In the last track, we discussed the double dose resulting
in decreased empathy, hyper-vigilance, and fear of retaliation that children both
receiving and witnessing abuse can experience.
In this track, we will discuss Adjustment Disorder that can arise from children who have witnessed domestic abuse.
Are you currently treating a child experiencing Adjustment Disorder?
a 52 year old woman, had adopted Robbie, a 13-year old boy. Robbie's mother had
been killed in a beating by her husband. Before being adopted by Marcy and her
husband, Robbie had once been handcuffed to his bed for a day by his father after
he had missed the school bus. As you know, Adjustment Disorder is a condition
from which many children in abusive homes suffer. These children often become
unable to form loving and intimate relationships and show almost no affection
toward people. Let's look at Robbie's behaviors.
1. Destructiveness: Robbie had set fires and once threatened to kill his sister's pet rabbit
with a butcher knife.
2. Chronic Lying: In a session
with Robbie, I noticed that he avoided eye contact for most of the session and
that he lied about nearly every question I asked him. As with many children suffering
from Adjustment Disorder, I found that Robbie had difficulties developing a conscience,
thus making it very easy to lie and be distrustful of others.
Social Behavior: In addition to exhibiting destructiveness and chronic
lying, Robbie also had unusual social behaviors. For example, if a classmate told
him to run head first into a wall, he would do it repeatedly to the point of drawing
blood on his forehead, just to gain attention. He only stopped when a teacher
would intervene. He was an excellent artist but would only draw violent scenes.
Robbie also exhibited abnormal speech patterns. By this, I
mean as soon as Robbie entered my office, he started with a stream of nonsensical questions and incessant chatter.
With children such as Robbie
who are suffering from Adjustment Disorder, I often found, like you, that the
home environment is usually the biggest factor in the child's recovery. Marcy,
Robbie's adoptive mother, reviewed basic parenting techniques like defining expectations,
being fair, expressing love, and allowing emotions. I felt
Robbie hid his true emotions from others and himself by destructiveness, lying,
unusually social behavior to gain attention, and incessant chatter.
of Using Lists and Unfinished Sentences
found the Unfinished Sentence in conjunction with making Lists helped to facilitate
discussion concerning Robbie's true feelings.
The advantage of an Unfinished
Sentence is that Robbie could write about the first thing that popped into his
head without worrying about where he was headed with the topic. I supplied the
beginning of sentences such as: "One thing I would change about my relationship
with my adoptive family is
" or "I show my anger at my family
.." This helped Robbie to be more open and honest with me
in our sessions and gave me more of an insight into who Robbie was and what he
needed help with.
In conjunction with the Unfinished Sentences, I used
Lists to help my clients organize his thoughts and feelings about a large or unclear
issue. Robbie was so overwhelmed with feelings of anger and frustration about
the abuse he endured before joining his adoptive family that he could not organize
or resolve the issue. Examples of Robbie's topics for List-Making included "family
members with whom I feel angry," "Things I do when I'm angry,"
and "My problem solving techniques." Lists created a sense of order
for Robbie in which he could see the meaning of his experience more clearly.
this track, we discussed the three Adjustment Disorder Behaviors of Destructiveness,
Chronic Lying, and Unusual Social Behavior, that many children in violent families
suffer from. We have also provided you with two techniques of unfinished sentences
and list-making to treat children with Adjustment Disorder such as Robbie. Would
it be beneficial to consider using the Unfinished Sentence or List-Maing in the
the next session you have with your Robbie? If so, you might consider replaying
this track just prior to your session as a reminder about these techniques.
the next track, we will discuss the Yo-Yo Syndrome children can experience when
moving from home to home to escape danger.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Jouriles, E. N., McFarlane, J., Vu, N. L., Maddoux, J., Rosenfield, D., Symes, L., Fredland, N., & Paulson, R. (2018). Mothers’ posttraumatic stress and child adjustment problems in families seeking services for intimate partner violence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 86(7), 604–614.
Owen, A. E., Thompson, M. P., & Kaslow, N. J. (2006). The mediating role of parenting stress in the relation between intimate partner violence and child adjustment. Journal of Family Psychology, 20(3), 505–513.
Piotrowski, C. C. (2011). Patterns of adjustment among siblings exposed to intimate partner violence. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(1), 19–28.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
What are two techniques used to treat children with Adjustment Disorder
to facilitate the exploration of feelings and organize or resolve issues? To select
and enter your answer go to .