Case Study



From Conflict to Alliance: A road map for family interventions

By Thomas Sexton

Sarah’s arrest came as a complete shock to her parents, Edward and Ellen. True, the 15-year-old had experienced difficulties for many years. Adopted when she was 2, she showed oppositional behaviors when she was 6, was placed in a special section at her school for kids with behavioral problems when she was 10, and had a long history of different counselors and psychologists. Since starting high school, she’d begun running with the wrong crowd and started smoking dope. Still, with all the therapy through the years focused on helping her learn to control her anger, Edward and Ellen thought the worst was behind them. They certainly didn’t expect a cop at the door saying that their daughter had been caught riding in a car with a group of teens who’d robbed an electronics store. This was the “last straw” for her parents, who were now considering whether to send her to a residential treatment facility.

When Sarah and her parents came to the first session, they were tense and upset. My first question—“Can you tell me what goes on between the three of you?”—was immediately met with an angry outburst from Sarah’s father, a teacher at the local high school. “I’m done with this! You need to talk with her; we’ve been through enough!” he yelled. Sarah’s mother, said, “Ed, stop it! I am so tired of all this.”

Sarah immediately stood up and yelled back, “This is exactly why I…

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