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!

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