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Parents vs. Doctors

Posted May 15 2011 10:01pm
Are you the parent of an adult child with an eating disorder? Run, don't walk to this blog post by one of my favorite blogs, F*ck Feelings.

Actually, I'll save you the bother of clicking and just post the whole thing in its entirety below (the question from the parent is in italics. Everything else is from the blogger/psychiatrist)
People like to turn to an authority when they’re helpless, and if that helplessness only applied to 911-like situations, there would be no problem. For problems that don’t involve theft or fire but sadness and family, however, authority is useless; sure, doctors like me can give advice, but until medical schools start borrowing from Hogwarts’ curriculum, the best resources you have are your own. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you’ll learn to draw on your own authority to come up with the best possible management plan and execute it with confidence. You are your own best first responder.

I need to find a doctor who will tell my daughter she needs to take her medication. She’s always had a problem with depression, and she did well in high school when she took antidepressants. Now, however, she’s 24 and very reactive to however she’s feeling, whether it’s not getting out of bed, or not working, or feeling dizzy and deciding it’s the medication and stopping it. My husband and I can’t get her to stick with anything, and she won’t listen to us in any case, so our goal is to get you, or some professional, to tell her what she needs to do.

Whenever parents want a doctor to tell their kid what to do, you can be pretty sure they’ve lost faith in themselves and overestimated the power of communication/a medical degree.

And no, it doesn’t matter how old the kid is or how many Harvard degrees the doctor has; the doctor doesn’t have more power than the parents, no matter how powerless the parents feel.

In your case, I don’t know whether your daughter can be induced to take her medication, but I do know that she’s not going to be persuaded by the authority of a doctor at the age of 24 if her own experience and your words haven’t done it by now.

The probable reason for her unresponsiveness, by the way, isn’t stubbornness or a lack of respect, but a lack of control over her own impulsivity (probably enhanced by depression). In other words, it’s not clear she can make herself take medication regularly, even if she sincerely believes she needs it. At some point, other impulses take over, like the impulse to stay in bed indefinitely.

Fortunately, even though persuasion is probably useless, you have other tools that a mere doctor can’t touch. You can access them if you believe you know what your daughter needs, regardless of what she has to say about it.

For instance, if you believe that she needs to get up early and follow a daily activity regimen, then let her know that’s what you’ll pay for. If she says she’s too blah, tell her you know it’s hard, but she needs to try, and that she might be able to do it if she puts together a schedule and asks friends to help her keep it.

If she argues that she can’t do it until she feels better, tell her that you don’t know when she’ll feel better, so she’d better start trying to keep busy now, and maybe that will help her feel better later. Your tone should say that you believe what you believe, and there’s no point in arguing.

If she tells you that you don’t know what she needs, tell her that you’re the mother and you have a good idea what she needs. Don’t ask a doctor to be the authority– get whatever information you need from the doctor, and then assume you’re the authority. At 4 or 24, your kid needs to hear the same thing; you’re the mommy, that’s why. End of discussion.

If your incentives don’t work, don’t blame her or yourself, because, again, you don’t know whether she’s too sick to have the control she needs. By putting a priority on self-control, however, you provide her with a blueprint for moving forward that is not reactive to negative feelings or thoughts or painful side-effects.

You’re urging her to embrace goals that arise from her values and that she can stick with, regardless of how she feels or how much she accomplishes. Knowing medicine isn’t as important as knowing your daughter and what’s best for her. If she won’t listen to me, you can, and I’m telling you you’re the most qualified professional for the task.

“I’d like to think my daughter could respond to persuasion from someone she respects, but I suspect it’s not true. I’ll push her towards doing as much as she can, regardless of how she feels, and hope that incentives for good habits will take over where persuasion has failed.”

Excuse me while I go clone this guy millions of times over so that a) he can be all of our doctor and b) so that we can have him as our very own Psychiatrist Pocket PalTM.
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