This 14 year old mixed race Caucasian/African American female was referred to Harry’s Mother via the Crisis Line. The family was contemplating a crisis respite stay for “Carissa”, but made the decision to try family counseling as a preventative measure. This client comes from a divorced family, where she splits her time equally between her two biological parents. She has a younger sister (age 12) who lives with her as well. She attends an alternative middle school, receiving primarily average grades.

Discovering this client had unprotected sex in her mother’s house on a day she skipped school was the catalyst for seeking services. This event revealed other concerns: alcohol and drug experimentation, truancy, slipping grades, lying about whereabouts, and association with gang-affected youth.

Carissa and her family engaged in a combination of individual and family counseling. Although Carissa’s parents are divorced, they united behind a goal of helping to maintain some common boundaries for Carissa, support of natural consequences, and constructing common goals with the objective of successful outcomes. Both parents admitted huge challenges to parenting effectively, and expressed a desire to learn skills to increase successful outcomes. Carissa wanted help in making better choices, having a better relationship with her parents, controlling anger, and earning back her sorely missed freedoms.

For six months, this family worked hard practicing communication skills: I statements, disengaging from cycles of arguing, de-escalation anger management techniques, validating feelings, and reducing reactive angry responses. The parents clarified boundaries as divorced parents, solidified common boundaries, and negotiated a contract with Clarissa which clearly specified when and how she could earn back privileges. A psycho-educational component included introduction to the 40 assets of positive youth development, and Carissa’s parents began incorporating an increasingly global perspective to their parenting approach.

Through verbal and art therapy counseling, this youth identified what her current strengths and challenges were, what she wanted to accomplish, and what a successful outcome would look like. This client was eventually able to recognize the risks of some of her choices, the impact these were having on her life, including compounding restrictions and estrangement from her parents. Carissa stated that the contract was fair, and committed to following the following family agreements: refrain from drugs and alcohol, maintain a positive report from school, contact with boyfriend restricted to the phone, complete household chores, and treat family members respectfully.

At the conclusion of consistent participation in counseling, Carissa had successfully regained all of her privileges. As well, she had participated in an extra-curricular rowing team, and began jogging with her mother. Both parents learned the value and positive impact of one-on-one time with Carissa on a weekly basis. To support positive school outcomes, Carissa’s parents stayed in regular contact with school personnel, and received weekly reports on attendance and class assignments.


December 8, 2008

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