Thirteen-year-old Greg was at risk of significant injury, even possible death, when he was admitted to KVC Prairie Ridge Hospital for treatment. Greg was born with chromosomal deficiencies which led to various developmental delays. Most concerning was that he lacked the connection between pain and self-preservation. Most individuals have an innate avoidance of pain. This is due to signals to the brain tell us that our body is at risk of harm and death. Greg’s ability to process pain was impacted by his developmental disabilities, and he would routinely harm himself with little concern for his own wellbeing.
Greg had been through other treatment programs, but was routinely discharged because of his level of risk and “lack of progress” in treatment. He would say all the right things in therapy such as, “I won’t do it again” or “I know that it scares others.” However when left alone, Greg would reengage in self-harm and injury.
Healing at KVC Prairie Ridge Hospital
KVC’s use of Trauma Systems Therapy and moment-by-moment assessments helped identify a specific pattern in Greg’s behavior. It was discovered that Greg’s mother had struggled with depression for many years. While she was doing her best, her symptoms combined with Greg’s developmental disabilities led to adaptive coping patterns and dangerous intrusive thoughts. Greg’s mother would sleep for fifteen hours out of the day. She would frequently not feel up to engaging with her son. During this time, Greg would experience high levels of anxiety, fear and feelings of isolation. Just before coming to the hospital, these feelings resulted in him making a large cut to his arm. Which could have been tragic if his mother hadn’t awoken when she heard the bathroom door close.
Strategies for Healing
Knowing this information helped KVC staff develop strategies to enable Greg to heal from his painful emotional experiences. By identifying triggers that could lead to feelings of anxiety, fear and abandonment, the staff developed specialized interventions to reduce exposure. These help build Greg’s capacity to cope without self-harm. Positive interactions with adults were routinely planned to help Greg regulate painful emotions. He also developed his communication skills in order to seek help when he felt warning signs. He can identify safe people to provide positive attention to help him self-regulate.
The key for Greg was his ability to separate his identity from the self-harming behavior. The self-harming was a direct response to his painful emotional experiences (dsyregulation). Learning to manage his responses to those experiences directly reduced the frequency of his self-harming behavior. When he felt regulated through positive interactions, it reinforced that he no longer needed to self-harm.
Greg was successfully discharged from KVC Prairie Ridge Hospital. His mother also received specialized training to use Greg’s safety plan and schedule routine positive interactions. Since Greg’s transition home, he has not re-engaged in self-harming behavior. He continues to improve his capacity to self-regulate and connects with his mother when needed.
If you know a child or young adult struggling with depression or experiencing thoughts of self-harm, contact our psychiatric hospitals at 1-866-KVC-CARES (582-2273), or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
*This winning story about healing at KVC Prairie Ridge Hospital was received during our 2015 summer story contest by James Roberson, VP of Program Services for KVC Hospitals