Healing the Whole Family

CarlosWhen Carlos* was just 5 months old, his survival depended on extensive intestinal surgery.  While recovering, he contracted an infection and spent weeks in intensive care.  His mother, Maria, was so anxious she refused to leave his side and rarely bathed, ate or slept.

Carlos cried constantly: the moment a nurse entered or he heard footsteps, it signaled more poking, prodding and restraints.  The only time when either mom or baby felt safe was when she breastfed him—so she breastfed constantly, often several times an hour, and continued to do so after they were released from the hospital.

Venice Family Clinic referred Carlos to WIN when his doctor saw Carlos show separation anxiety and unhealthy weight gain.  Ana, WIN’s case manager, visited the pair at home and saw that Carlos cried inconsolably whenever his mom left his side.  So, Maria rarely showered, had quit her job and abandoned the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Meetings that had been her primary support over her last 5 years of sobriety.  Carlos never smiled.

While Ana connected the family to a food pantry, diaper donations and a crib, Diana began therapy for Carlos’ separation anxiety, and worked with Carlos and Maria to help them repair their deeply stressed relationship.  She taught Maria about the effects of trauma: What were the symptoms? What happens biologically? How does it affect our ability to cope?

Together, Diana and Maria looked for trauma triggers and set goals including helping

Carlos self-regulate and explore, while she decreased breastfeeding to healthy levels.  Maria learned how to soothe Carlos by telling him stories about what was happening around him, caressing his hair and singing songs.  Maria encouraged Carlos to reach for toys on his own and explained to him that she buckled him up in a car seat or stroller because she loved him and wanted him to be safe.  Diana facilitated role play between Maria and her young adult daughters so they would resist taking Carlos to her the moment he became fussy.

The tantrums subsided, and Maria revealed her own trauma: as a child, she’d seen her mother beaten regularly by her father, and had herself been sexually, emotionally and physically abused.

To help Maria confront her own history, Maria also began adult individual therapy with Kylie.  Combining dyadic therapy with individual therapy catalyzed breakthrough after breakthrough for Maria and Carlos.

Within six months of WIN therapy, Maria returned to work and started AA Meetings again.  Carlos blossomed into a happy, smiling baby, able to chase down rolling balls and comfort himself without constant breastfeeding.

Maria and Carlos completed their therapy in 10 months.  Maria is now working full time and is leading AA Meetings around Los Angeles.  And Carlos smiles—a lot.

Note:  To maintain confidentiality, the names of the clients have been changed.  The image of the child is not the client and is used with permission.