Darren is a six year-old boy who was referred to The Guidance Center for school-based mental health services due to a lack of school attendance. He suffered from extremely high levels of stress as a result of being separated from his parents. Darren would scream, cry, and grasp and cling for his life to his mother or father. Or, he would break free and run for the exits with an absent look in his eyes “like a scared animal” as described by his school counselor. The few times he made it to the classroom, Darren attacked the door with his feet, fists, and even his head. If his teacher tried to intervene, she would be attacked as well.

At school he was terrified of abandonment, but in the home he was angry, oppositional, and functioning at a much lower emotional level than his chronological age. Darren was very shy and immature. He spoke like a toddler, walked on his toes, and even flapped his hands when nervous or excited. Darren’s life had been very stressful from birth. He was born to loving, but young and inexperienced parents. As a result, they lived with the paternal grandparents. Darren’s grandfather was an alcoholic, with unpredictable moods and verbal attacks on his wife. Last year, Darren’s three year-old sister suffered a traumatic brain injury while playing alone with Darren. Her brain damage left her physically and mentally disabled, and Darren blamed himself.

The Guidance Center’s School Based clinicians focused on helping Darren’s parents build a nurturing and emotionally present attachment with him. After about 15 to 20 therapy sessions held at both school and in the home, Darren learned how to deal with his feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness, and guilt about his sister’s accident. He also began to feel safe at school. Providing emotional support for Darren’s parents was a crucial part of the treatment. The therapist also made sure Darren was getting similar support at home. He worked with Darren’s teacher to build their relationship. Over several months, the relationships strengthened, anxiety began to decrease, and Darren began to feel better. He began attending school with one of his parents, and now Darren goes to school alone. The goal is to be at school on time at 8:00am. Last month he arrived happily at 9:15am and is continuing to make progress.