I was so excited to be asked to participate in another TLC Book Tour; this time for Pills Are Not For Preschoolers by Marilyn Wedge. Wedge advocates family therapy and “a drug-free approach for troubled kids”.
I’m all for therapy, and drug-free? Sounds ideal, but since I’m not one to drink the proverbial “kool-aid” without doing my reading I dove into the book…and then I stopped. At page 8. For a couple of weeks. Let me explain.
Early in the introduction Wedge’s states
“Certainly some children are more active and impulsive than others and some are exceptionally irritable and moody. But to posit that a child can have bipolar disorder from the minute he is born – as some psychiatrists have claimed – is to ignore entirely the influence of the child’s family environment.”
Just as someone who has a family history of heart disease needs to be aware of their diet and life style I believe people who deal with mental health issues have a biological and genetic predisposition to those issues. I also agree that family plays a big roll in how those issues, and the individual, develop. I truly believe if the kids’ dad had been more stable, and I had been better equipped to deal with my underlying issues, I believe the kids issues may have been able to be dealt with without the use of meds. However, life being what it is, meds have been a saving grace for the Madhouse.
I continued reading and two pages later (page 8) was completely turned off. Wedge begins to describe the positive outcomes of several of her clients. She described a young boy in Australia who was diagnosed with depression and school phobia. Wedge explains how she aided the family by stating, “I succeeded in resolving long-distance just by giving his parents a simple list of directives.” Whoa, back the bus up – “I succeeded” – you succeeded? all by yourself? the parents did nothing? There was no work on the child’s part? I had to put the book down. I was actually seething (my regular readers will know I’ve been struggling with mood swings since weaning off my own meds so it showed great amounts of control that I didn’t chuck the book across the room, but I’m too much of a “book nazi” to do that). At this point in time I was flabbergasted that a therapist would claim so much credit in a client’s achievement. In my experience with counseling, the therapist acts as a guide, while the client does the hard work. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read this book anymore.
Being committed to this book review though I resolved to read it. I picked it back up a few days ago and I am glad I did. Although I continued to struggle with some of Wedge’s choice of wording I did learn more about the “family therapy” approach to counseling. Wedge describes family therapy as “a holistic and humanistic approach to treatment that frames a child’s problem in the wider context of the family“. I recognized some of the strategies Wedge described as tools the kids’ counselors, and my own therapist, have introduced to our family including worry journals, positive self talk, positive reinforcement and the need for parents to remain in an Alpha or hierarchical role in the family unit. All of which have had wonderful, and positive, lasting effects in The Madhouse.
In chapter one Wedge spends some time describing pharmaceutical advertising and its affects on how the general public views “troubled children”. I was very frustrated while reading this part as I had no idea what she was talking about. I did a little research and found this on Wikipedia (which really cleared up the “why don’t I know what advertisements she’s talking about?” issue I was having) –
“Canada‘s limitations on pharmaceutical advertising ensure that commercials that mention the name of a product cannot in any way describe what it does. Commercials that mention a medical problem cannot also mention the name of the product for sale; at most, they can direct the viewer to a website or telephone number operated by the pharmaceutical company.”
I didn’t understand her description of “the drug industry’s robust consumer advertising” because as a Canadian I am only exposed to it when I watch American advertisements (which is rare since the CTRC has regulations around that) and reading American magazines. I must admit when I do leaf through my monthly issue of Martha Stewart (my guilty pleasure) I usually just skip past the 2 to 3 page drug advertisements without investing any time actually reading them.
Wedge dedicates a chapter to what she describes as Metaphor. Wedge writes
“A family therapist must move smoothly between levels of meaning in the family, and it is metaphor that allows us to do this. It transports us from the plane of the individual symptom to the level of the deeper problem in the family system.”
She describes how children will often display the symptoms of the parent they identify with – the one they are most worried about. I know this is true. I have witnessed it many times in my own home. When Rian was about 4-years-old she complained of her hands hurting “like Grammie’s” (my mother has Rheumatoid Arthritis and it is most noticeable in her hands). I took her to the doctor, had blood work done and was assured that Rian did not have RA. Both kids, in the last couple of years, have complained of headaches, dizziness and memory loss (all symptoms I’ve been dealing with during my health crisis). Lesson here is – don’t think they don’t notice the problems, folks, because they do and they internalize them.
There are several interesting cases Wedge describes throughout the book. She describes in detail how she aided the families and often spent a great deal of time working with the parents on their marital issues. By working on the issues in the parents’ marriage the families were able to recreate a solid foundation and, in many cases, “resolve” the child’s problems as well. Although I found these cases interesting I would have been more interested in reading about how the families implemented these changes. Of course, I’m a parent, not a therapist.
There were a number of strategies that Wedge writes about that I will be introducing into the Madhouse (or reinforcing their use as the case may be), including:
- only positive talk about my own life around the kids; Wedge (and many counselors that I’ve dealt with) point out that children feel insecure when their parent(s) talk about their own life in negative terms
- to not discuss my health or money trouble in front of the kids (which I try not to do anyway), not even on the phone to my friends when I’m in another room away from the kids (I have to admit this is going to be hard, but the Madhouse is a small bungalow so it makes sense that they would hear some of the talk anyway)
- to say only positive things about the other parent (ok, epic fail on that one recently, see It’s All Fun and Games at the Madhouse, but I’ve been much better since)
- for parents to NOT argue within earshot of their children, EVER (I’ll remember this tactic if I ever get remarried)
Wedge also recommends a couple of interesting family techniques and I love these creative solutions:
- one “old school” – to play board games with your kids; Wedge writes “board games and card playing…(provide an) intimate contact with parents”
- when siblings are fighting and claiming that the other one “started it” the parent is to step in and say “No, I started it”. Wedge writes, “This is so surprising to kids that it can stop them in their tracks.” (sneaky, I like it)
- when siblings are fighting, for the parent to challenge the children to a “water duel” (with plant sprayers, not nearly as exciting as Nerf Super Soakers, but practical). “This cuts the tension and brings humour into a strained situation”, advises Wedge.
In conclusion, Wedge recommends some wonderful and creative strategies for families who are struggling. Would I recommend this book to everyone I meet? Probably not. Especially not to parents. Not because I don’t think the strategies are helpful, but I know some people, like myself, who will be turned off by, or drown, in the “kool-aid”. However, I would highly recommend this book to any professional (counselors, therapists, teachers, etc.) who work with “troubled children” and their families. Some of these techniques, if used properly, could make a huge difference for a hurting family.
Tour Stops for Pills Are Not for Preschoolers
Monday, August 27th: There’s a Book
Tuesday, August 28th: Just Joanna
Wednesday, Augut 29th: Family Volley
Thursday, August 30th: Attention Deficit Whatever
Friday, August 31st: Two Bears Farm and the Three Cubs
Tuesday, September 4th: Family Dysfunction and Mental Health Blog
Wednesday, September 5th: Earnest Parenting
Friday, September 7th: Here’s to Not Catching Our Hair on Fire
Tuesday, September 18th: Surviving the Madhouse
Friday, September 21st: Misbehavin’ Librarian
Tuesday, September 25th: Family Dysfunction and Mental Health Blog – guest post
Date TBD: Buried in Print
TBD: Gone Bookserk
About the Author
Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D., is a family therapist in Westlake Village, California, with twenty years of experience helping parents find safe, drug-free solutions for troubled children and teens. She is the originator of “Strategic Child-Focused Family Therapy,” and the author of the book Pills are Not For Preschoolers: A Drug-free Approach for Troubled Kids. She has blogs on The Huffington Post and Psychology Today, and her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal,Babble, Natural Health Magazine and People Magazine. Marilyn has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and had a post-doctoral fellowship at the Hastings Center for Bioethics. She has taught at The College of the Art Institute of Chicago and The California State University, East Bay. Marilyn lives in Oak Park, California with her husband Gene. They have three grown children and two grandchildren.