Child therapy and trauma III. The boy who thought he was a fish.
When parents consult a therapist for their child, they might at times have an idea of what 'caused' the problem: a divorce, sexual abuse. In our culture these seem to be 'legitimate' reasons to reach out to a therapist when there are issues with a child. The problem seems to be able to be related to an understandable 'trauma' for the child.
However, when there is no clear 'traumatic' cause, and the child is having problems it might sometimes be harder for the parent to bring in especially a young child. The parent might feel that the suffering of the child must be somehow related to him or her not doing something 'right.' The parents are often saddened that they are not able to help the child. In a couple recent posts I have been trying to open this notion of 'trauma.'
Trauma is not accidental, it is structural. There are different components to this: The young child in his very first weeks, months, years is bombarded with experiences that affect him or her. The child has limited tools to make sense of these experiences. But he will make sense of it with whatever tools at its disposal. A very sensitive child can have a harder time and might need extra support. As mentioned before a child will try to master these experiences by entering into language, trying to make sense of it. His 'interpretations' can be in the eyes of the adult utterly illogical, irrational. But it is a sign of the child's intelligence that it is trying to put a world together that 'makes sense' with whatever elements are at its disposal.
So, entering language is a way for the child to make sense of 'traumatic experiences,' but language in itself can is traumatic as also addressed in an earlier post. In this context I want to refer to a vignette H. Deltombe.
A little boy of 4, Dylan, does not talk. In school he is isolated and sad. He does not sleep or eat well. At the first encounter with the therapist, however he seems eager to engage but does not have the means. He does not play, does not draw... However, at one point he started tapping the table in a certain rhythm. The therapist responds. He is delighted with the effect he has on her. A game starts where the rhythms are differentiated, modified.
As the treatment progresses he engages in a game of peek-a-boo. A game that would be typically liked by younger children, but in which he delights. Each child asks himself the question: 'Can I be missed, can they do without me?' When the therapist goes looking for him she indicates that she wants to find him. This game develops over a long time. Although he is still not speaking, there is communication using rhythms, and sounds. Eventually he starts making animal sounds from his hiding place. The therapist guesses the different animals. Sometimes he tries to make her afraid, and she guesses: a lion, a tigre. Then, at one point she hears a small sound, that she is not able to name. He appears from under the table and mimicks a fish. 'It's a fish.' He looks at her pensively and quitely, nods, and continues to make the same movement with his mouth. At that moment the therapist remembers what the mother had told her during the initial interview. She had joked with the father as they were going to have a child: 'As we have already Bob, the fish, we can now have Dylan,' in honor of their favorite singer.
The therapist immediately tells him: 'You are not a fish, that is just a joke, you are a little boy and you can speak.' After what appears as a moment of shock, he suddenly seems 'at ease.' The following weeks he changes, eats, starts speaking.
This boy was petrified under a 'traumatic word.' The treatment was able to separate him from this place of the 'fish of his parents' to which he had been reduced. By himself, by his parents? It is not that simple. But through the treatment he has been able to free himself of that position of 'object.' He can now truly become a boy.
This is an example how something what is 'traumatic' can be very subtle and how it differs from the regular understanding of an 'accidental' trauma.
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