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Marriage and Family Therapist

Typical Day

Dr. Sam Pathetic greets his first patients at 9am. The Calme family has been seeing him for the past few weeks. There is the dad, Buddy; the mom, Bertie; the son, Billy; and the daughter, Diana. Dr. Sam (he prefers for his patients to call him by his first name as it breeds familiarity) has been helping them work through a number of issues. Buddy and Bertie have been having trouble getting their kids to listen to them and show them respect, Billy has been acting out, and Diana has some deep-seated resentment about being the only member of the family without a "B" name.

Most of the problems the family has been having seem to originate from Billy. His mischievous and rude behavior make his parents feel as if they are failing him and that they are not appreciated for their love and sacrifice, his troubles in school obviously have to do with him, and his sister has had enough of him coming into her room and trying on her clothes (which might be a topic for a whole other session).

Dr. Sam has been observing Billy and trying to get to the root of his behavior, all the while not making it seem as if he is attacking him or singling him out as being the sole member of the family with a problem. Based on his observations, he is finally confident enough to make a diagnosis. He asks Billy and Diana to wait momentarily in the waiting room, and tells them that Bonnie, his secretary (great, another "B" name, Diana thinks), will give them each a Tootsie Pop to suck on while they wait.

"As you might have suspected," Dr. Sam says, "Billy has a disruptive behavior disorder. His inability to pay attention in class, his constant state of hyperactivity, and his tendency to become easily distracted has led me to conclude that he has ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)."

"Are you sure?" asks Bertie. She was hoping she wouldn’t be hearing this verdict, but she had to admit she had considered the possibility. "We were really hoping he had some other, more manageable acronym."

"Well, it is manageable to some degree," says Dr. Sam. "I'm not Ritalin-happy as some other therapists are, but I do think it is warranted in this case. I would at least like to try him out on it for a couple of weeks and see if his behavior and classroom performance improve."

Dr. Sam writes a prescription for Ritalin, and Billy's parents join him out in the waiting room. His Tootsie Pop has been crushed and ground into the carpet. Ritalin to the rescue…they hope.

At 11, Dr. Sam ushers his next patients into his office. Brian and Becky (thank goodness Diana's not still around to hear about this) are young newlyweds. Everything is supposed to be peachy keen, at least for the first year or two—isn't it? And yet, they seem to be fighting constantly, and have even started sleeping in separate beds. Brian and Becky really weren't anticipating reaching this point in their relationship until at least their five-year anniversary.

Dr. Sam grills them (without making it seem as if he is grilling them) about various aspect of their lives—their work situations, the extent to which each values their personal space and private time, in what ways their lives have changed since getting married….

And bingo. It turns out that Becky's mother has moved in with the couple temporarily, while her sunroom is being renovated.

"Oh no—we both love my mother," Becky insists. "She isn’t the problem."

"Brian," says Dr. Sam, "You don't have any problem with Becky's mother, do you?"

"No. I. Love. Her. She. Is. Wonderful," says Brian robotically, as if he has been rehearsing this line."

Okay, well regardless of whether or not you two love her to death, it's only natural to bear some resentment, even subconsciously, toward someone who is treading on your first year together as a couple. You should be free to explore this exciting time of your lives alone and without interference…I can see how having a third party present—any third party, no matter how beloved—might affect your moods, and the way in which you interact with one another."

"But I can't kick her out," says Becky, extending a pouty lip. "She's my mother, and she doesn't have anywhere else to go…."

"I'm not suggesting that you necessarily kick her out. If other arrangements can be made, it might be wise to make them, but the important thing is to recognize the source of your animosity, and to realize that the situation is temporary. Things will be better once your lives are back to normal. Where does your mother live, when she's not living with you?"

"Maryland," says Brian happily. "2,000 miles away." "Well," says Dr. Sam, "I suggest that you talk to her about it. Make it clear to her that you love her and are happy to accommodate her if there are no other options, but that she is—at least to some degree, Becky—infringing on your freedom to live together as a newly married couple. You might be surprised how she responds if she knows how you really feel."

"Can I tell her?" asks Brian, practically leaping out of his chair.

Dr. Sam sees another three clients in the afternoon, and then wraps up his day by 6. Couple of new patients, and one he's been seeing for seven years. Nothing too dramatic…much of the time it is just about either breaking ground and building a comfort level with a new patient, or else checking in and continuing treatment with a regular.

It is now time to go home to his wife and children. Good thing his own personal life is perfect. (He tells himself….)

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