Meet Michelle, a former client of The Whole Child Program. She’s the third of five clients we are honored to feature and celebrate her courage during May Mental Health Month. Brittany, Michelle’s therapist, reflected on Michelle’s journey, resiliency, and courageousness.
Michelle was referred to The Whole Child program at The Guidance Center following a brain tumor removal just before Christmas in 2017. Michelle’s family was desperate to find support for her, and her medical team was concerned about the significant difficulties she faced when adjusting to her sudden health issues. Prior to her surgery, Michelle was a typical functioning middle schooler. Within a year’s time, Michelle began experiencing severe headaches and seizures, which ultimately led to the discovery of a brain tumor. The family and her medical team watched with concern as Michelle became increasingly irritable and withdrawn. She frequently worried about the health of her family members, and her behavior was often explosive and unpredictable. A previously diligent student, Michelle also began to skip classes, refused to go to school, and had failing grades. Additionally, like many of the families served at The Guidance Center, these concerns were just a small part of the many other challenges that Michelle and her family faced.
Michelle was initially hesitant to engage in therapy services. She put up a tough exterior and put on a brave face despite the ongoing stressors of her recovery from surgery and her medical team’s concerns about her brain tumor returning. In an effort to build rapport and trust with Michelle, I began to support her and to address her needs outside of the traditional boundaries of outpatient therapy. The unique aspects of The Whole Child program allowed me to provide completely field-based services, attending initial Individualized Education Program meetings to advocate for her needs as a medically-compromised student, frequently collaborating with her medical team, and joining the family at medical appointments to provide support and to problem solve around ongoing challenges.
One example of how impactful these integrated services have been for Michelle occurred in a medical appointment with her neurologist. Michelle had been struggling with frequent daytime fatigue as well as burnout from her daily medication regimen, which altered her mood, motivation, and interest in social interactions. In her appointment, Michelle, her mother, the medical team, and I were able to collaboratively discuss these concerns and identify strategies that would address her medical and mental health needs. Ultimately, her medications were condensed so she had fewer pills to consume, and she was given a replacement medication that could be taken at night, which significantly reduced her daytime drowsiness.
Through this integrated care approach to her treatment, Michelle began to experience improvements both physically and emotionally. Michelle learned how to assert her needs and to advocate for herself, which improved interactions with her medical team and created significant changes to her medical regimen, and ultimately enhanced her daily physical functioning. As a result of these physical changes, Michelle’s mood and behaviors have dramatically improved. She is attending school every day, she has worked hard to obtain passing grades, she is socializing with friends and family regularly, and she is expressing her feelings in more appropriate ways. Additionally, her medical team has given her a clean bill of health, as her brain scans show no signs of a returning tumor, and she will only require annual follow up appointments. As we plan for concluding treatment, I feel hopeful for Michelle and her family. I am also grateful to The Guidance Center and the Memorial Medical Center Foundation for the opportunity to provide services that truly address the whole child.
Brittany Jondle, PsyD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist