Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dealing with therapy guilt

Rebecca's comment on yesterday's post about a "Therapy Mom" bumper sticker still makes me smile. Sometimes, I feel like such an expert in therapy techniques I could be a therapist myself. One mom who used to live near us got so fed up with the lack of quality speech therapists in our area, she went to school and trained to be one. I don't know why, but good speech therapists are always the hardest kind to find.

Several of you talked about feeling guilty for not getting enough therapy and not doing enough. I've been there, felt that. But here's the thing: therapy is great, yet there's so much beneficial stuff you can do for your kids throughout the day. And it doesn't have to involve doing therapeutic exercises or moves or anything therapists "told" you to do. I loved what Cathy said: "I feel like every thing I do for my little guy is therapy. Even playing games every night to work on counting, letters, concepts, etc." And Tiffany: "We sure do a lot of 'incorporating it into every day life so it doesn't seem like therapy' and a lot of 'family life fun' therapy!

It's so true. Playfully bicycling a child's legs as you change his diaper, tossing pennies into the fountain at the mall, just sitting on the porch and singing with a kid—it's all beneficial to their bodies and brains. Worrying about whether a child is getting enough formal therapy only makes you anxiety-ridden, which is not good for you or your child. Which brings me to the excellent question Janet asked: "Where do you draw the line between being a therapy-mom and letting your child just be a kid?"

When kids are this young, they don't think of therapy as "therapy." Besides, a good therapist makes sessions fun and engaging. It shouldn't seem like a chore. When Max first started going to school, I was talking with his speech therapist and she told me that the way she would get him to focus was to say, "Max, we have to work now, and then we can play after." I asked her to quit saying that, because I didn't ever want Max to think of therapy as "work." It's like when you tell kids "Eat your vegetables and you can have dessert," they learn to think of veggies as the devil and dessert as the reward.

Max has a lifetime of therapy ahead of him. One of these years, he may realize it's therapy but for now, it's still fun. And while I get him a fair amount of it—especially speech—I also take heart in knowing that playing with him and goofing around and exposing him to new places and generally loving him up are all helping him come along.

P.S. If you haven't entered the giveaway to win one of Melanie's awesome crowns/capes, go to it! She's an awesome special-needs mama.

Photo of Praying Hands sculpture at Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, Oklahoma/mulmatsherm


  1. As a speech therapist I find it so important to make my therapy sessions fun so kids don't see it as something evil or as something to dread. Really every life experience is just as important if not more important than those formal therapy sessions.

  2. I like to call what Cathy does a "therapeutic lifestyle".

    Well said, Ellen, for describing the ways that everyday life helps children build skills and feel loved. Barbara

  3. Exactly! Playful therapy is the best kind - one that is fun, engaging, and not focused on the task, but incorporates the particular goal into play. Jack has been through so many years of therapy, he would have long ago refused to go if it was work or task-oriented. Thank you for such an excellent post!

  4. Great follow up post from the one yesterday.

    I immediately started cataloging what we do for Morgan..and it always feels like we can do more..but fortunately my wife calmed my fears by saying exactly what most everyone else said regarding "living life therapy".

    "He learns and absorbs the things he needs during all activities, structured and unstructured. He has all the therapy he can handle during the day in school..home is for relaxing, feeling loved and unstructured play/therapy." - per Awesome Wife!

    Whew....I feel better!


  5. Yes, we can never do enough, I agree with that. But I will say that we do let Faith have time every day to do nothing. I leave her alone and let her mind wander. And really isn't that a form of therapy? Creative exploration of...our home, her toys, places she goes. I have seen this "Do Nothing" time bring results as much a regular therapy! She has always been totally fascinated by mirrors and playing daily in front of them when she was younger was how she learned to take her socks and pants off. All by herself, with no therapeutic instruction!

  6. We were just told today by a substitute therapist that she thinks our guy has too much therapy. I didnt think that was possible. She said he will do what he is going to do when he is going to do it. i agree with that, but wont more therapy help him achieve? hmmmm i still cant wrap my head around it. He is almost 2 and receives PT 3.5 hours/wk, OT 1.5 hours/wk, Vision 2 hours/wk, Speech 1 hour/wk, CE 2.5 hours/wk. In the evenings its Mommy time. :)

  7. Janet: I think what your therapist is saying is that you can't force development.... things unfold when they are ready to, and therapy is really there to support that when it happens.

    I chose to stop OT about 6 months ago, and it was the best decision of our lives. We still do speech 2 times a week, but now all those activities that we did in OT we do at home, when he is willing and eager. We can focus on speech as the main issue for him, and the stress level for all of us is down.

  8. Speech has always been the fun thing for my LJ.

    I agree with you that children do learn more (and faster, I believe) when things are fun. and we try to incorporate that in every way we can, like at feeding time, I cheer and clap when he takes good bites.

    But honestly? For us? Therapy is hard work. LJ is not mobile, he hardly rolls by himself. But since we started a more intensive therapy outside the home, he's done sooo much more. He cries a lot during the first month (we do 2 months and 2 months off-per insurance) and then he relaxes and starts to help with therapy, initiating movements. it's really tough work and while we try to use music and toys to help him, most of the time he doesn't pay attention to it. And yet, I believe most of his development is because of this intense therapy.

    I also agree with Candace. We do let him have lots of down time. It actually gives him time to explore himself. we had been working on a lot of side sitting during our "intense" (2 days a week for 2 hours a day) and one day I went to check on him and there he was, sitting up looking around on his side.

    I love that they push him and expect more from him. It's such a refreshing change from negative therapists and doctors and other professionals. They know he can do it. I know he can do it.

    don't forget about cuddle therapy. that's my favorite kind.

  9. Hi there,
    I just came across your blog from Jolene Philo's. Several of my blog friends had posted your "20 Reasons Why Moms of Special Kids Rock" and I LOVED it. And I Love that Max =)
    I look forward to reading your blog.

  10. I got so sick of all the therapies during G's first few years. There simply weren't enough hours in the day to do all the things all the different therapists assigned us.

    I slacked a lot. And felt guilty a lot. But I wanted him to just be a baby/toddler/kid.

    And harder than finding a speech therapist? Finding a FEEDING therapist!! That was maddening, but we lucked out in the end.

  11. We try to make all the therapy activities we do fun. With Junior's level of physical disability we do have to spend a large amount of time on things like stretching but even then it can be fun. We have special toys that we use during his exercise time, and also some favorite stories that are for this time. It has to be fun, if it is a fight we aren't going to accomplish much.

  12. I've been at this therapy thing for a really long time (fifteen years!), and what I discovered after about five or so years of it, is that I began to resent not getting to be a MOTHER. When I realized that being the therapist was something that I just didn't want to do anymore, well, I let it go. I became Sophie's mother and stopped being her therapist. I let other people do it, and while I've battled the guilt a bit over the years, the role of mothering her has been a million times more satisfactory!

  13. Thanks for the "shout out" about my comment...I'm planning a post on this very topic soon...I'm going to sent them your way as well. We ALL need to stop feeling guilty and just do our best and what's best for the family. GREAT post as always!!

  14. Ok, I have to admit being quoted in your blog totally made my day!! Thank you! I have given the therapy topic a lot of thought...thus my bumper sticker idea.

    In our first year I was so overwhelmed by all the therapists and assignments. I realized I was not playing with my son, I was not just loveing on him, I was always in "must get better" mode. It stressed me out and I think it stressed him out and I know my daughter felt very left out. Now I am more relaxed. I realize formal therapy is necessary but life is therapy too. All the things you mentioned are so true. Swinging on a porch swing, love it!

    We have a saying/question in our house, "can we afford it? is it fun?" If we can answer yes to both questions we do it. I want Max to view therapy as fun as long as possible. So far he loves it. Affording it is a big question too. If the answer is no, I get on line, I check out books and I educate myself as much as I can so I can do what I can at home. Also it makes me feel a wee bit in control of something and that is always good for me mentally.

    Thanks for the reminder on perspective. As we move into summer I have been eyeing the calendar and wondering how full it should be. Isn't playing in a blow up pool therapy too...yes, I think it is!

  15. I have therapy guilt all the time, over different things. First, because my son doesn't get more than PT 30 minutes a week. That seems so little compared to most children with Spina Bifida. He "graduated" from OT after a month. Should I have pushed harder for him to stay in it? Second, because my husband is the one who stays home with him, I only know about half the things I should be working on with him, in the brief 2.5 hours I see him each night. And, while I'm working on it, all I think is shouldn't we be having fun?! Because PT is not fun for my son. There are a few things I can sneak in, but most of the time he knows what I'm doing and just yells at me. So admittedly, I don't do too much of it. Which, SHOCKER, I then feel guilty for.

  16. Great post and discussion. As a pediatric physical therapist myself, ideas for parents should be easily incorporated into daily routines. If they are not, it is unreasonable to expect a parent to be able to carry out the suggestions. I hope parents do not always feel guilty about not putting therapy first - that is not healthy either. All children need a balance of free play time and directed play. I stress the word play! Kids need to be kids. Therapists also need to realize that sometimes children will do much more during a therapy session that with their parents and vice versa. If a parent is battling with a child to complete something and it is not fun, change the activity.


Thanks for sharing!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...