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Being The Identified Patient, For Everyone’s Sake

“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”  

Reinhold Neibuhr

During a recent discussion with a wilderness therapist regarding “the corner” parents have to turn – that philosophical redefining that comes from abandoning the metric of their child’s behavior, progress or obstacles and toward “doing one’s own work” – I suggested that a simple way to understand the concept would be “become your identified patient”.

“This is the family member who presents, or is presented as the main symptom-bearer in the family.”
Simon, Fritz, et al, Family Process, Inc.: Language of Family Therapy: A Systemic Vocabulary and Source Book (Family Process Press Series)

But, doesn’t the designation feel damning?!  There is a connotation of brokenness, and blame that comes with the role.   And within this label’s framework, most of us become resentful and resistant to the implication that we are causing (all) of the problem.  We become entrenched in guardedness, rather than encouraged to change.

And so the parent, in adopting the label, does two monumentally important things: 1) they acknowledge the only aspect they can “fix” is within themself and 2) they removes the familial indictment of blame from the child.

That is a transformative gift.

Patrick Logan, MS is a former wilderness therapy program manager and IT consults with programs and websites.