Frequently we are told by someone or agency that the child they send to us has a behavioral health problem not a mental health problem. Usually those persons have something to gain or avoid when they say these things. For instance, wishing to avoid clinical or financial responsibility for the child being referred.
The problem with their position is that if the usually very difficult behaviors we see have no underlying causes they are more or less intentional and the responsibility of the child or parents. This harkens back to the bad old days when way too many mental health professionals used to identify “schizophrenic” mothers.
We at Ryther believe that very difficult behaviors typically have reasons other than individual choice, especially among pre-adolescents. We also believe that while teenagers can choose to take drugs we also know their brains are not sufficiently developed to reliably assess risks and regulate behaviors. We also believe there are also underlying emotional reasons that often drive the choice.
In any case, we believe that changing very difficult behaviors (which is the only kind we see at Ryther) most often requires professional mental health intervention if there is to be any hope of being successful.
Children seldom choose to lose control and become violent for the fun of it, just like I have never seen a child that chooses to wet the bed or soil himself or herself who isn’t otherwise disturbed or traumatized in some way. Indeed, we think that Father Flannigan had it about right when he said “there is no such thing as a bad boy (…girl)”.
It has been suggested by some State officials that they do not have to pay us for having psychiatrists on staff or for maintaining a richer staff to child ratio than is strictly required by law, because we are dealing with behavioral problems, not mental health problems. They make this claim even as they send us children with a plan to send them on to a State Hospital.
In the end, if you believe that behavioral problems have no mental health origins, especially in children between the ages of six and fourteen, then it seems to me you are recommending a corrections response to these children.
I think they still call this blaming the victim.
Lee Grogg, CEO