Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
Our 12-year-old was referred to therapy by her school for some behavioral and social issues. Nothing too severe but the school thought it would be beneficial for her to gain some skills before going into next year. After a while we finally got into the therapist we were suggested but now we are coming up on camp season. She and her friends are all supposed to go to camp for a big part of the summer but that would mean either delaying the start of her therapy until the beginning of the school year or starting therapy a few times and taking a big break in middle. The therapist also said they cannot guarantee a spot for September if that is what we choose to do. Keeping her home from camp would be rough for her and she would feel really left out. Do you have any suggestions as to how to deal with this? What is your opinion on taking a break from therapy so far towards the beginning? And is it worth the delay to avoid "punishing" her by having her miss camp?
You clearly want to do what is best for your daughter. This is commendable. There are some parents who would simply make a determination based on what worked best for them, or based on their emotions.
Your daughter’s school believes that she would benefit from therapy to address some behavioral and social issues. However, you didn’t provide any details as to the nature of these issues. Though you did mention that they are not very severe, I don’t know what the specific concerns are. Nor do I know whether these problems occurred suddenly or if they have been slowly developing. I also have no insight into whether these issues might transfer over into your daughter’s camp experience.
Has your daughter has been to summer camp in the past? If so, did you receive any feedback as to her behavior and sociability? If not, might this year be different due to the above-mentioned—or other—factors? If she has not previously attended summer camp, do you have enough information to ascertain whether her school issues may continue in camp?
Often, issues that manifest in a school setting are not as noticeable in less structured environments like summer camp. If your daughter goes to camp, however, and her issues continue or are exacerbated, this can cause an increase in problems come the new school year. If, for instance, she feels singled out or excluded, this can lead to decreased self-esteem, in turn leading to further negative behavior.
You did mention that your daughter’s issues do not appear to be very significant. It is possible that the more relaxed environment in summer camp and the fostering of social connection will help her to become more social. Social problems and negative behavior often go hand-in-hand. If you believe that your daughter will do well in camp, this may alleviate some of the issues that her school is seeing.
“Punishing” your daughter by keeping her home from camp and having her see a therapist can make her feel like there is something significantly wrong with her. Even if seeing a therapist per se doesn’t make her feel this way, being kept home from camp in order to go to therapy very well might. Additionally, feeling that she is being punished with therapy could easily generate negative feelings toward the therapist, and toward therapy in general. Generally—and especially for children—the therapeutic alliance and positive feelings toward the therapeutic experience are likely the most important predictors of positive change.
Regardless of your decision, it is imperative that your daughter view therapy as a positive experience. If she stays home, you can ask the therapist to guide you in the above areas. If she goes to camp, a few sessions with a good therapist can help her to navigate possible problematic situation that might arise.
-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
adjunct professor at Touro College
Graduate School of Social Work
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 516-218-4200
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