CSTC retreat helps parents as well as patients

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Erin Carpenter, CSTC’s director of Recreation Therapy Services, explains the therapeutic benefits of recreation to CSTC families at the virtual retreat on Jan. 16.

The DSHS Child Study and Treatment Center is a psychiatric hospital for children offers supports to families as well, such as dialectical behavior therapy skills training and semi-annual retreats. The below account is from a parent of a child at CSTC during a recent parent retreat. Names were changed for patient privacy.

At 4 years old, when Jared* moved in with his grandparents, he already had a life full of trauma. He had experienced neglect and witnessed a violent death, and 13 years later there’s still a lot of unknowns about those early childhood years.

“There’s a lot of things at the cellular level that has taken on trauma,” said his grandmother, Susan.

Right away, she noticed that Jared played roughly with toys, ramming them into walls. As he got older, Susan attended almost every class with him for a long while to be an extra set of hands. While she describes Jared as charming — a kid who enjoys performing through dance and playing the piano — he also has intermittent violent outbursts.

“This kid is the sweetest kid on the planet. He is nothing but a sweetheart who has these disturbed outbreaks every 3 to 6 weeks,” Susan said. “Every sweet moment I’ve had one foot hanging out waiting to stop the ride, because you just never know when it’s going to turn.”

Last October, Jared joined the Child Study and Treatment Center as an inpatient.

Susan joined a virtual retreat with 12 other families in January, where participants met other families of kids with high behavioral health needs, learned about recreation therapy and other treatment provided at CSTC, and talked about de-escalation techniques and discharge planning. The retreat, led by CSTC Psychologist Dr. Ed Morris, also brought in a former patient and family members of former patients to offer perspectives on life after discharge.

“CSTC is always available for folks to reach out to; it doesn’t matter if it’s been a month or if it’s been 10 years,” said Social Worker Scott Getty, explaining that CSTC staff will always be available to talk to former families and try to help answer questions after discharge.

Susan worries about finding a good placement for Jared after he leaves CSTC. Although his diagnoses are still being refined, it is clear that he is on the autism spectrum and is eligible for Developmental Disabilities Administration services.

“It’s a real concern for me, but … I’m already working with his DDA person to hopefully find a group home situation, but there has to be people there that are strong enough to not be injured by him,” said Susan. She hopes Jared can also go back to school and join in a community horse program.

Other parents at the retreat echoed her concerns about what life like would be like after discharge. Penny’s son Steve* was set to age out of the hospital three weeks after the retreat. He had been at CSTC for 18 months altogether.

“I’m excited, I’m scared … it’s a really weird stage to be in. I’m trying to use my DBT skills that I’m allowed to be scared. I have a child who has suicidal ideations — that’s scary. I will always be fearful when he’s having them, but I cannot let them take all of our joy away, because I have a very kind, funny, smart, enjoyable child,” said Penny. “If I focus on all of our hardships, I’m not going to get to enjoy any of that.”

As Penny reflects on Steve’s story, she sees that what she thought was strong will and potential leadership traits in kindergarten was oppositional behavior. In middle school, she noticed that Steve didn’t have good social skills, and a string of stressful events occurred: Steve was bullied for his sexuality, Penny had very significant health issues, she got divorced, and her ex-husband tried to take her life.

“None of those things are a fault of Steve’s situation, but they all contribute to it,” said Penny. “That’s a hard thing for parents to understand is that our traumas, our situations do contribute to our kids’ mental health, but it doesn’t make us bad parents. It just is what it is.”

One day, Steve told her that he had thoughts of harming others and himself.

“So I made him a promise at that point, and it’s a promise that I never should’ve made. … I took him in my arms and I promised him that I would keep him safe and I would keep others safe from him, but I didn’t realize at that moment that I was making a promise that I couldn’t keep,” she said. “A promise I should’ve kept was that I would direct him to the places he needed to learn those skills and that I myself would also learn skills.”

A single mother of six, Penny long since realized that when one child has intense behavioral health needs, the whole family needs support and treatment.

“Why I find things like these parent retreats so vital, is that a child in crisis is a family in crisis. The very important mantra that we need to wrap our heads around is that means that we have to get to a point where a child in treatment is a family in treatment.”

She’s taken part in CSTC services for families to include DBT skills training, which includes a focus on helping parents and caregivers to understand and effectively manage difficult and powerful emotions. With the help of Steve’s therapist, they also developed house rules to keep him safer after discharge.

Penny praised the staff and care provided at the hospital.

“I will tell you, I know no other CLIP facility like CSTC. … They are the top of the top, the end of the line, the best you can get. I am nothing but pleased with what they have done for me and my family. But I truly believe you have to be engaged; this is as much about you and your family’s treatment as it is the individual,” said Penny.

Events like the retreats and joining in the parent therapy allow Susan to feel more connected with other parents; she values the sense of cohesiveness it forms.

“My everyday friends, even my family, do not understand the amount of violence that our family has been in; it’s inconceivable,” said Susan. She appreciates being “with other family members that you can share what’s going on, and they go ‘Yep, I know that one,’ instead of ‘You need to give him up.’ These are children; these are our children.

“We love our children.”

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