Therapeutic - so what does that mean?
The word therapeutic is one of those interesting words, intrinsically making us feel safe and secure. It is a word that wraps itself around you, falls from your lips with the promise of making things well. It is a word that offers peace without conflict, healing without pain, love without hate.
Extolling the virtues of the word, I now sit back and think how this gentle, even seductive word applies to me. You see I am, alongside my husband, a therapeutic foster carer. As such we are charged with having the ability to parent children that have presented challenges too many to most of society, and usually to other carers. They are young people who, disenfranchised through the actions and inactions of others, need to find a place to be, where they can kick society harder than it has kicked them, prove they are in need by never needing anything (and that includes us first and foremost) and a place where their silent tears are seen and heard, despite being neither visible nor audible.
Therapeutic care is backed up and evidenced by a host of peer review research publications and training courses. Countless words have been written on attachment theory, on how the harm adults intentionally and unintentionally visit on children break their mechanisms to cope with life. Wise words, needed words, important words …… ultimately hollow words. I admit to being excited by the academia of it all, by the theory that backs the practice, by the group discussions on how we would handle aspects of behaviour that are borne of attachment disorder or trauma.
However, I found that all the training, attachment theory understanding and even the beautiful word “therapeutic” dissolved and disappeared when our child entered our home. Our children arrive in the shadow of others, walking with head cowed, or cocked to one side, collapsed shoulders or puffed chest, floor gazing or spitting contempt through hard eyes. As therapeutic carers we must remember we are often at the outset just yet another home, just another place, just another different bed, just another set of rules, just another period in time. We are a promise that is yet to be broken, and offer a place in which to while away their hours until they leave and arrive somewhere else. This can be written plainly across a face, spat out in spoken contempt, concealed within a smile or hidden behind still and saddened eyes.
For me the word therapeutic became something else the day our child arrived. It never ignited again in academic terms. Once I had moved past my desire to be liked [how selfish and flying in the face of all we had learnt – my need, even for a fleeting moment came first] the word therapeutic became a small hot spot in my chest. It was a desire to state simply – you might not believe it now, but together we will make life worthwhile.
My hope was and is that in the future we could sit together, smile and be still for a while in perfect silence, devoid of pain or concern, knowing that there is hope for tomorrow. This became my promise. This is what I hope therapeutic will look like in practice. This is now what foster caring means to me. It was a passion born.