Chance encounter brings joy and meaning to MST therapist
“Is he throwing rocks down the slide? He is. He’s throwing rocks down the slide. Maybe Bill will correct him...” My internal dialogue on whether to scold my 5-year-old nephew or wait for my husband didn’t last long.
Whenever we babysit our nephews, Bill takes care of life-and-death situations. He makes sure to address those strongly and swiftly. Everything else? My domain. I spoke reluctantly, “Dylan, don’t throw rocks down the slide.” Typically, I’d give him a rationale. I’d explain that he could scratch or dent the slide, and he was holding up the children behind him. But I wanted to speak quickly, hoping that the moment wouldn’t be broken.
The “moment” was the five minutes I’d spent watching a mother interacting with her children. Dylan had begun playing with two elementary-school-aged boys, and I’d immediately recognized their mother. Though many years had passed, I knew she was the first young woman on my caseload as a Multisystemic Therapy (MST) therapist. When she was referred, her behaviors were typical for a youth sent to MST. She was acting out and at risk for placement out of the home. In fact, she’d had placements prior to our treatment.
Seeing the impact of MST
Watching her now, parenting her older sons while juggling her toddler daughter, was surreal. MST aims to keep youth at home, in school, and out of trouble. I’d treated this woman and her family 13 years earlier. I had worked hard to give her family the power to address her anti-social behaviors. Now, I saw she was demonstrating parenting strategies I’d practiced with her mother. She was firm, consistent, and loving. She monitored and supervised without hovering. She allowed her children some independence while maintaining safe limits. “Don’t go down the slide like that. You’ll burn your belly and hit your head,” she’d called out to one of her sons who was poised to go down the slide headfirst.
She recognized my voice as soon as I spoke. The young woman, let’s call her Anna, looked at me intently and asked how she knew me. I pulled her aside and quietly told her she was my first MST “kiddo.” We reminisced about her teenage years, and she told me how well she was doing now. She hadn’t appreciated all the effort I put into helping her parents and extended family govern her. Now, she was telling me that those efforts “saved her life.”
Predictable results with an evidence-based program
When I tell people I work in an evidence-based model of therapy, one of the first questions they ask is how we measure evidence and rate success. In my state of Pennsylvania, there are a lot of statistics to back up the positive results stemming from evidence-based therapies (EBTs) like MST.
In 2015, the state’s Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission found juvenile-arrest rates for violent crimes had dropped 29 percent between 2007 and 2013. Admissions to juvenile-detention centers fell by 40 percent. This came after the state put an emphasis on using EBTs.
Factor in how much MST saves taxpayer money by keeping chronic and violent juvenile offenders at home and not in costly facilities. It was found that of the 4,026 young people who completed MST treatment in fiscal year 2012-2014:
- 3,052 of them were at high risk of placement upon admission
- Only 497 who finished the course of treatment ended up being placed
This translates into an immediate savings of $67.6 million.
Today, there are 12 MST providers with 39 teams. MST is available in 55 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. For many teams, funding is dependent on positive outcomes. MST therapists work intensively with families. That intensity brings results in a relatively short treatment time. MST clinicians routinely share that the “wins” they achieve with and for MST families fuel their energy and passion for their work.
While we don’t have a statistic to measure who turns into a good and loving mother, my encounter with Anna was by far my most heartwarming outcome.