Joe was referred to Sage Day due to frequent angry outbursts at school toward teachers and other students. His outbursts made him a pariah to teachers and administrators. He quickly became the target of other students who took pleasure in pushing his buttons. The initial descriptions of Joe by his case manager made it sound like he may need a program designed for students with behavior problems. It became clear that the causes of Joe’s outbursts were more complicated and deserved further exploration.
Joe and his parents were clearly frustrated with their current school and the treatment they had received. His parents understood how Joe’s behavior had gotten him a negative reputation but were disheartened that the school was not able to come up with any plan of action to see Joe through his difficulties. Joe’s case manager, who followed him from elementary school through high school, was a strong advocate for finding him a program that could address Joe’s emotional needs and help him be successful.
When Joe arrived for the first Sage interview, he quickly demonstrated a prickly attitude that was not appealing. However, experience showed that he was just seeing the interviewer as he saw all authority figures, as someone who wanted to demean and humiliate him. When he realized that was not the case and found the interviewer was just interested in him and what he had been experiencing in school, he began to soften and an emotional side began to surface. He teared up when he shared how he was feeling about himself and school. He was starting to believe what people were telling him, that he was no good, and was thinking about just giving up. He showed that he knew his behavior was wrong but also that he was scared and that his fight or flight defense was in fight mode. This caused him to overreact to some benign situations in the same way he would to more serious threats. He clearly was in a panic and didn’t know it.
After further discussion and reflecting upon his reactions, he said he wanted help and that he had interests and aspirations for the future. What he experienced on his visit day was something he had not experienced in a long time – a welcoming community. He met students who had similar stories and he did not feel alone.
Joe’s first few months at Sage were not a honeymoon, quite the opposite, he tested the authority figures to see if they were going to do what he was used to. When interventions to his outbursts were met with understanding, in addition to consequences, he started to develop trust and settle in to therapy and school work. His parents worked hard in family therapy and fully embraced the idea that everyone was part of the solution.
Joe spent 3 ½ years at Sage. After graduation he immediately began working in the fashion field and shortly thereafter began taking fashion courses. As with all of the Sage students, Joe taught us so much about how past experiences have to be understood to help change reactions to new situations.