Expectations and Graduation
Families and their students need to be prepared for what will happen emotionally and behaviorally after graduation. Their experience up to that point has been filled with challenging and productive family sessions, individual sessions, family visitations, and home visits, which have produced an ability to communicate, have accountability, abide by visitation contracts, adhere to expectations, and repair the relationship when break has occurred. These experiences have had the momentum and immediacy of the programs structure and accountability to propel them forward. At some point after graduation, the momentum is greatly reduced and difficulties inevitably arise.
It is essential that the family and student prepare with the therapist for the experience of how to work through disconnection, dysregulation, frustration, anger, avoidance, and testing of the contract and relationship. These emotional and behavioral states are going to occur and both the student and family must develop a plan and maintain the foresight to see success beyond those immediate moments. Developing a plan for success depends greatly on the factors contributing toward post discharge success. The three greatest factors are (Thayne 2009):
1. Familys involvement during treatment
2. Structure and stability of family after discharge
3. Familys participation in care after program setting.
These factors illustrate the importance and influence of the family system as the most determinate change agent.
Part of the dependability of the family structure is the accuracy of making predictions and developing a plan of action. The therapist should always assist the family in identifying what emotional and behavioral possibilities exist (running away, breaking contract, poor peer influence, substance use, etc.) and being able to implement a plan of action which provides safety for student and family, accountability, bottom lines, opportunity for correction, and opportunity for emotional repair. The plan of action must include what is emotionally and behaviorally expected to live safely within that home environment. This preparation and prediction provide the needed boundaries from which the relationship can continue to productively develop, not just maintain.
The saying is, A good offense makes the best defense and that is absolutely true with preparing for what the student and family will incur after graduation. It is imperative the both are prepared to go through poor choices and testing of the boundaries. The student will experience difficulty and thus so will the family system. The overall success of the student must not be measured in the short term (weeks and months), but rather over the long term and the ability to work through conflict, make better choices, and seek out healthy relationships.