Based on the video The Legacy of Unresolved Loss: A Family Systems Approach and your readings from the DeMaria, Weeks, and Hof text, consider the scenario presented in the video. The client, David Rogers, seemed to be getting annoyed with the questions regarding his family. He did not seem to feel the questions were a proper use of time. Address the following:
I am Monica McGoldrick. When I work with families, I try to place their problems whether individual, couple or child focused into a brighter context that includes extended family, community, gender, class, ways and cultural background. I do this because believe that we are all connected to all that came before and to all the will come after. It is when these connections are severed whether through death, divorce or estrangement that a part of us also dies and that deadness can sip into all of our relationships affecting people long after the loss has occurred. Problems often evolve in a family because of their inability to adapt to or mourn in their losses.
This program presents a family in which the intergenerational ghosts of loss are hiding behind the symptoms of the present. Kathleen Rogers, the second wife of David Rogers, not their real names made the initial appointment for her family. The Guidance Counselor of her step daughter Michelle had referred them to me, because Michelle had been cutting school and generally acting remote and upset.
You must be Michelle. Hi. So, we spoke on the phone. What I would like to do is hear a little from each of you what you see as the problem and then I am going to ask you some questions. We will try to put it in some context, if that is okay? So, whoever wants to go first?
I guess I will begin. Well, I think you know that you were recommended to us by Michelle’s Guidance Counselor. She has been having some difficulty at school. There had been several incidents this year. The last one was her getting caught cutting classes. Additionally, we are very concerned about the group of kids that she has been hanging out with. They are sort of a fast crowd wherein never quite sure where she is and so forth. Also, she seems to have this big chip on her shoulder. A lot of anger and hostility, and we are really not sure how to deal with it and that is principally it.
Okay. So Kathleen, what is your view?
Well, I agree. I mean, there is just a lot of tension in the household and it is not very pleasant to live like that, and I have tried to help her deal with her anger.
Something about this family’s presentation seems very flat. I think the Guidance Counselor’s referral at an indication, there is something wrong, but so far, all I have heard is a description of a typical teenager.
What is your sense? What she is maybe angry about?
Well, I do not know.
Okay. So, what is your view, Michelle? Would you agree that there is a lot of tension in the family?
I guess so.
Yeah. Are there some things about what is happening at home that are upsetting you? Do you want to talk about it?
How about school? You are okay with school? You like things are going?
School is fine. It is great!
Yeah. So, is there anything that you think would be good for us to change about the way things are going from your point of view?
I would not be so angry if they are not so —
— so wrapped up in their own like little world. Everything has to be just so. Everything is — the baby this or the baby that. The baby needs to —
And how old is the baby?
She just turned two.
She just turned two. I see. You are saying what? That family revolves around the baby?
It seems so.
I see. So, have things changed since the baby came, since the baby has been born?
Yeah. It is like that is the only child in the house.
Well, you know what, maybe what would be good if it is okay with you is, well, I think a little background and ask a little bit so I kind of know who is who?
I like to do a genogram very early in the first session. So, the rest, I listened to details of the presenting problem. I have a context to which to put them.
Now you were married before?
That is right.
And you have an older brother. Is that?
And how old is he?
He is 21. And Michelle, you are 15? What is your birth date exactly?
November 5, 1979.
Okay. And your first wife’s name?
She died when?
She died August 15, 1991.
I will come back to her, but let me understand that. The two of you were married when?
June 10, 1992.
Okay. And you together have a daughter —
Okay. And she was born when?
Excuse me –, is this really necessarily for us to kind of go to all these dates? It seems like we are here because of Michelle’s problem. And I am just wondering whether we can use the time a little better.
Right! Well, I will tell you. From my perspective, you never know what part of the history may turn out to be relevant to the presenting problem, but very specifically, what your daughter said was that she has been upset since Jade was born and that may — I do not know exactly what that means, but surely, the specific time when she was born would make some difference in that. You must have had to do a lot of family rearranging around her birth now. Okay. And Julian by the way, where is he?
He is at Colorado College.
And he is what year — he has been away for how long?
He is 21.
He is 21, but how many years has he been away from —
He is a junior.
He is a junior. Now, let me get a little bit about your background. How many were in your family that you grew up in?
Well, just me and my mother and father.
I see, but I had no brothers or sisters?
Really? They did not want to have any other children? Do you know anything about that?
Well, there was actually a child one before me, but he died before me.
Asking why a person was an only child can sometimes uncover important family history.
It was a son or daughter?
A son, and he was born with only a partially formed stomach and so he could not take any nutrients.
What was his name?
In fact that he was a given the same name as his dead brother, suggested that he may have been a replacement child for his parents.
And everything kind of — I do not know, spooky or something. You have the same name and —
It is not really, why?
Although David makes a lie of this, I wonder if it intensified his role as an only child.
Now, is your father alive?
When did he die?
He died December 30, 1977.
What did he do for work?
And how did he die?
Well, complications due to liver disease.
Really? Was he a drinker?
Well, he is certainly was an alcoholic, but he enjoyed drinking.
Asking about the cause of death especially if it was premature can sometimes reveal problems such as alcoholism or suicide.
I know this is sort of hard to talk about sometimes different things in your family, but did anybody else ever think that he had an alcohol problem?
Not your mother for example?
Although David rejects the suggestion of alcoholism, I am not totally convinced. I may revisit this question once we have established the greater level of trust.
Now, is your mother alive?
When did she die?
She died in ’87.
And how old was she?
I think she was 65.
What was her name?
Edith. So, they never had any other children? Your parents — there were no miscarriages or anything?
Yeah. There were a couple, I think in my early childhood, mid ’50s, ’54 or ’55 something like that. I guess they wanted one more child and did not happen.
I asked about miscarriages and stillbirths because these losses are often glossed over with little resolution and can be more important than anyone realizes.
So now, can we talk a little bit about your family?
I appreciate you may not know exactly where I am going with this, but to me, it is really important to kind of get a sense of who people are and where they are coming from. So, how many are in your family?
Just myself and I have a half-brother named Matthew. My parents are divorced.
In contrast to David’s rather flat description of his family, Kathleen was actively uncomfortable talking about her working class Irish-German background. The first in her family to attend college, she quit after her second year when her father died unexpectedly. She has very little contact with her mother, step-father and half-brother who moved to Florida shortly after the second marriage.
What is your family background ethnically?
Ethnically? I do not know. I do not have an ethnic background.
Where did your ancestors come from? Do you know?
I believe strongly that people’s cultural background plays a profound role in how they see the world and how they define their problems. I tried always to help them locate themselves in this context since our society tries so hard to pretend that culture, what race, gender, class and sexual orientation does not matter when in fact these dimensions structure are very existence.
I am WASP, but I am white bread with the crust removed.
And where did you grow up?
Uh-huh. Were you pretty close to your parents?
Who were you closer to?
My mother I guess.
Really? How would you describe your childhood in a word?
Well, I just describe it as a pretty, happy, upper-middle class family.
Yeah. Uh-huh. Okay.
David seems to have little sense of himself as an emotional being. I wonder if this is just a result of his upper-middle class WASP background or if something else is inhibiting him.
So, is Matthew married?
Does he have any kids?
How many kids?
Uh-huh. How old?
I think he is three.
And where does he live?
He lives in Florida.
Uh-huh. What is his name?
Ethan, I think.
You are not in touched with them?
Cut off such as this usually indicates something seriously a mess in the family process. I will explore this later with Kathleen hoping to encourage her to reconnect.
Let me go back a little bit now and ask about your mother. Now, her name was —
— Diane and you mentioned before she died in August of ’91.
August of 1991.
Now, tell me a little bit about her background. What was her —
She grew up in Puerto Rico.
So, you look like you like that? Do you?
Do you think of yourself as part Puerto Rican?
I am, are not I?
You sure are, but that is important to you, that part of your —
This was the first sign of life in the session and I went right towards it. I was also very interested in the Puerto Rican connection since this choice of a wife seemed so out of character for David.
Have you ever been to Puerto Rico?
Really? Tell me about that.
I went a couple of times during the summer.
Really? Just your whole family went or what?
No, just me.
Really? How did that happen?
Well, the first time was to visit a family stuff and then after that, my mom got sick and my parents did not think that was the best the idea for me to stick around so they sent me down there.
And how old were you when your mother got sick?
So, you said you had family down there? Who is down there?
My grandmother was down there. I use to go and visit stay with her and I also have cousins, aunts and uncles.
Really? What is your grandmother’s name?
That is what I called her anyway.
Her name is Carmen.
Okay. So, she is still in Puerto Rico?
Yeah, but buried.
You mean she died?
Really? How long ago?
Three months ago, February 15.
Were you close to her?
Really? How did she die?
She just died.
Really? How old was she?
I do not know.
She had been sick for many years. She had Alzheimer’s disease and she was old.
No matter how many genograms I do, I am still amazed that the hidden family issues, this technique reveals.
But, when you were younger during the time your mother was there, you were very close to her?
What was your wife’s illness?
Well, she had a kind of leukemia.
And so, in the beginning there was a lot of chemotherapy.
And during that period of time, first year of her illness, she would have periods where she was sort of okay.
But at the second year, it got really bad.
So, you felt maybe it would be easier if Michelle were —
Away from her.
David seemed to be going along with this painful discussion of his wife’s death, so I was unprepared for his reaction to what I thought was a rather innocuous question about Michelle’s grandmother.
So, it sounds like you were very close to you grandmother, were you?
Excuse, Monica. I really have to ask the question again where this is leading. I mean, we pretty wasted most of the session going back in this ancient history and what I am really afraid of is that we are not going to focus on the problem that we came in here to address, which is Michelle’s misbehavior. And I am very concerned she is going to take this as acute that this is some sort of an excuse.
Were there something about that that got — I do not know.
No, it is just that she really was not very close to her grandmother. That is the point of fact and I am afraid that if we just keep harping on this stuff here, we are not going to deal with what is going on with Michelle at school. Now, I really feel like if we are going to on with this, I need to know how long this is going to take. I am lawyer and I work with contracts and we have to tell clients, we have to tell them how long some thing is going to take and what is going to cause.
Well, in some ways this is a little bit different situation, but it is very hard until I get a sense of what the story is, to know how to exactly help you —
I am thinking if you can give us some ball-park figure.
Sure, sure. And I feel very strongly about being accountable to you, so you are going to have to feel okay with the process in a general way, if that is going to take us a few sessions. What I would say is if after we have met three or four times, you feel as you do now that this is — what if this has to do with anything? Then, I would say let us really talk about it, but until we get a sense of what the history is and how that may relate to whatever is happening right now or in your family and for her at school, I kind of need to get oriented to this.
All right, well I think we have to think about it.
Dear, I think we should do it, all right.
Well, let us give it another try.
Okay, all right, but keep letting me know if this is not — and how are you with this idea? What do you think about coming here?
It means being grounded.
In the first session, we dealt primarily with the new nuclear family and the previous nuclear family as well as with all three families of origin. We will focus on specific relationships as therapy continues.
My hypothesis at this point is that David never really mourned the loss of his first wife and rushed into a second marriage. I suspect that Michelle has not gotten over her mother’s death and does not feel a part of the new family. Perhaps, that pain is resurfacing for her triggered by her grandmother’s death. I also suspect that Kathleen has helped David in the coverup of his losses, a typical female task of protecting the husband and children. The first challenge here is to get David and Michelle to mourn Diane. I am also concerned that Kathleen’s role as caretaker will put her at risk for depression down the road.
So, how are the things?
Monica, I have been thinking a little bit last week and I still feel that it is important that we focus on the present and not so much on the past. We spent a good deal of the session last week as an example. Talking about Michelle’s grandmother who Michelle saw for all of about four months total in her entire life, and I really think we need focus on the present and Michelle’s behavior which is continuing to be very difficult.
I have to tell you that from my perspective, the past really influenced the present in such important ways that we cannot deal with that.
I have not been able to forge a connection with David yet, so I do not have a strong enough footing to confront his resistance.
Monica, I have been thinking a lot about last week and I still feel that it is important that we focus on the present and not so much on the past. I mean, we spent a good deal with the session last week as an example, talking about Michelle’s grandmother who Michelle saw for only about four months total in her entire life and I really think we need to focus on the present and Michelle’s behavior which was continuing to be very difficult.
I have to tell you that from my perspective, the past really influenced the present in such important ways that we cannot deal with that.
I have not been able to forge a connection with David yet. So I do not have a strong enough footing to confront his resistance. Instead, I will go with his concerns and look for ways to connect them with the family history that seems to be the cause of their current distress.
But I will tell you what let us start with what is happening now that obviously there is something that you wanted me to understand that you think I do not yet understand. So would you tell me what that is?
May I explain?
Go ahead. Go ahead.
Thank you dear. Well this past week, Michelle has been listening to this new rap music that goes thug, thug or something and it pounds continually. I think it is these kids that she hanging out with that are —
Not how Kathleen jumps in to protect David from having to express his feelings. It may be that he is so disconnected from the family that he does not really know what the trouble is.
Kathleen really gets the ran of it because I am at work all day and I come home late and I hear these tales and it is —
Well I am not really clear. What is it exactly that bothers you? The music bothers you and what they wear bothers you.
There is something here that just does not wash. When parents make superficial criticisms of their children’s friends, I often find it is a code for class or culture.
The common area that I think is really bad for Michelle to go down to.
We just feel —
I do not — I am sorry.
I just do not feel that she is safe with these kids.
Now is it — I know you are relatively new to this situation but is it your sense that Michelle has changed the friends she hangs out with, that she used to have a different group of friends?
They are Black and Puerto Rican kids. That is the bottom line.
No, no. That is not it at all because their behavior is got nothing to do with their color or race or anything.
Michelle, I grew up with Black’s and Puerto Rican’s. I am used to them. No, it is not what they are. It is what they are doing that we are upset about and what concerns.
Tell me a little bit about your friends, what they are like.
I met them at this summer theatre group that I was in last year and they are all into this just really cool stuff.
And like what?
Carlos writes poetry. He writes some good stuff too, it is really deep. And Serena is in this Latin folk band and they mix a lot of different kinds of musics on it.
Do you kind of feel connected to them in some way because it is like part of your heritage we were talking about last time or no?
Yeah. They know where I am coming from. They are my people.
And what do you think about your father and Kathleen’s concerns about that? I mean, obviously they care about you and they care where you are going. And it sounds like they are really worried about your connection to these friends, should they be?
Concerned? I would think that they would want me to be happy. Hanging out with them makes me happy.
I am reframing the parent’s criticism as concern to see if Michelle sees any validity at all in their comments.
But I am not happy that Celina just got a tattoo and that you think that is very cool.
This one does like washes off in two weeks.
Adolescence generally do not reveal themselves in front of their parents so, I met with Michelle alone to get to know her better.
I thought it would be good idea for us to get to talk alone a little bit because I am not really sure what is happening here with your parents. I talked to your guidance counselor and she says, she has known you, she thinks you are basically a terrific kid but you have really been different the past couple of months so, she was sort of worried about it. That is what she said why she had referred you and I do not know what you think about that I mean, you think she should be worried?
I mean, I am not really doing anything major. Yeah, I cut a couple of classes here and there and yeah.
But what she told is different because she said, you have always been a good student, you have been really hassling some of your teachers, cutting in ways that you never did before and her sense is something is happening. Your parent’s fantasies are obviously going wild. I think it comes from really caring about you. So, you need to know that.
I mean I know that a major thing that we are in comfort with is that they do not like the friends that I have been hanging out with lately and — but they think that — they just assume that just because they are Black and Puerto Rican that they are doing all these things like that is all that we see in the media and TV and stuff and it is not like that. They are really cool kids and know so many things that I can do with them that none of my other friends in the past they would really could understand it — I feel like I can relate to someone them in ways I was never able to relate with anybody else.
So you feel like you share interests like you were talking about Carlos and writing poems and your other friend Serena. So why are your parents do you think that these kids are going nowhere? Do they know these kids?
I do not know. They have not even given them a chance.
They are just going to listen to what other parents are saying or whatever. Just because they are not from the same neighborhood, and by the way, that means that there is something wrong with them.
But — I mean, you can understand yourself that — because you must see it with other kids that it is easy to get in with the wrong crowd, it is easy to get into a situation where peer pressure can —
Yeah, but that is not me. That is not me.
Okay, well I am just asking because I do not know you.
Her reaction here seems pretty genuine. I do not think that he knew friends are the problem.
And because it sounds like there has been a recent change. And that is what I am trying to figure out is what happened recently. I mean, I know last time you were saying that at home, the focus seems to be on the baby but the baby is two not — I mean that is– not that recent. What do you think is upsetting your parents so much now?
Just I am hanging out with Puerto Rican kids.
All right. Why is that so upsetting to them?
I do not know why it is so upsetting to them but you see yourself I mean, when my father is talking about my grandmother, it was like she was nonperson.
He does not know how connected you are to her?
We are her family.
Well, I mean, that is true but I do not know. I could not really tell what that was about. Have you ever talked to him about what that means to you?
No. He would not understand. He would not get it.
Really? Do you miss your mother?
Do I miss my mother? Yeah.
Was there something that was triggered when your grandmother died?
My father like want us to ignore that and even like had any relevance in my life but –. I was with my grandmother when I found out about my mother died. She was the one that was there for me not my father. And it should have been him.
So have you ever talked to him about that?
He would not –. No.
He would not what?
I think he is not fit.
Okay. But maybe that is the issue. I mean, maybe you and he just need to get connected in a way that it has really been missing for you I do not know but that is what it sounds like, and he does not know where have you been at.
He does not even take the time to try to find out either. So, how can he know?
This is a real break. So far, I have not seen any way to get David to deal with his grief. Michelle needs to confront him about he is being shutdown with her. If David sees that this is hurting their relationship, it may motivate him to face up to his own unresolved mourning.
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