Psychology and Education
Psychological Counseling and Education
The 10th grade student looked at in this report, called Tom, was a quiet boy who played football because of his size. He was extremely intelligent, made good grades and seemed popular with the girls, though he appeared to be quiet and moody. Tom was known to have a temper that, along with his large size, made him mistrusted as a team-mate and feared as an opponent. He occasionally threw tantrums.
One day on the football field he grabbed a smaller boy from behind, wrapped his arms around him and clenching his hands together, lifted him high in the air and squeezed. A cracking noise was heard and the boy fell to the ground with internal injuries and a rib broken. Tom declared he had only been horsing around, but some of the other boys claimed he was angry at the boy for teasing him. It was not the first time Tom had been known to do something physical in retaliation for teasing.
The principal met with the School Board, court officials, a doctor and the school mental health counselor. Tom was removed from the football team, suspended from school and ordered to see a behavioral therapist for counseling.
Upon counseling, the mental health counselor reported that Tom, was an only child and his widowed mother was extremely controlling. She was an emotionally needy person and called him an unloving son because he was “cold and had no emotions.” He ignored her most of the time, but she managed to control everything in his life. His constant reading annoyed her. She wanted him to be sports-minded like other boys. But he knew he was not like other boys and, since he was suspended, wanted to drop out of school.
His mother had been glad when he joined the football team and had bought him expensive clothing to wear to school. He liked name brand clothing. For punishment she had taken his good clothes and the phone away. She was so angry at him for being dropped from the team that she would not talk to him. In the past, she had gone for three days at a time without talking to him or doing anything for him, in order to punish him, even when he was small. He had had to find his own food, dress himself and go to bed by himself. This was the way she had controlled him from early on. Her silences had once made him down on his knees and beg her, weeping, to talk to him, but she would not until she felt he was sufficiently punished. When he was small she had tied him to the toilet until he voided every morning. Now that he was older, she controlled him and his temper by withdrawing love, clothes and contact with the outside world.
Erickson’s psychosocial stage theory might explain Tom’s behavior as it deals with the development of ego identity. Tom was not allowed to develop normally through social interaction to develop a sense of self. His life had been completely controlled by his mother and he was not able to go through the initial stages of childhood successfully.
Erickson’s first stage is that of Trust vs. Mistrust. Between birth and one year of age, the same year that Tom’s father became ill and died from lung cancer, Tom needed to develop trust in a dependable and stable caregiver. As his mother had to tend to a dying husband at the same time she was caring for a baby, he found he could not trust her to give consistent, quality care. Her emotions and mental stability were not that of a loving mother and her inability to function as a dependable caregiver during Tom’s first stage of life, when one needs to develop trust, created a fearful child who believed the world was unpredictable and inconsistent.
During the second stage of mental development, Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt, according to Erickson, children develop a sense of self-control as they control their bodily functions. This makes them feel confident and able to handle problems independently. But Tom’s mother would not relinquish her control over his bodily functions at this time. Her forcing him to void on her schedule and not his, gave him a sense of shame and the feeling that he was not in control of his world. He therefore felt inadequate and doubtful of his ability to cope with anything. As she continued to control him by denying him food, love and choices of clothing, he became increasingly angry at the world, frustrated at the impression that his body and whole life was under the control of someone other than himself. This created anger and depression.
It is a wonder that Tom was as normal as he was during his teen years. He was fortunate to be able to read and find some nurturing and insight in the books he read. But his real life was more difficult to deal with. His growing body became the object of fear when he had temper fits. He saw this and enjoyed the fear he instilled in others, as it momentarily gave him a sense of power and control. Yet he was confused about who he was. He was a good student and admired physically sometimes, while at other times he felt hated, rejected and feared.
This student was advised by the principal and mental health counselor to undergo intensive psychotherapy of the Behavioral type. He was to go to a psychiatrist who would work with him one-on-one to help him develop more confidence in himself. He needed to examine his learned behavior and develop a sense of identity. He was clearly confused about his role in life. His intellectualism did not work in tandem with his physical role as a football player and in his confusion his ability to act maturely had not developed, as he had never gained the confidence or self-understanding he needed in order to control his own life.
The irrational way he acted at times was a symptom of the anger and uncontrolled emotions within him. He was angry at his mother for withdrawing her love and for controlling his life in every possible way. Tom’s mind and his psyche needed to become one. A person-centered approach to psychiatric counseling would help Tom to develop his capacity to direct his self, or his ego, toward positive and self-confident directions (Association 2).
There had been much damage to Tom’s sense of self-actualization and a humanistic, existential approach, it was felt, would be the best way to help him develop a stronger person within. The counselor would work with Tom step-by-step, looking toward the future, rather than back, giving him homework to do between sessions, and asking just the right questions to guide his thoughts into more positive pathways (Berger 99).
Behavioral Activation interventions, such as those proposed by Lewinsohn, will help Tom focus on consequences of behavior and eliminate negative behavior (Thorpe 56). He will be encouraged to think positively, to do things that will help him to reach positive goals and develop good habits. He might be given a notebook in which he records the instances that make him feel angry, and those that make him feel good and worthwhile. Such types of self-analytical homework and positive reinforcement should help Tom develop positive thoughts and actions in the long run.
Association for Humanistic Psychology. Website: http://ahpweb.org/aboutahp/aboutahp.html.
Berger, Kathleen S. The Developing Person Through Childhood and Adolescence, Sixth Edition. New York: Worth Publishers. 2002.
Thompson, Ross a. “Child development.” MicrosoftÂ® EncartaÂ® Online Encyclopedia 2007. http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761557692_2/Development_Child.html.
Thorpe, G.L., Olson, S.L. (1997) Behavior Therapy: Concepts, Procedures, and Applications, Second Edition (Paperback). New York: Allyn & Bacon.