.

    • ocdtalk says:

      Thanks for commenting, Sunny. I actually read “Brave Girl Eating” and was so amazed at how similar our stories are that I emailed Harriet Brown a few times. Though we dealt with different diagnoses and treatments, so many of our thoughts, emotions, and experiences were similar. I thought it was a great book!

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