Finding their way back: How MST helped one Canadian family reconnect
In the months following a difficult divorce, Bonnie felt she was losing her footing as a parent. With two teenaged girls and a host of new responsibilities as a single mom, Bonnie struggled as she navigated unfamiliar terrain. She thought her life was turning upside down, and her youngest daughter, Anna, was struggling most of all. At 13, Anna was starting her first year of high school and was forging a new identity with new friends. This identity was not positive. Her experimentation with drugs and alcohol developed into a pattern of daily use, and she was absent from school frequently. Anna was also increasingly adversarial and defiant at home. She flagrantly disregarded rules, had angry outbursts and stole from her mom and sister. All the while, Anna grew more and more distant from her mother. Bonnie feared for her daughter’s future and turned to Multisystemic Therapy (MST) for help.
At the beginning of the program, Bonnie’s severe loss of confidence was noticeable. Her defeatist attitude was an initial barrier to change. She felt powerless and alone. She believed that without Anna’s father in the home, there was no way she could influence any change on her family. As Bonnie’s MST therapist, I knew we needed to place great emphasis on MST Principle 2: “"Focusing on Positives and Strengths". Over the course of MST treatment, Bonnie saw the strengths that already existed within her and her family. For example, Bonnie already had great problem-solving skills that were not being used because she was feeling overwhelmed. Bonnie was also able to identify several friends and family members who were willing to help out. We used these as levers of change. Little by little, Bonnie gained hope that her family situation would improve. Before long, she was flourishing, and her confidence as a parent was restored. She was ready to help her daughter get her life back on track.
Building self-confidence and parenting skills with MST
Bonnie learned how to respond to Anna’s oppositional behavior at home by de-escalating conflict and identifying and leveraging powerful incentives to encourage better choices. Bonnie felt less frustrated and less tired. She started to see that, even though it is not easy, she was capable of parenting on her own. Bonnie became more involved in Anna’s school, developing a positive communication link. She made herself more aware of Anna’s outside activities, learned which friends were safe for her daughter to hang around with, which helped protect Anna from unsafe situations.
Bonnie and Anna spent five months working hard in the MST program. Their efforts paid off in more ways than they could have imagined. Not only did Bonnie develop the skills that she needed to manage Anna’s behavior at home, school and within the community, their relationship as mother and daughter grew stronger and warmer. Slowly and surely, this family is finding its way back to happiness and stability. At the end of treatment, interactions between Anna, her mom and sister were more positive. Anna’s drug use decreased, and she is now spending time with her mom doing things they used to enjoy together, such as working out at the gym and shopping. The healing has just begun, but with a renewed sense of confidence and positivity, Bonnie is well on her way to creating a home where everyone feels safe, secure and loved.