In her 12/30/12 post to “The Conversation” (http://www.theconversation.tv/parenting/putting-an-end-to-mother-blaming/), psychiatrist Dr. Peggy Drexler (http://www.peggydrexler.com/) writes about the inordinate blaming of mothers for their children’s problems, offering as an example clinical conferences in which there appears to be disturbingly naive thinking on the part of some mental health professionals:
“In case conference after case conference, it was always the mother who was held at fault for her child’s problems. … Whatever the issue, it always pointed back to the mother.”
As bad as that makes it look for mothers, I think it looks even worse for the clinicians who are making these faulty – or at least questionable – attributions. Children’s behaviors and emotions result from a complex mix of factors, some of the most operative ones being the least apparent to the casual observer. Dynamics could include those at play between a mother and her child, but they could just as well have originated from the ways in which the relationship between the parents affects the child. And sometimes, a child’s behavior or mood is all his or her own.
Drexler’s accounting of mother blaming in professional settings sensitizes us to this problem, and it does something else too: it shows us where we could go to fix it—part of it anyway. We shouldn’t think that at some level, clients themselves aren’t picking up on the blame game. Many of them enter treatment already thinking they are to blame, and stuff like this only makes it worse. There is helpful information in this article, though—if we use it as feedback and calibrate accordingly. That means revisiting with a fresh eye some of the training and clinical supervision received by mental health professionals, as well as reviewing how licensed clinicians do or do not take advantage of post-graduates learning opportunities.
Our mental health system has some flaws in its delivery model and especially in its relationship to its consumers, who are often blamed for terminating services prematurely or not obtaining services to begin with. One piece of the conversation about how to get more people using mental health services has to be What can providers of these services do to make them more appealing? Moreover, many adolescents and marginalized young adults who are in great need of counseling or guidance have personalities or problems that require a nimble therapeutic style and enhanced sensitivity to their ambivalence about ‘getting treatment‘ — yet, unfortunately, they frequently end up being seen by some of the least experienced therapists.
There are identifiable steps that the clinical community can take to make mental health services more inviting and effective to prospective clients, but the first one is recognizing the need for self-study and change, especially when the signs of something amiss show up right under our noses.