Chapter 3. Family and Support Systems Copy

Illustration of Nelson's family and support system

You switch gears from talking about the past to talking about the present. “With whom do you live now, Nelson?”

You see him smile for the first time as he answers, “With my mom and my step-dad.”

“And how do you get along?”

“It’s good usually,” Nelson sneaks a glance at his mom and continues, “My step-dad is a cool guy. Sometimes he gets upset or angry when I skip school.”

“What does he do when he gets angry?” you ask.

Nelson shrugs. “He just, like…says that I need to go study so that I can go to college and have a job.” Nelson’s mother nods along in agreement.

“Ok. And do you have any friends?”

Nelson beams as he answers, “Yeah, I have Maya.”

You can’t help smiling in return as you write down “Maya” in your notes and inquire, “Do you often talk to Maya?”

“Yeah,” he replies enthusiastically, “we talk or chat a lot, like every day.”

“Is Maya someone with whom you can share your problems?”

“Yeah, I can tell her anything.” Nelson runs his fingers through his hair and reclines into his seatback.

Nelson’s mom adds, “She is his best friend since he arrived in the U.S.”

You turn to look at her. “What about you Ms. Hernández, how do you get along with your husband?”

“We have a good relationship. He is very caring and very protective, especially toward Nelson.” Her eyes gleam as she looks at her son. When he catches her staring he mutters, “Mom…” and lightly rolls his eyes.

You ignore Nelson’s embarrassment and query, “Do you have any friends or family on whom you can rely in times of crisis?”

“I don’t have any family here apart from Nelson and my husband. But I go to church, and we have a nice community there.”

“That is really nice. Do you find it helpful?”

She sits up even straighter. “Yes, we meet on Sundays and help each other a lot.”

“How much support do you feel you get from the school system?”

Nelson interjects, “The teachers are fine. But I’m just not into school at this moment.”

“Yes,” Nelson’s mother agrees, “his teachers are very friendly and thoughtful. They were the first ones to notice changes in his behavior and they suggested seeing a school counselor.”

“Is there anything else that you would like to talk about today, Nelson?”

“No,” he delivers from his relaxed position.

“What about you, Ms. Hernández?”

She hesitates for a moment before asking, “Will Nelson have a mental health diagnosis? I am very worried that it will stick with him for the rest of his life. Everyone will know that bad things happened to him.” 

You set your notepad down on your lap and make eye contact with Nelson and then his mother. “I really appreciate both of you coming in today to talk to me and tell me more about what is going on.  The focus of treatment is not about giving a label, but more about teaching Nelson skills that he can use to cope when he gets angry or upset. What I would like to do next time when I meet with both of you is to tell you a little bit more about what trauma is and how it affects people, and to tell you about the treatment and what it is going to look like.”

“Ok, sounds good,” Nelson shrugs.

“Yes, thank you,” his mother says with gratitude.

As you walk them to the door, you conclude warmly, “It was so nice to meet you, Nelson, and Ms. Hernández, and I’ll see you next week!” Even Nelson waves as they exit.