Bad Therapist, Bad
By Samantha Taylor
My son is 13, and he’s been in some form of therapy since he was 16 months old… so if my calculations are correct- we’ve been doing the therapy thing for almost 12 years. I’d guess we’ve had somewhere around 20-25 therapists along the way. We’ve seen speech therapists, cognitive behavior therapists, occupational therapists, and play therapists. Some of them have been life-changing. Others have not. I’ve gotten pretty good and figuring out who is going to work out well for our family- so when we recently went to meet with a new nutritionist, I could tell immediately that she wasn’t a fit for us. It has taken be a while to be able to trust my gut, but I’ve had some experiences with really bad therapists, and now I can spot them a mile away.
I remember one of the first speech therapists who came to our home. At first I thought it was great that she told me about her son, and how similar he was to mine. She was trying to relate to me, I always thought. She knew what it was like. But when the comparisons didn’t stop, and she even mistakenly called my son by her son’s name a few times, I knew it was time to let her go. I felt incredibly guilty about it- and of course I’ve run into her like 10 times in public since… AWKWARD!
Then there was the behavior therapist who came to the house many years later. Every single day that I had both of my boys in the car after school was a total nightmare. I needed help navigating those behaviors. She thought it would be best to meet in person, talk about the kids and fill out the paperwork. We did that- and while I felt like she was friendly and knowledgeable, my spidey senses told me something wasn’t quite right. A few days later, she pulled up to my house so that we could ride in the car together to pick up the boys. We got into the car and drove to my son’s school. She started talking about how she was so envious of my life. She so desperately wanted to be married and have children and live in a beautiful house like mine. But alas, she was a 35-years-old, and nothing was happening romantically. She dropped the bomb that she was a virgin and had never even been kissed. She was devastated and started to cry. I had enough to deal with on a regular basis, I certainly didn’t need to deal with her emotional stress each week. I sat there in the driver’s seat completely panicked. Not only did I have absolutely no idea what to say to the poor dear, but I had to spend the next 90 minutes in the car with her. Needless to say, I called her supervisor and cancelled our arrangement.
My son, who has been diagnosed with a relatively new eating disorder called ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) also has high-functioning ASD and GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder.) All of these conditions are related when it comes to food. He’s underweight (70 lbs.) and not growing as he should be. At his annual check up, our pediatrician suggested we might want to consider a nutritionist. He recommended someone who is known in the area for being an expert in eating disorders and working with children like my son. We’ve tried a food desensitization approach before with an occupational therapist (she was one of the great ones) but he was not receptive to it. Even though we tried for many months, the therapist and I agreed that he needed to really want to change in order to benefit from this approach. She had worked with kids a bit older than him who were embarrassed by their limited menu, and actively wanted to work through their issues. My son wasn’t there yet- and was extremely content eating pizza, chicken nuggets, waffles, apples, and cantaloupe every day. But it had been two years, and maybe it was time to try again. When I told him about the appointment his anxiety went through the roof. He REALLY did not want to go.
But he was a trooper, and we went together. I promised him that no one would force him to do or eat anything that he didn’t want to. We were going to meet with this woman and see what advice she had, what she thought would be best for him to be healthy and happy.
While we waited in the waiting room, he was nervous but was putting on a brave face for me. I was so proud of him. The nutritionist came out to meet us, but the introduction was cold and uncomfortable. We went into her office, which resembled a principal’s office. She was at her desk and we were on the other side in chairs. She immediately started asking me questions about him, as if he wasn’t there. “What are his diagnoses?” “What brings you here?” etc.
I should have asked her if we could speak privately, but I thought “maybe this is part of the process- I mean, she knows he’s 13…” so I did my best to answer the questions with information that my son already knew. When I told her about the ARFID diagnosis that we got a few months ago she made me feel like I had waited way too long to come to her. I tried in my friendly way to make small jokes, or break the ice a little. She wouldn’t have it. I got absolutely nothing back from her. She asked me about our family meals- and what happens when we make something that he doesn’t like. “Well,” I said sort of embarrassingly “if he doesn’t like what we are eating, he can make himself a pizza, or heat up leftovers that we usually have for him to eat.”
“And when did you start letting that happen?” she asked in an accusatory tone.
I fought back tears. “When he was three and non-verbal and screamed when I tried to give him anything other than the foods he was comfortable with, the pattern began.” I said with tears streaming down my face. “This is all my fault,” I thought.
Then she started to ask my son some questions. “Would you eat this, would you eat that?” Bless his little heart- he tried to answer her, but there was no warmth at all and he started to get so flustered that he pulled his sweatshirt over his eyes and started mumbling his answers into his sleeve.
She couldn’t have cared less.
She asked him to join her at the computer where they’d make a list of homework for him. While he obliging looked over her shoulder he repeatedly turned back towards me and shook his head NO! and mouthed “HELP ME!”
We scheduled our next appointment for two weeks later. I paid the $175 consultation fee and we left. He was a wreck. I didn’t know what to do. He desperately needed to gain weight and be healthier, but I just KNEW this wasn’t the way he was going to be able to do it. He didn’t like her. I didn’t like her. This would never work. I talked to my team (my husband, mom, and friends) who all encouraged me to trust my gut. I called and canceled the next appointment. When the receptionist asked me if we’d be rescheduling, I said no.
Two weeks later, my phone rang and I answered it. It was the nutritionist. She said “I see that you cancelled your appointment- were you going to reschedule?”
I was caught off guard. I said “no.”
“Well is he better?” she asked snarkily.
“No,” I said. “I just don’t think this was a fit for him.”
“Well I already contacted your physicians and told them we’d be working together,” she quipped.
“That’s OK,” I said. “I’ll fill them in.”
I thanked her for calling and hung up - AWKWARD!!
We need to see a nutritionist, but this one left a bad taste in my mouth. Sometimes it takes meeting a therapist or two that aren’t a fit so you can appreciate the ones who are. When you gel with someone, you get that sense that they are on your team. There’s nothing like that feeling when someone else “gets” your kid the way that you do. Stick with those folks, get rid of the riff raff. Trust your gut. You know the saying “you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince”? Well maybe it applies to therapists too, but in this case it’s a little more expensive.