‘I Can’t Believe You Got On The Floor’
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 12, 2011
Elaine, mom of eight-year old Eli, says to me “I can’t believe you got on the floor with him.” “Isn’t that what you expected?” I asked, thinking that all child therapists want to see how their child patients play and playing with them allows us to enter into their world. “Well, I guess so, but I have taken Eli to so many people and very few people actually try to play with him.” Elaine tells me with tears in her eyes, trying to understand her son. “Eli is a very creative child. I enjoyed joining him in his imaginative play,” I say, marveling at the privilege of being a child psychiatrist. “At the same time, he does seem to have overwhelming sadness centering around the loss of his maternal grandmother,” I say, adding that through his play I could see how this loss has interfered with his ability to enjoy his life. “Yes, I know that,” Elaine says with a look of recognition and relief. She seemed to expect that I was going to give Eli a diagnosis, rather than explain to her what was troubling him. “What happens next?” Elaine asks, as if I might talk about medication. “I think I need to observe Eli at school,” I say, wanting to gather more information since his play was imaginative, but also a bit isolative at the same time. “That is a good idea. You should definitely observe him at recess,” she says, highlighting our mutual concern about his social communication skills. “Getting on the floor really helped me see how he plays,” I repeat, still thinking about Elaine’s opening comment to me. She teared up again, “yes, but I did not expect that.” How sad our world is, I thought, when people come to child psychiatrists and yet don’t expect the doctor to play with their child. How did we lose our way?