Katie’s early-life experiences had ensured that she had never truly known what it was to feel safe, loved and cared for. After being removed from her birth parents who were unable to care for her, Katie had been subject to multiple foster care placements, most of which had not been for longer than a few months. By the age of 5, Katie’s turbulent start to her life had understandably left her finding it hard to trust and struggling to form relationships. Katie would often appear withdrawn and disengaged from the world around her and would erupt into emotional outbursts. At times of stress, it was common for Katie to display regressive behaviour similar to that of a toddler, often finding it difficult to regulate her emotions.
By Katie’s 6th birthday she had been adopted by Andy and Jane. However, one year into becoming a family Andy and Jane were finding it increasingly difficult to connect with Katie and wondered if they would ever get a breakthrough. Both had described experiences of Katie’s rejecting behaviour, often not allowing them to be close or to offer comfort when she needed it. Katie had become controlling, whereby Andy and Jane were finding it impossible to set boundaries for Katie and her behaviour was escalating. Andy and Jane were running out of ideas and exhausted from the continuing disappointment of feeling pushed away.
Following a referral from their support worker, Andy, Jane and Katie came to Dandelion Time. The referral was an opportunity to do something different together, away from their usual routine and patterns of life. Initially, among the exciting distractions that were on offer Katie was delighted to begin her sessions. However, we observed how Katie could quickly become overwhelmed by things that had not gone how she’d expected. She could become frustrated and would refuse to accept support or guidance from Jane or Andy. Katie’s guarded independence which was once her survival strategy and a protective factor in her life, was now impairing her ability to connect, leaving her feeling alone whilst Andy and Jane felt helpless.
During sessions our therapists encouraged Andy and Jane to take part in gentle, side by side working with Katie and over time we noticed how all three began to soften, leaning into one another’s company. They enjoyed collaborative tasks like sifting compost, carding wool and kneading dough for loaves of bread. They were able to share their triumphs when their bread came out tasting delicious or laugh when the full wheelbarrow fell over once again pouring out their soil. Andy and Jane spent time with our team gaining further understanding of the possible meanings behind some of Katie’s behaviours and factoring in her early life experiences, and practiced applying some new techniques to navigate both their own and Katie’s emotions during more challenging moments.
As they approached the end of their sessions, Katie, Jane and Andy arrived during feeding time for the animals and were excited to have the chance to help feed the sheep. Once in the field, by one shake of a bucket, the sheep realised just what time of day it was and hurried over, ready for their dinner. As they boisterously busied themselves around everyone, Katie looked up at Jane and Andy with concern in her eyes and said, “Please can you pick me up”. It was at this point that Jane and Andy had received the breakthrough they had been wishing for. Jane scooped up Katie and held her close whilst the sheep muscled in around their feet competing for nuts. As Katie relaxed into Jane’s safe embrace, Andy reassured Katie that the sheep were just excited about their food. Andy laughed at pointed towards a late-arriving sheep, running around looking for a gap to fill at the trough and Katie began to smile too, joining the laughter, feeling safe and loved nestled in with her parent’s either side of her.
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This is a composite case that is indicative of our work, names and images have been changed.
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