Sam’s Silent Pain

The following is a case study for a child served through JPA counseling. Sam began treatment with JPA Therapist Ms. K last fall. Described as a creative and smart fourth grader, he was recommended for services by the school due to failing his classes, having difficulty with peers and being disrespectful to adults. Previously Sam was diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. He was unable to control his momentary impulses and temper tantrums. It was clear that Sam was heading down a destructive path that was not going to end well — unless he received the help he needed.

Prior to meeting with Sam, Ms. K talked with his mother. Ms. Norton described a horrific family history of domestic violence, gang involvement, and sexual abuse. Sam’s father left the home when Sam was young, but when he stayed with them periodically, he was verbally and physically abusive to Ms. Norton. Parents like Ms. Norton who have experienced such trauma in their own lives understandably face difficulties in meeting the emotional needs of their own child.

When Ms. K first started seeing Sam he acted cordial, polite and respectful — nothing like the way his mother and teachers described him. While not overly friendly, Sam came each week eager to play and draw. However, soon Ms. K began to see a change. Sam began expressing himself differently in their relationship and eventually stopped talking. At this point, Sam communicated only by using hand gestures and occasionally writing notes to Ms. K.

Instead of pushing Sam to talk about his feelings, Ms. K allowed Sam to express himself through play. One of his favorite games was Sorry. Ms. K realized that playing the game was a way that Sam felt comfortable expressing himself. Through playing the game, Sam was able to show Ms. K about the lack of control he experienced and his profound feelings of anger and frustration. Being behind in the game was extremely upsetting to Sam, which was understandable given the trauma he had experienced. Sam would make it so he always won. Instead of telling him not to cheat, Ms. K focused on his feelings. She began to say out loud some of the things Sam seemed to be experiencing, thereby giving voice to his feelings.

As Sam started to express his feelings in the context of the trusting relationship he developed with Ms. K, he began to feel better and do better in school and at home. His mother and teachers both noted that Sam was no longer angry and hostile. While he would have the occasional tantrum, they said that he was better able to express his feelings and move on. By the end of the year, his teacher noted that Sam had raised his grades, was no longer taunting teachers, and was getting along better with classmates.

Through play therapy, Sam had been able to convey the pain and frustration that plagued him to a skilled and understanding JPA therapist. No longer did Sam need to store his angry feelings away, only to be released by way of exploding at a teacher or throwing away his homework. Thanks to JPA’s positive intervention, the hostility that Sam once experienced was finally released.

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