Chico Center for Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy and Counseling services for Children & Adults | Support for Parents


Chico therapist An Bulkens, LMFT is psychotherapist and counselor in Chico, California.  An Bulkens specializes in psychotherapy and counseling for young children  (toddlers, preschoolers, adolescents) and support for parents, with a special emphasis on  early childhood psychotherapy, and counseling  for preschoolers and Kindergarten aged child.  She also offers parenting skills support. She offers psychoanalytic psychotherapy for adults.  Her approach is grounded in  Lacanian Psychoanalysis. She was also trained as a clinical psychologist in Europe, Belgium.  Her education emphasized developmental psychology and psychoanalytic therapy. 

Filtering by Tag: Child therapy vignette

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.

To schedule an appointment call An Bulkens at (530) 321-2970.

An agitated child: Jeremiah

This is a little vignette provided by Helene Bonnaud in her book: 'L'inconscient de l'enfant.' 

The mother of Jeremiah had been very reluctant to consult a therapist or counselor for her child. When the psychoanalyst H. Bonnaud meets the mother and her child she meets a very anxious woman who is having great relational problems with her son. She had been struggling with him since the time that he became more indepedent: when he could walk on his own. Before that he was mostly in a body to body contact with his mother. When he was 3 years old the nursery school noticed Jeremiah's problems, and pointed it out to the mother. The mother refused the idea that her son had a problem. She thinks he is doing well, and is very similar to how she was at that age. She is worried being labeled a 'bad mother.' 

In the meetings with the therapist it becomes apparent that this term of 'bad mother' had used to predict what she would be like as a mother. 'My mother wanted to destroy me, ' she said. She also suffers from destructive thoughts regarding her own mother. In this context the problems of the child seem to be a response to the mother's experience of being hated by her mother. it is as if the mother is saying : 'I am a bad mother just as my mother has predicted, look at my child: he is the proof.' 

This way the mother is enclosing the child in her own problems, without leaving any place for mediation between herself and her son. The voice of her mother is confirmed in the reality: her child's behavior proofs she is a bad mother. So her mother's knowledge is absolute. Her son is also the one that potentially threatens her, as he is the one that makes her into the 'bad mother,' making the grandmother's predictions true.  That is why she experience her child as dangerous.

The child himself is also afraid of the mother. He fears being destroyed by her. His ceaseless agitation shows he cannot be at the place of a subject. During his therapy sessions he enters and leaves,  switches the ligh on and of in a repetitive manner. He seems little receptive when he is addressed. He seems invaded by a massive worry. 

The calming down of the child becomes possible at the moment when the mother finds a solution for the unbearableness of her mother's damaging words. Therapy was able to help the mother to operate a shift in the way she saw her child. She started to be able to see him for who he was, and not just as the proof of her belief in the all powerful thoughts of her mother. 

This vignette gives an idea of the kind of work therapy could help with - both the parent and the child. 

To schedule an appointment call An Bulkens at (530) 321-2970

An Bulkens    |    Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist    |   MFC 52746

Tel. (530) 321- 2970    |   186 E 12th ST,  Chico, CA 95928