Treating a child changes the family


I recently read a wonderful book by the psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz called ‘The Examined Life’.  In it, he tells the story of a 10-year old girl who was brought to him for therapy because she was chaotic, messy, dishevelled and wet herself both day and night.  The rest of her family were all exceptionally well-dressed, high-achieving and ‘together’.  Grosz writes that, over the year he was seeing the girl, she gradually began to put her hair up and generally take more care over her appearance, as well as stopping having accidents.  He also noted that, at the same time, the other members of her family who brought her to the clinic became more scruffy and chaotic.  His receptionist pointed out to him that ‘It happens a lot here – as the children get well, their families change too.’

This mirrors my own experience of treating children with acupuncture.  It seems to me that it is often one member of the family who ‘carries’ a pathology for the whole family.  It happens frequently that as the child I am treating gets better, a sibling starts manifesting a physical or emotional symptom.  If they then start having treatment and become well, then another sibling or a parent may then develop a symptom.   Sometimes each member of the family comes in turn for treatment.  It is when the parent asks if you can treat the family dog that you know your work is done!

I often think of the family unit as being similar to the 5 Elements.  Each member is intimately connected to the other members, and when a change goes on in one it has an impact on all the others.  It is as if some pathology or imbalance is passed around.  In order for it to be finally ‘expelled’ from the family unit, sometimes a shift needs to take place in their daily life or structure.  Treatment is often a catalyst for this to happen.  For example, an 11-year old boy came for treatment for alopecia.  The condition had begun after his maternal grandmother died.  As the boy began to get better, his mother told me that she had been signed off work because she had been overwhelmed by delayed grief for her mother’s death.  I saw her son’s alopecia as a sign that he had been carrying the grief for his mother.  When he began to be supported by treatment, his mother was able to experience her grief.

The power of acupuncture treatment for children goes far behind helping the child, and that is one of the many wonderful reasons why it is such a joy to treat children!



One thought on “Treating a child changes the family

  1. Becca thank you for this insightful, confirming article. I know its an old article but I’m working through them in date order! This fascinating family dynamic of cascading healing is something I have witnessed working with clients. Its like the whole family ‘system’ shifts in order to balance out the whole, where there is depletion in one member of the family there is often ‘over doing’ in another. The systemic tribe as a whole ‘works’. All get their needs met in some style, however this style may have secondary consequences that create psychological, physical, emotional, behavioural and/or spiritual distress. The more individuals heal and become an equal member of the family tribe the more this gives permission or a bit of a shove for others to do the same. This journey can be messy and painful as each member has to relinquish something that ‘fed their original psychology’ and flex their phycological positioning, and as each expand or retract to support collaboration the cascading shifts into a clearer, free flow of tribal energetics and the team can some or most of the time work as Tuckman called a ‘performing’ team, practice, assertive, grounded, creative, energetic. Of course no family tribe works in collaboration all of the time, differences are required to develop individuality and develop the maturity to work as a collaborative team when there are natural differences!
    So thankyou, you have encouraged me to write this down, I am humbled and continually intrigued by the intelligence and wisdom of tribal dynamics which can be accessed when humans understand how to observe and read!

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