The Day I Wasn’t There – how therapist absence impacted a child’s therapy

Any professional play therapist working in a school or other setting will have a set of procedures that their colleagues know to follow if, for any reason, they cannot be there unexpectedly.

16-To-Do-List-Managers-as-Open-source-Web-AppsI went through my procedures with every single school who referred children to me, during the pre-clinical phase of setting up work with each child.

Not sure what a good procedure should be in this case? Click here for a free download that will explain all.

The sessions with this particular client had taken a while to get set up; the meeting with school was ok, but the parent meeting got scheduled and cancelled twice before we changed tack and the school got Dad’s consent and initial SDQ completed over the phone.

I was just 3 weeks in, and already had a special place in my professional heart for this street-savvy boy. With a background of pain and chaos, I remember him still being too cool for school, but starting to open up to the  possibility of a relationship – enough to ask me about my experiences and what I thought about stuff…

It was early days, but it was looking good, and I was hopeful.

Then I was ill. A special combo of laryngitis and pharyngitis had me in bed with no voice and feeling pants. I had a week off work. I made the necessary calls and emails, I did everything I could to let the key people for each of my clients know it was time to follow the procedure I had outlined at the start of my work.

This was the only occasion where for whatever reason, the message I left didn’t get passed on. I understand that schools are busy places. I know that school staff on average deal with a million or a billion, (or is it a bazillion?!) things each day. I know that even with the best intentions, it is easy for things to get missed. It is just a shame that this was the thing. It got missed.

message-in-a-bottle-1The message didn’t get passed on,

The child was brought to the venue by his support worker.

They couldn’t get in.

There was no answer to their knocking.

I can only imagine, what that experience may have been like for him. This woman who he had started to like and started to trust, was suddenly not there for him. He didn’t know why. He would likely have felt stupid, but that would have been the least of it. The sense of abandonment, confusion, shame, anger and bewilderment may have been acute. His special Gran had died 2 months before, and his mum – an addict – had left him years before. My sudden absence; the hat trick confirming to him that women leave you and that people are not to be trusted.

When I came back to work the next week, unaware of what had happened (some schools’ communication with external workers is truly stunning), expecting him to turn up for his session….now I was the one left waiting.

It turned out he was digging his heels in at school and refusing to come. They didn’t know why– ‘he’s been fine every other week’.

He agreed to come the week after, and told me that he was not coming any more. We explored a good enough crisis ending. He heard my apology for not being there, my understanding that it must have been horrible for him and my sadness that the message I had left for him never got to him, which he seemed to hear… But his mind was set. This was the end and I didn’t blame him.

 

 

Want to ensure children you know don’t go through this experience?  This free download will tell you what to say and do to support them best.

I have often thought about him since. Wondering if he has had opportunity to find someone who he feels safe enough with to develop a therapeutic process and start to heal his pain? Wondering what might have happened if my illness had occurred further into our therapeutic journey when we had established a stronger relationship – strong enough to work through what the experience meant for him? Wondering what would have happened if I had not been ill?

 

I know it is unrealistic to expect that we can never be ill. However, I do believe that those of us in jobs where we work with hurting children, have a duty of care to ensure we are doing all we can to ensure our health is as optimal as it can be. It is not just about minimizing the time we are off work, but reducing time when we are there in body, but not physically able to be fully present with them, distracted by coughing, pain, etc. Children always know if we are ‘not normal’, and it often worries them. And obviously, no-one appreciates the germ spreaders – self care when we are ill has to be a priority for all sorts of reasons. Who we are always has an impact on the children we work with.

 

Things to Consider

?   DOES your setting have procedures that are clearly followed when a visiting practitioner can no longer attend a session but a child is expecting them?

 

?   DO the staff in your setting understand the impact their absence can have on certain children? (and let’s be honest -some will be thrilled if it means they don’t have to do PE or music or that test or whatever else… but others really will be wobbling inside).

 

?   DO your admin/office staff understand the importance of their part in  information sharing in these circumstances?

 

?   DO you ever consider if a child has had a strange behaviour episode – whether it may be related to someone they connect with being away?

 

?   Want something to pass on to your Senco / deputy head / admin / key staff to have to hand should this happen at your place? Click here for the Free Guide to what to say and do when a therapist is absent.