A few years ago, a Christian family was going through a high-conflict, high-stress divorce. Alex, a successful realtor, and Marti, a prominent member of the church worship team, were well-known in the local community. At the insistence of the worship leader, Marti took Grant, her fourteen-year-old son, to see a counselor.
During the first appointment with Jeff, the counselor, Marti introduced herself while strategically mentioning her involvement with the church worship team. “I’ve brought Grant in because he’s been so moody lately, and he’s really having some behavior problems,” Marti told the counselor. “I need you to help him, to get him to stop acting so badly.”
During the second appointment, Jeff met with Grant separately. Grant, who had kept silent almost the entire previous appointment, was open and animated as he shared how frustrated he was. “My parents are the real problem,” Grant said, “but they aren’t trying to get help!”
“It’s common for one child in the family to become the scapegoat and be blamed for the problems in the family,” Jeff explained. “That way, the family and everyone looking at the family are distracted from seeing the real issue.” The counselor told Grant he was extremely articulate and “together” considering all the stress he and his family were experiencing. As sessions progressed, Grant shared many stories of how his parents got into yelling matches and his mom would just lose it.
Grant was extremely embarrassed as he described the day his mom ran naked through the house, yelling at his dad, “Isn’t my body good enough for you?” Grant had no idea how to handle an experience like that. He lost respect for both of his parents. He was sad, angry, and depressed. A multitude of emotions flooded him all at the same time, session after session.
After a number of appointments, Jeff took a chance and asked if Alex and Marti would join them for their next session. Alex refused, giving an I’m-too-busy excuse, but Marti agreed. At the joint session, the counselor shared that Grant’s feelings and behaviors were normal and pressed Marti to look at the relationship between Grant and herself.
To Marti’s credit, she reluctantly began to see how she was contributing to the problem. She was able to talk with Grant about their relationship and how they could improve it moving forward. Grant’s behavior improved, mainly because he was being truly heard rather than blamed as the problem.
One afternoon, Grant entered Jeff’s office with a huge grin on his face. He shared how relieved he was that his mom was finally seeing a counselor to help her with her own emotional turmoil.