Q: I am working with a 13-year-old girl who was adopted along with her sister. The sister can do no wrong, and my client gets blamed for everything. Mom works in the evenings, does not provide any structure at home, and when my client hangs out at the neighbor’s house, which is a relatively stable family, mom yells and screams at her for not staying home. Mom will not accept that her actions or inactions have anything to do with the daughter’s non-compliance.
A: You need to hear mom out, but that does not mean that you have to agree with her. If she is always blaming the daughter, you have to begin a subtle shift in how you address the issue. The shift is from her blaming the whole problem on the client to getting her to accept her role and therefore some responsibility. The payoff for the mother to do this is that if mom will do that, she can begin to have an impact. If she denies any responsibility, then you can tell her the problem is much more difficult to fix.
How do you create the shift away from the client? If the mom says that the client is totally disrespectful, you can begin to shift the focus simply by saying, “Sounds like you are having a difficult time getting her to respect you.” You don’t need to dwell on it the first time you say it, but you begin to sprinkle this kind of language in your responses to mom. The response to “She won’t do anything I ask her to do,” becomes “So you can’t get her to cooperate with you.” Then you can begin to join with her and say, “What do we need to do to get her to cooperate?” and work cooperatively with her until she begins to accept ownership, then you can switch the focus back to her “What do you need to do to get her to cooperate?” This would take place over several sessions.