Rethinking Denial

How a medical professional approaches a special needs parent makes or breaks the relationship. I think this article should be read by all medical professionals.  What the medical professional thinks about a family can impact the plan of care that is developed.

Phrases like: Parent’s just spoil him/her, It is just behavior, and That parent is in denial, often indicate not only a lack of empathy but a lack of understanding.

Read the entire article, it is worth your time – http://www.danceofpartnership.com/Denial_Article.pdf

A small excerpt

Many parents and professionals have heard or used phrases such as, “that parent is in denial,” or “that father can’t face the reality of his child’s limitations,” or “that mother refuses to admit that her child won’t be able to …”

Sometimes when professionals use the phrase “in denial,” the implied message is that the parents are not being realistic in their expectations of what their child can or will be able to do.  Professionals should be careful not to judge a family when the family does not want to do things the way the professionals think is best.

For instance, a father may say that his hope and goal for his three-year old daughter with severe cerebral palsy is for his daughter to walk.  The professionals may think that this father is “in denial” and that he is totally unrealistic in thinking that his child will ever walk!  Is the father “in denial?”  Perhaps not.  One possible scenario is that the father knows very well that the chances of his daughter walking are not very good.  Yet if there is even the slightest chance that she might walk the father will continue

Professionals should be cautious not to expect all parents to integrate new information about their child in the same manner or within the same time frame as the professional. Garnering all the support available to achieve this possible outcome, for his daughter to walk, is a reasonable path for this father to take.

Another possibility is that this father does understand and worries that his daughter may never be able to walk without some assistance.  This thought may haunt him.  His worry may be quietly and internally acknowledged, he may be able to whisper it in the privacy of his thoughts, but it may take more time and trust if he is ever to say it out loud to professionals.  To formulate such worries into words is an enormous challenge, but to acknowledge them publicly to a stranger, including the caring professional, may be an unrealistic expectation for this father at this time.

A third possible meaning is that this father, upon initially hearing the new information about his daughter, is stunned and overwhelmed with unfamiliar thoughts such as the implications of not walking for his little girl and for his family.  There is not easy place to rest such nagging thoughts.  People need time to find their own personal way through unexpected news.  Sometimes parents “put the pause button on” to attempt to slow down the speed of change.  One mother in Idaho says that “Denial” is a place for her (Thurber, 1996).  She asks that professionals not shake their heads and look down upon her when she wants to retreat from the hubbub of being a parent.  “I know where I am and I need to be there sometimes.  Then I come back to reality,” she says.”

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