JUSTIN'S STORY

Change Can Be Hard

At age 17, Justin was quickly approaching adulthood and making bad choices. Tearing up a van by joyriding in a wheat field and inconsistent school attendance landed him in court. His disrespectful and demanding behavior toward his mother, Karen, contributed to a volatile home atmosphere. He was contradictory and would insist she give him money or go out to buy his dinner if he didn’t like what was being served at home. This led to constant arguments from which he would walk out of the house.

Instead of confining Justin, juvenile authorities put him on probation and referred him and Karen to the Functional Family Therapy (FFT) program through Cornerstones of Care. FFT is a short-term, in-home intervention service focused on helping families build healthier, more stable relationships. Our therapists worked with Karen and Justin to use techniques that encouraged motivation and change, reduced negativity and offered their family hope.

As Karen’s only child, Justin had no relationship with his biological father. He maintained a relationship with his stepfather even after his divorce from Karen, but Justin strongly disliked her current boyfriend who always backed his mother when there were disagreements at home. Justin had also never held a job, and didn’t show much enthusiasm about his future.

Functional Family Therapist Sherry DesCouteaux began her work with Justin and his mom by earning their trust and creating a calming harmonious environment in the home. She learned about Justin’s interests and Karen’s frustrations. She even shared with them some her own life experiences. Through their sessions, Karen learned not to fight with Justin over his demands or to give in to them, but to give him choices. They also worked on communication skills, which resulted in both of them being more respectful toward each other.

“I worked with both of them to be mindful of their tone of voice when talking with each other, and to reflect back the messages they were hearing,” said Sherry. “After some time, I began to hear respect in Justin’s voice when he talked with Karen.”

A few weeks before their FFT sessions had ended, Sherry received a phone call asking if she could come early to their therapy session because Karen and Justin wanted to leave early to go camping with Karen’s boyfriend. This request just re-affirmed Sherry’s belief that they had made huge progress during their time together.

By the time Justin turned 18, he was hired by a fast food restaurant. When he got the job, Justin called Sherry before telling anyone else. She took him out for pizza to celebrate, and they talked about continuing to work on his other goals, which included graduating high school and living on his own. They also talked about the importance of a secure and consistent career, and to consider the fast food restaurant a “just for now” job.

“I’m not there to change the whole dynamic of the family,” says Sherry. “I take the strengths that family members have and help them meet their goals. That can include teaching new skills, such as communication and problem solving.” And in Karen and Justin’s case, these skills are what helped them to build upon their family’s foundation and remain together as a family.

We offers Functional Family Therapy in 29 Kansas counties and two Missouri counties as an alternative to removing children and young adults from the home and institutionalization. Once FFT is completed, families can also request “booster sessions” for additional support. Listen to our podcast to learn more about Functional Family Therapy.

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