Adolescent Programs Give Family a Precious Gift: Their Daughter

May 2, 2011

The list of diagnoses suggested to the parents of young Sarah Leschinsky over the years reads like a menu of psychiatric distress: bipolar disorder, psychosis, Asperger’s Syndrome, oppositional disorder, depression and attachment disorder. To Sarah’s mother Deborah, the menu metaphor is apt: “Nobody knew what was going on with her. It felt like the ‘diagnosis du jour.’”

Sarah, a bright, creative and articulate 17-year-old, had been struggling with something since second grade. Some months she was at home more than at school. When she did attend, she spent much of the day in the nurse’s office or hiding. “I didn’t hold my head up in the hallway. I couldn’t make eye contact. I sat scrunched up,” explains Sarah. “I didn’t hang out with friends—I didn’t consider myself having friends. I didn’t talk to anyone.” Over the years, psychotherapy did little to help and medications often made matters worse.

Treatment at McLean

The situation with Sarah came to a head in 2008, when she spent four months rarely getting up from bed. Desperate, her parents were looking for help when they heard about McLean’s Adolescent Diagnostic and Family Treatment Unit, a short-term, therapeutic milieu-based program that is part of the hospital’s extensive continuum of services for teenagers and their families.

It was during Sarah’s three-and-a-half week stay in the program that things began changing dramatically for the better. Individual therapy, group sessions, and appropriate medications launched her on a path to health for the first time in years. The program’s team gave her a vocabulary to describe what she was feeling, insight into those feelings and something that had eluded her and her family for years: an accurate diagnosis of depression and anxiety. “The program helped from a physical and psychological perspective,” recalls her father, David. “At home, Sarah had turned night into day and vice versa. At McLean, she was up when everyone was up and asleep when everyone was asleep. She ate on a regular schedule with everyone else. Getting Sarah back on a healthy schedule was important for her overall recovery.”

“The program’s power is the power of community,” says Susan Mandelbaum-Cohen, LICSW, the unit’s program and clinical coordinator. “So many kids feel alone with their personal issues. Our supportive and caring staff works hard at promoting communication among patients, staff, and families. There’s power and healing in that communication. Sarah went through quite a transformation here.”

Sarah’s outward transformation mirrored what was going on internally, according to her parents. “She became much more vibrant in how she dressed,” says Deborah. “It was clear that she was no longer hiding. She was getting a much better sense of how to interact, how to project, how to be in the world.” After Sarah’s residential treatment, her parents began looking into therapeutic schools. McLean’s Arlington School, a junior and senior high school for students with social and emotional difficulties, was a perfect fit for Sarah. “It’s academically challenging and heavily into the arts,” says Sarah.

Arlington School Director Suzanne Loughlin, APRN, BC, says her staff works hard to create a learning community where students thrive. “The faculty and staff are supportive and flexible and can envision success for every student,” she says. “Here, students find a path for their own success that they didn’t know existed.”

Adds David: “The process that started in treatment and continues through the Arlington School today is nothing short of extraordinary. McLean gave us our daughter back.”

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