Let’s take a moment to look at the core elements of what therapeutic IECs offer for families. 

We support.

We gather relevant information into a coherent narrative. We aggregate the testing reporting, therapist notes, and each of the family members’ viewpoints on the presenting client. This process can be time consuming and takes a very skilled listening ear. We show empathy and concern but also, when appropriate, try to move the family to decision points on treatment when not pursuing treatment could have dire consequences.  

Some family systems can be supported with in-home services while others will need out-of-home treatment. Therapeutic IECs use our experience to help families make this decision. 

We listen.

We listen to the different family members and professionals involved in each case.  We listen to the story behind the story. We ask ourselves what strengths and what vulnerabilities are in the family system. To get the full story from a family system you must have rapport with that family. It does not come easily at times, and we focus our attention on the words and the meaning behind the words. Mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and different parenting techniques can combine in a very complex system. The talented IEC listens in order to get the complete story. 

We prioritize.

When families are in crisis with a struggling child, the myriad of presenting issues can be overwhelming. As independent educational consultants (IECs), we can be dispassionate enough to help families what to focus on first, both in terms of care for the child and in figuring out how to heal the family system. While we honor the family’s agency and choice, we help the family prioritize not only their strengths, but also their challenges. They may not recognize the full range of their abilities and shortcomings while in their time of crisis. As the IEC, in our place of stability, we can prioritize concerns among drug use, disordered eating, trauma, anxiety, and depression. Helping the family find a program that can properly treat the underlying mental health issues a big part of the job. 

We offer options.

IECs visit many, many programs each year, and also visit current clients at different programs. This helps us to get a good feel for how the programs work for specific people. We also collaborate with other consultants, sharing our collective knowledge to help each other. We keep our ears to the ground to know unique feature of each program. We work hard to suggest several programs that would suit each unique family. 

We guide.

Once the client starts in a treatment program, the job is far from done. Therapeutic IECs help the family navigate the treatment options for a full year or beyond. We talk to the program staff about our clients and we are on family phone calls with the program if the family desires. We monitor our client’s progress and help the family navigate the next steps, whether it is longer programming or developing healthy family contracts. We strongly encourage the family system to get the help they need—through family or individual therapy, webinars, or books—and pursue their own parallel process of growth. 

We set healthy boundaries.

We role model by creating and maintaining healthy emotional boundaries. At our best, we show the family the path to being balanced. While we may not share every detail of our personal life, we can share parts of our own journey with them. These insights, combined with other treatment success stories, can help families foster hope in the face of overwhelm. While we maintain confidentiality, the resiliency and strength of our former clients often sustains us through the most difficult dark times when a client is in the ER or a psychiatric hospital for substance abuse, self-harm, or mental health issues. 

While this is not an exhaustive list for what the therapeutic consultant does, here is a case study to help paint the picture: 

We receive a call from a family with a child in college who is in the hospital for suicidal ideation and drug-induced psychosis. We gather information from the client’s history and offer to partner with the hospital therapist as they work to stabilize the client. We offer options for a short-term intervention, which can be a wilderness therapy program or a short-term assessment placement. While there, the client can receive a full neuropsychological evaluation. This assessment helps determine underlying causes and potential learning differences that may be driving the client’s behavior. After this first step, and with this new information, we help identify young adult programs that can best support the client. The young adult program would continue to provide the mental health treatment needed while supporting the client taking classes. The final goal would be for the client to eventually transition to a small college where they can live in a sober dorm, if necessary, with any additional supports needed.   

Hopefully this article gives readers a better idea of how a therapeutic IEC can serve a family through some of their toughest times. We work with attorneys that are well versed in educational law, school administrators, and therapists. There’s also an opportunity to work alongside a college IEC as the client prepares for those academic pursuits. I hope that in the future we can highlight more of these crossover options. Therapeutic IECs serve clients all around the country and we’d be happy to connect you to one in your area 

By Jesse Quam, LCSW, ACSW (NC)