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Helping Teens in Crisis

Now and again1 I am asked to help an RC parent whose teen hits a crisis. The crisis looks different for each young person. He or she could refuse to go to school, be unhappy for a period of time and not be able to get attention out, want to hurt himself or herself, stop walking, not want to leave the house, or show upset in some other way. Many things can be learned from these times, and they can be an opportunity for all family members, including us parents, to re-emerge.

One mom wrote for help—to me; Patty Wipfler, a former International Liberation Reference Person for Parents; and Janet Foner, the International Liberation Reference Person for “Mental Health” Liberation. What follows is our thinking that came out of that (and other similar crises). 

When these crises come up, people are surprised and scared. They think that they shouldn’t be happening to young people raised in Co-Counseling. We parents feel especially bad about ourselves. However, because of ongoing oppression and our chronic material,2 crises do happen and no parent should be blamed.

Sometimes they come up when teens go through a big transition, like going to a different school, where they can encounter new challenges or a harsher form of oppression that catches them off guard.3 Sometimes they are just the cumulative effect of young people’s oppression, or racism, classism, anti-Jewish oppression, sexism, homophobia, or some other oppression, that hits up against early material and reaches an intolerable level.

Perhaps because we RC parents hold out to our children that things could be better, they refuse to give up on getting rid of their distresses and fighting the oppression they face as young people. Many teens of excellent parents run into a crisis.

HERE IS SOMETHING PATTY WROTE TO THE MOM:

“Many parent leaders have helped their teens through somewhat similar crises. There can be periods in which ‘all normal life and interactions come to a halt while my teen discharges but can’t otherwise function because there’s no alternative to facing certain distresses.’ These episodes can last for weeks or months and have, more often than not, resulted in teens coming through in much better shape4 than they were before.

“Parents have sometimes needed to change their lives for a while. They have changed their schedules or taken a leave from work so that they could prioritize their teenager and spend a lot of time with him or her. That is often one of the contradictions5 the young person needs. When young people falter, they need to know that their parents are one hundred percent behind them. As parents, we need to remember that our children want us, no matter how they may act. We are the ones they count on.6

“Parents almost always need to discharge some big chunk of distress to be able to notice and help their child where they haven’t been able to before. And there is nothing like a crisis to help make this happen. All parents hit spots where they cannot figure something out and need to discharge for a while, and move through a chronic distress, to be able to assist their child. Often everyone in the family needs to discharge in order to get things moving forward. Parents will usually need a session at least once a day, or several phone sessions a day, to keep up with7 what needs to happen. This means they will need to reach out to people and ask for help. That in itself may require discharge.

“Sometimes during a crisis, parents become involved with the ‘mental health’ system—either because they’ve asked for help or because the school system has initiated involvement. Once the ‘mental health’ system is involved, it can be tricky8 to break free from the influence of those convinced that drugs are a good solution. I think parents in RC should ask for help from their RC Reference Persons before deciding to turn to the ‘mental health’ system, or when the situation demands that they deal with it.

“Young people are one of the main marketing targets of psychiatric drug companies. Parents are under a lot of pressure to put children who are having a hard time on drugs. It is communicated that the parents are bad and negligent if they refuse drugs for their children.”

JANET FONER SAID THE FOLLOWING TO A PARENT:

“Many people, including me, have refused drugs in mental ‘hospitals’ and been forced to take them anyway. I don’t know what you believe about psychiatric drugs, but in my experience, and in the collected experience of many RC leaders, they are never useful. The only thing they do is shut down the discharge and re-evaluation process so that people appear to be ‘better,’ more ‘functional.’ Nothing has really improved. And the people will now have to discharge the original hurt they were trying to discharge as well as the physical and emotional hurts installed by the drugs.

“What people need in order to heal are discharge, re-evaluation, free attention, and thinking. Psychiatric drugs interfere with all of these. Some people can still discharge and re-evaluate while on drugs but not nearly as much as is optimal. The drugs don’t actually heal or cure anything—psychiatrists admit that. Even worse, they can be damaging. They can cause a multitude of physical problems. Some, like tardive dyskinesia, are permanent.”

HERE IS ANOTHER EXCERPT FROM JANET:

 “I don’t think mental ‘hospitals’ can be truly helpful, although I understand people feeling bad enough to try to get help there. I know hundreds of ex-psychiatric inmates, inside and outside of RC, and of those, only three have been lucky and found their experience in the ‘hospital’ helpful.

“A confusion surfaces among some RCers at times like these. They assume that RC can’t help with ‘mental health’ crises. They feel like it does not have the information or expertise that the ‘mental health’ system does. This, along with the idea that there is ‘mental illness,’ is part of ‘mental health’ oppression and needs to be contradicted. The feeling that one doesn’t have the resource to help is prevalent in our societies, but resource can be created in many ways. And if an RCer hasn’t discharged enough on ‘mental health’ oppression and liberation to be of great assistance in such a crisis, RC ‘mental health’ leaders can provide some slack and clear thinking.” 

I will say in closing that we should not isolate ourselves when our children have big problems. This is a time to bring people, especially Co-Counselors, close to us. We may need to discharge some humiliation in order to think about seeking resource, but that is fine. We can help our children move through difficult distresses.

Marya Axner
International Liberation
Reference Person for Parents
Somerville, Massachusetts, USA 


1 “Now and again” means sometimes.
2 “Material” means distress.
3 “Catches them off guard” means hits them when they aren’t expecting it.
4 “Shape” means condition.
5 Contradictions to the distress
6 “Count on” means depend on and expect to be there.
7 “Keep up with” means be able to think about.
8 “Tricky” means difficult and complicated.


Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00