And Reaching Out to Say Thank You in Return
She was angry. She was sad. Cutting herself repeatedly, she was crying for help. Then one day she lost control completely and acted out physically on a family member, which landed her in Tarrant County Juvenile Services (TCJS). Through Lena Pope’s partnership with TCJS, Lena Pope Functional Family Therapist Julia took on the case.
Jenny, only 14 years old, had been in and out of residential treatment facilities before arriving at Lena Pope.
"Jenny was diagnosed bipolar before she started counseling at Lena Pope and had been on medication for years," Julia said. "She was sad and angry.”
Jenny lived with her mother, who was battling assorted chronic physical illnesses, as well as her younger sister and grandparents. Her grandmother was the only one she was close to and trusted. Jenny often reflected on her grandmother’s love during counseling sessions, and it was the only time Julia saw signs of security.
Through in-home sessions, Julia was able to assess the family strengths and risk factors and put together a six-month plan to positively impact the troubled teen and her family. Functional Family Therapy is a short-term, research-tested counseling program offered to at-risk youth and their families.
Most of the weekly meetings took place at the grandparents’ home with the family in attendance, but Julia often met with Jenny independently as well. Julia knew how difficult Jenny’s home life was and fully supported an upcoming spring break trip to visit her aunt in Boston. Though they were not very close, Julia believed that in this case particularly, simply escaping a toxic environment is sometimes the smartest move.
When Jenny returned, she acknowledged that the trip was nice, but coming back to the same situation was weighing on her.
“She was resistant to counseling but knew it was mandatory as requirement of her probation,” Julia said. “Jenny never really opened up, and I did not feel like I was helping her.”
As the months went on, Julia was getting more concerned for Jenny and the direction of the counseling. Jenny was still verbalizing intentions to hurt herself, and her self-esteem had not improved.
“Her mother’s health was declining, and that was a big stressor for Jenny,” Julia said.
Julia knew she was doing everything she could, but Jenny actually seemed to be getting worse. Then the unthinkable happened: Jenny’s grandmother died suddenly, sending Jenny into a downward spiral. At this point, residential treatment seemed to be the only answer.
Jenny was checked in to a 30-day facility, where she received intense daily therapy. Upon her release, she met with Julia just a few more times.
“She seemed to be finally dealing with the death of her grandmother,” Julia recalled. “Her concern was that if she continued to live at home that she would never be happy or feel safe.”
It was over these last few sessions that Julia decided to release Jenny.
“She needed a break from everything and everyone, including me,” Julia said. “She wanted to move to Boston to live with her aunt, and I supported that decision.
Despite doing everything she knew to do, Julia couldn’t help but feel she had not helped her young client.
Four years would pass before Julia would realize she was wrong.
It was an e-mail from Jenny.
“I’m not sure if you will remember me or not, but I just wanted to write you to say ‘thank you’ for everything you’ve done for me,” Jenny wrote from Boston. “I know it has been a long time, but I really do appreciate everything you’ve done for me. I have become a very positive person, and I realize I didn’t get better on my own. I had many people help me, and one of the main people was you, so I wanted to take time to tell you. Thank you. I’m sorry for how I was back then. I didn’t think I needed anyone, but I was wrong. I really do appreciate what you taught me. And, once again, thank you a lot!”
Jenny signed off with a big happy face. The same happy faces that bubbled up throughout the entire heartfelt letter :)
Through tears, Julia reflected, “Sometimes we never know how we affect other people, but I guess I was a lot more helpful than I thought.”
Jenny didn’t know it at the time of her counseling, but she was learning the skills to regain control of her life while becoming a beautiful and thoughtful person along the way. It takes strength to walk away and start over –– and sometimes even more strength to look back and say thank you.