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: parenting

My child does not want therapy.

When parents first meet a counselor or therapist to talk about their child, they are often concerned that their child will not want therapy, or would not be willing to come in to talk. I typically do tell them that indeed for therapy to work it is important that the person engaged in it wants to come, is engaged in the process. This is the case for adults as well as for children. My first job as a therapist whether I am working with an adult or a child is to explore whether there is a demand for help. Sometimes the adult is sent by a concerned spouse, but is not suffering himself. Sometimes a child is brought in by concerned parents, but the child is not suffering himself. In those cases it might be better to work with the concerned spouses, or with the concerned parents.  It might take some time to explore whether the child wants to come.  

Just the child saying he or she does not want to come is of course not enough of a reason as the child does not know what he is refusing.  It will be important for the child to say this in the presence of the consulting room, after the experience.  Sometimes a child just tells his parents that he does not want to come, but actually engages in the process and tells the therapist session after session that he wants to come back.  If that is the case, it is something that needs to be explored. It is important that the decision to start or not start the treatment is something that is expressed in the treatment room, by the child himself, and not through a parent. 

Parents might be hesitant of their child wanting to come to treatment because they think of therapy as a way 'talking about feelings.' Although treatment can certainly include talking about feelings it is not only that, and it is much more in the work with children.  The child will typically come to the treatment with the idea that the therapist is a figure like a teacher or a doctor, a parent: an authority figure. It might take several sessions for the child to explore the possibilities and nature of the therapeutic space: a space where you can say whatever comes to your mind without getting in trouble, a space where you do not 'have' to do anything.

As an example of this I can mention a child that came in pouting, feeling he had been forced to come to see me. He did not want to come and talk to me. He had spent the whole session with his head on his arm, pretending he was sleeping, and eventually even falling asleep. He was refusing my presence. Or was he. At one point I peeked under his arm, met his gaze, waved at him, and he waved back and smiled. At the end of the session, in which I had been talking about what his parents told me about him, I told him I would like to see him again (even though he did not do anything!) He responded to my surprise that he wanted to meet me again the next week. A session were apparently little happens can be very important, and actually can mean a lot! 

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


The adult in every adolescent

Several years ago psychologist Ronald Epstein argued in his book 'The case against adolescence' that teens are much more competent than adults think, and that their problems stem for the most part from the restrictions placed on them by parents, and society. It is their infantilization along with the fact that we gather them in places where they spend most of their time with peers, while having minimal interaction with adults that leaves their capacities unexploited, underused.

The prolonged childhood that can last until  the 'child' reaches the age of 26, makes the transition to adulthood for a lot of teens problematic. There is a hesitation to start, to make the leap, a postponement that seems to coincide with the vast world of possibilities that are open today, and that the adolescents will put to the test. Adolescences seems to be a procrastination. It seems that the vast world of possibilities can be translated as an endless postponement. 

Miller in a recent text (En direction de l'adolescence) refers to a point that resonates with Epstein's observation of teenage children spending most of their time with peers and not with adults: Where in earlier times the child, to acquire knowledge had to pass through the Other (the parents, teachers, adults)at this point they have the knowledge in the palm of their hand. They only have to click and ask, and the device will answer, circumventing the necessity to address the Other.  

However, things might be changing.  The talk is that the newest generation of teenagers, generation Z is much more independent than the Millenials, and are intending on cutting lose from their parents at a younger age.  The digital age in which they grow up seems to provide them also with a platform that transcends just easy access to information, without having to address the Other. It opens a way of connecting to the wide world, and it opens possibilities of enterpreneurship and inspires initiatives by these young people who are eager to bring their abilities to the world. 

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

Therapists and doctors: they can collaborate.

Working with children who have also physical disabilities, it can be very important for the therapist to work closely with the doctor. Catherine Mathelin gives in her book The Broken Piano some interesting case studies relating to successful and not so successful collaborations between therapists and doctors.

She relates the story of Alexandre, a ten year old boy, physically disabled due to brain damage caused by brief respiratory failure during birth. Although he was a brillant student, his body could not follow suit. Mathelin describes her as a virtuoso whose only available instrument was a broken piano.

After his annual appointment with the chief neurologist the previous year, Alexandre had shut himself in his room, and had become quite oppositional. He did not want to go to school, and just wanted to be left alone. When Mathelin saw him he was oppositional and depressed, complaining about the injustice done to him. He felt caught between revolt and despair.

Talking about the consult with the neurologist he said that he was 'fed up with doctors.' He said that he 'tried to see the doctor's eyes, but it was hard, because he was not looking at me.' His eyes were on the 'chart.'

Every year Alexandre was brought before a specialist who did not look at him. Mathelin suggested to his parents to bring him to a pediatrician whom she respected, in addition to the visits with the neurologists. This pediatrician saw him alone, graphed his progress in a large notebook, explained all his interventions, and encouraged him to keep track of his development and growth. Alexandre was supposed to take care of the notebook and to bring it to every appointment. Unlike the chart, this notebook belonged to him. 

'For Alexandre, going to the pediatrician meant that his body now belonged to himself, just like the precious notebook.' He would speak to the pediatrician about the sessions with Mathelin and with Mathelin about the physician. 'For certain children with physical ailments, collaboration between their doctor and therapist is essential,provided that the roles are clearly defined and not interchangeable, and that the confidentiality of thesessions and respoect for the child are always in the foreground.'

Who is a 'real' mother or father?

Both, the children and the adults that I work with in my practice often tend to use the expression of 'my real father,' 'my real mother.' I might have addressed this before but the implicit resonances of this phrase are often quite detrimental for the child. For example, I had a young child become very upset about the fact that his grandma told him that his father was not his 'real father.' However, this father had been there since he was born, had given him his name and was actively involved in the child's life. For the child of a certain age, there is 'real' and there is 'fake' or 'pretend.' His grandma's phrase suddenly diminished the value of his father to the realm of the fake and pretend. This is not something he will easily accept, and this had quite a detrimental effect on the relationship between the child and his grandmother.  I explained to the child that each child has only one biological dad, but can have more than one dad.  The dad that raises the child is as 'real' as the dad who made the child in an act of love, but is not present anymore.  This explanation was quite a relief to the child, and did calm him down. 

It is more precise to speak about birth mother and father, or biological father, than to use terms as 'real,' which then reduces a person that can be extremely important and 'real' in the child's life to someone who is 'fake,' not real.  

To schedule an appointment with An, call (530) 321-2970

There are no 'Bad parents'

When parents contact me for therapy or treatment for a child, it is often with a sense of guilt, or feeling inadequate. They might even fear that they will be considered being a 'bad parent.' One of the first things that I want parents to know when they come consult me, ask me for help with their child, is that there is no such thing as a 'bad parent.' Not for me as the therapist, not for the child they are concerned about. The flurry of books that teach you how to parent might give the impression of there being a 'norm' a 'standard.' However, as I have said in other places, each family, each child, each parent is unique. There is no standardized way to parent. 

The proof of this is that even when parents do everything 'according to the book,' or 'according to best practices,' there can still be impasses, surprises, unexpected struggles and challenges. The reason for this is that raising a child is not only about limits, behaviors, consequences.  There is a wealth of relational, and emotional threads, some visible, some known, but some hidden that might go back to very early times in the child's history and in the parents' history. Sometimes those threads get into incomprehensible tangles. No parenting book, no well meaning advice can help here. This is where the value of psychotherapy can come in. A good psychotherapist is not into labeling, is not going to tell you what a 'good' parent would do, but can help you untangle the threads in which a family can get caught.

You can reach me at (530) 321-2970


What to say when your child asks: 'Is Santa real?'according to dolto

I am continuing with my little series on Francoise Dolto. This time an excerpt from 'Lorsque l'enfant paraît.' Volume 1, pg 94-96. A rendition of the radio program she used to have in the 70's. People would call in with their questions on child rearing.

Dolto responds to a question about Santa. Will children not be very disappointed when they find out that the parents lied to them about the existence of Santa? Her answer:

'I think that this is posing the wrong question. Children need a lot of poetry, and adults too, since they themselves keep wishing each other a merry Christmas, right? What is a real thing? By the way, a lot of money is made due to Santa: is that not real? When one makes a lot of money, then it seems to be a real thing, right? But, I think that this listener worries that the child believes in Santa as in a lie, and that talking to his child about Santa is lying,' But a myth, is poetry and has its own truth. Of course, this does not have to go on too long, and don't tell that Santa won't bring presents if the child does not listen to the parents...

When the parens 'add on' to this belief and seem to take it too seriously, then the child herself won't be able to tell them anymore: 'You know, my friends tell me Santa does not exist.' At that moment you explain her the difference between a myth and a living person, who is born, has parents, a nationality, who has grown, will die, and who lives like all human beings in a house on earth, and not in the sky. (French Santa seems to live in the Sky - Note by An)

I want to let you know that this listener is strongly opposed to Santa's, especially the ones walking around in the streets.

Maybe he feels rightly so that those dressed up people depoetize the real Santa, the one in which he believed, and the one one did not ran into during the whole month of December. It bothers him. Or maybe he is a person who does not have much poetry left inside. In any case, I don't know whether you still believe in Santa, but I still do. I can tell you a story - as everyone knows I am the mother of the singer Carlos - when Jean (that is his real name) was in Kindergarten, he asked me one day: 'How come there are so many Santa's? There are blue ones ... purple ones, red ones!' We were walking down the streets and they were everywhere. I told him: 'You know, that Santa there, I know him, it's Mr So and So.' It was one of the salespeople at the toy store or the bakery, who had dressed up as Santa. 'You see, he has dressed up as Santa, and that other one too. He is a salesman dressed up as Santa.' He asked me: 'But what about the real one?' - 'The real one is inside of us, we carry him in our hearts. It is like a big gnome that we imagine. When we are little we like to imagine that gnomes and giants exist. You know that gnomes do not exist. Neither do giants from fairy tales. Santa. he was not born. He does not have a mother or a father. He is not alive. He is only alive on Christmas in the hearts of all those who want to surprise and celebrate little children. And all the grown ups regret not being little kids anymore. That is why they like telling kids: 'That is Santa.' When one is little, one does not make the difference between real living things, and things that you can find only inside, in your heart.'

He listened to all that and told me: 'So, then the next day, he does not take off in his sleigh, with his reindeer? He does not fly through the sky?' - 'No, as he is in our heart. - 'So, when I hang my stocking, he will not give me anything?' -  'Who won't give you anything?' - 'There won't be anyting in my stocking?' - 'But yes.' - 'But who put it there?' I smile. 'You and daddy will put something in it?' - 'But of course. - 'Then, can I be Santa too?' - 'Of course you can be Santa.' We will hang our stockings, your dad, me and Mary. You will put things in it. You will know that you are Santa for others. And I will say: Thank you, Santa; it is you who will be thanked, but I will act as if I do not know. For your dad, I will not tell him that it was you, that will be a surprise.' He was delighted, happy and he told me on our return: 'It is now that I know that he does not really exist, that Santa is really good.' 

The child's imagination and poetry is not gullibility, nor childishness, but intelligence in a different dimension. '

From: Francoise Dolto, Lorsque l'Enfant parait.

To contact An, call: (530) 321-2970.



Parenting from your 'own space.'

In my clinical practice as a therapist I often see parents struggle with 'where to draw the line' with their child.  The tendency to 'give the child what he wants,' 'to give in' typically ends in a type of interaction that is 'reactive.' Because, typically after 'giving' your child what he or she 'wants' (ok, 5 more minutes, ok 5 more, 2 more....) we reach a limit where we can't take it anymore and then typically respond in a 'reactive' way by blowing up, yelling... Feelings of resentment grow as all this giving is not met with gratitude. And your child might be confused that you suddenly withdraw your love, after having given him all these extra tokens of 'love' by 'giving in.'  When these types of interactions become the typical way of interacting, the parent might feel that his or her space is 'shrinking' and the child's is 'growing' beyond their control. Something is out of balance, and neither child not parent are happy about it.

Underlying this dynamic that is confusing to both child and parent, there is often the parent's sentiment to not know where to draw the line, how to set a limit. 'What is reasonable?' There are indeed no standard rules that can be applied: each family, child, parent is different. A parent might want to distance himself from his own, more 'authoritarian,' or 'hands off' role model:  How do you draw a line without being authoritarian? There might be an implicit insecurity: Is the parent still entitled to her own space,' to a world where the child is not the ruler? The child has often become the parent's ideal: He should not lack anything, should not be 'deprived.' 

Typically, when the parent becomes clearer on claiming his or her own, separate space from the child, it becomes more natural to have the child respect that space. And the nice thing about it is that the child will feel more respected in his own space, allowing for better connection between parent and child.  

How to respond to the demanding child.

In my therapeutic practice and consultation with parents the topic of how to handle ongoing 'requests' is a recurrent theme.  Incessant demands from our kids can drive us parents crazy. The more we seem to give the child, the more the child seems to be asking for, demanding. The demands of the child never stop. This can be very frustrating for the parent as the parent feels that the things he gives the child with so much love, are not really appreciated and valued. It can go so far that the parent himself feels not valued, appreciated, 'used' by the child. 

This unfortunate situation has something to do with a profound misunderstanding between adult and child. The parent becomes exhausted by the demands of the child, because he or she takes the demand at face value. He or she thinks that the child 'really wants' the object he demands.  Then why is he or she not satisfied when I give what he asks for... However, what we ask for is not necessarily what we want. 

I think of the mother of a teenage girl who came to me exhausted and hurt by the demands of her daughter. She had sacrificed so much for her daughter, had given so many things to her  that she could not really afford, and still the daughter was not satisfied. In the treatment the girl was able to tell the mother that she actually wanted her mother to say no, when she asked for yet another new gadget. A 5 year old girl who was doted on by one of her parents told me: 'When it is given to you, you don't want it anymore.' Often, the asked for object, once received, turns to waste and we need a new thing 'to want.' What our children 'really want' from us is to be supported in this dimension of 'wanting.' More than 'being given' things they want, they want to be supported in developing  'their own desires.' 

This is why a child can be much more satisfied with a 'conversation' about a desired object, than with being given the object. The conversation 'sustains' his or her desire, humanizes it. It allows for the gratification to be postponed, In the course of the conversation the child will feel 'recognized,' 'valued.' And the connection with the parent deepens, to great satisfaction of both. 

To schedule an appointment, call me at (530) 321-2970

An Bulkens    |    Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist    |   MFC 52746

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