Welcome back. Today is interview day. I am lucky to be talking with Dr. Rita Eichenstein. Rita, you might recognize her as the author of Not What I Expected: Help and Hope for Parents of Atypical Children. I’ve had this book on my bookshelf for a number of years and have looked at it so many times when I’m talking with parents and conceptualizing kids and family dynamics and so forth. And I am fortunate to be able to talk with Rita today.
So we go into her framework for working with parents and the way that she conceptualizes parenting as a whole separate [00:01:00] developmental stage, that all of the developmental psychologists and researchers missed, that we do evolve as parents, and it’s a separate period worth talking about with its own challenges, growth points and so forth. I think you’ll get a lot out of this one.
Before we dive in, let me tell you just a little bit about Rita. She’s a noted psychologist, pediatric neuropsychologist, and author, as I mentioned. She has a private practice in Los Angeles, California, where she has served both atypical kids and their parents for over 25 years. Her life’s work has been to create a diagnostic and assessment environment that is warm, supportive, and accurate. Understanding that the child is not a single unit, but comes with an entire system of parents, siblings, and families dynamics, the approach to working with atypical kids has to include the parents and those family members.
She coined the term, “atypical child” and it encompasses kids who do not conform to the usual expectations, whether because of a learning disorder, behavioral or psychological issues, medical problem, or another condition, as well as quirky kids whose symptoms and behaviors defy official diagnostic categories.
You can find out more at her website which will be in the show notes, and like I said, check out her book Not What I Expected: Help and Hope for Parents of Atypical Children. It’s on Amazon and anywhere else you might buy your books.
All right. Without further ado, here is my interview with Dr. Rita Eichenstein.[00:03:00] Hey everyone. Welcome back to another episode of The Testing Psychologists podcast. I’m Dr. Jeremy Sharp. And like you heard in the introduction, I am very grateful and fortunate to have Dr. Rita Eichenstein here to talk with me today about parenting, feedback, kids, attachment, and all sorts of things. I think this is going to be a wide-ranging interview. I’m really excited for it.
Rita, first of all, welcome to the podcast.
Dr. Rita: Thank you so much. It’s an honor, actually. I’ve been listening to you for a long time, and it’s great to join in.
Dr. Sharp: Well, like I said, the feeling is mutual. I’m glad to have you. I always feel really lucky and starstruck when I can talk with folks who have written books. You’ve written a book. I’m really excited to [00:04:00] talk about that book. It’s one of those books I’ve had on my shelf for two years now. And to actually be talking with you in person is quite an honor as well. So, thank you for being here.
Dr. Rita: Thank you.
Dr. Sharp: Well, let’s start with a pretty direct question. Why did you write this book?
Dr. Rita: It’s a great question. And I got to be honest that I wasn’t actually looking to write a book initially. Actually, I’m a classically trained neuropsychologist and that’s what I was doing, but I noticed that after I gave feedback and shut the door, my brilliant two-hour interpretation plus, totally brilliant, right? We’re just so brilliant. It’s all so neat. We give those lovely reports that we slave over and all of our brilliant feedback. And then we say goodbye and the door shuts.
And I’m just this very curious person. I wanted to know what [00:05:00] happens on the other side of that door. Emails didn’t quite work. Follow-up calls didn’t quite work. I’d either get we’re doing fine, or I haven’t read the report yet. And I felt there was something missing. So, I was looking for some book, I was positive that it existed I just hadn’t found it yet, to integrate parents into the testing process and how indeed to actually work with parents.
I thought long and hard back to my training and I realized that no one ever actually talked about parents. I really have chosen my career to focus primarily on pediatrics. And I kept thinking I must be missing something. I probably was daydreaming during that lecture. I can’t believe that no one had talked about parents.
So I started to ask colleagues around the country. And then I started to ask my colleagues around the world, did you ever have [00:06:00] any training in parents? And then I start to ask physicians, same question, pediatrician, same question, and everyone would come back and say, oh yeah, we learned quite a lot about parenting and that’s not the same thing, parents.
And then I started to dig and I thought I have to be missing something because obviously, this field has been combed over very well in the 20th century. I went through all the great theorists and their stages of development, and I said, it’s got to be in here. And what turned out is what I’m now calling the big oops of the 20th century- that we missed parents along the way as a discrete stage of development. It’s a huge, oops. And so, I needed to change the conversation so it’s not the big oops of the 21st century.[00:07:00] If you think about it, if you’re a parent listening, do you honestly think your brain works the same way as your single friend? I haven’t gotten a single yes. Oh, excuse me. One dad did raise his hand to that question and he says, I think I’m going to be in big trouble after this speech. And no, I’ve talked to thousands of people about this.
Now, since 2015, we have a lot of neuroscientists at our fingertips who are actually doing brain scanning who can actually confirm that there are indeed architectural changes in the parent’s brain that they used to hypothesize, but now they’re pretty sure that remain permanent change in the brain of a parent. It doesn’t matter how you became a parent. So whether you’re gay, straight, [00:08:00] adopted, natural, biological, it doesn’t matter. The act of becoming a parent has very distinct brain changes.
But that I just launched into the second book that I’m writing now. So I got to hold off on that and go back to why I wrote this book because I felt that our neuropsychology testing, even psychotherapy, even pediatric practices, if they don’t have a good understanding of parents and the way parents brains work, and even teachers, they can’t work with their identified patient who’s the child. And the whole sum as a testing psychologist, my belief is the whole sum of our value is how easy or hard is it going to be for the parents to apply our findings to their life? And so, when you look at it that way, there’s a huge pivot in how you [00:09:00] approach testing, or at least in how I approach testing, that you have to engage them. You have to see the parent as different.
So I thought I would write that. I thought I would write the book for professionals. But the book sort of wrote itself and I realized that parents need a voice. Parents don’t understand themselves. They are caught in the blame game, blaming themselves. Maybe we’re terrible parents. This society’s terrible.
And I realized that there’s a lot going on of blaming parents. Teachers roll their eyes. Oh, the kid is anxious because look at those parents, they’re so anxious. Pediatricians, it’s just an anxious mom, calm down, give him the gift of time. We’ve gotten that a lot. And as therapists and psychologists and even psychiatrists, there’s no nomenclature to deal with parents who are coming in with children with differences.[00:10:00] A mom who calls to see her psychiatrist who’s depressed has a very different brain than a single lady who’s coming to a psychiatrist who’s depressed. Widening the lens of understanding how parents react to their children’s stresses opens up a whole new way of looking at them, which allows parents to be released from a lot of negative labels.
So, I’ve become a parent advocate. I’ve become someone to give parents a voice. And so, I talk about, in my book, I realized there’s a big story here. And so, I started to write about the different phases. I had nothing to grab onto. I grabbed onto the five phases of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s phases, which is nothing new. People have done that [00:11:00] along the way. So that is common. I don’t think that’s really innovative, but it did give me something to hang a hook on and explain common reactions that parents are having.
In your office, you’re going to see parents in a variety of different stages. And in my book, I try to normalize these stages. This is normal. And from a neuro-biological behavioral method, I explain how this is so normal, and how we can preempt it or understand it and work with it. I go through denial which is the first one. Well, I’ll actually back up. I start with what we expect when we’re expecting.
Dr. Sharp: Oh, yes.
Dr. Rita: And that’s pretty universal. We’re flooded with hormones. Both males and females are flooded with hormones. This isn’t just a female [00:12:00] biological process at all. And some of the most magnificent art has come out of those daydreams of what we expect or are expecting. I think all the Italian cupids and all of the angels, they’re all cherubs. The classic cherub. We are expecting cherubs, people.
Sooner or later, those cherubs will fall from grace and parents are going to go through different reactions, depending on the amount of differences the child may be exhibiting. It could be in utero illness. It could be postnatal. It could be somewhere down in childhood, but sooner or later, or even a typical child, nobody’s perfect. And so, I always say, to be different is to be human. Diversity is what defines the human race. And we have to change the conversation [00:13:00] and adapt our expectations to expect and embrace differences.
Dr. Sharp: Such a good point. I wish more people, well, I wish that we knew that ahead of time. And it may not make a huge difference. We have our expectations, especially with kids, and that’s hard to shake that, but just a little bit of education would have gone a long way.
I’m just thinking of our family in particular. Our first kid was way different than we expected from the beginning, from birth to infancy, to toddler, and continues to be. And I remember all those conversations back then about feeling isolated and why doesn’t anyone talk about this? We were experiencing some of those stages even back then.
Dr. Rita: The isolation is incredibly damaging. Parents tend to feel very isolated with [00:14:00] their differences. Indeed, you bring up something. There’s now a culture of fear around differences because everybody is so aware of the possibility of differences that parents are actually terrified. Oh, not making eye contact by two weeks old. Oh, do we have autism here? Terrified.
Our next leap in the 20th century is to expect the differences and accept the differences even before they’re there and say, whatever this is, we are accepting of you. We are going to love you. And we are going to give you whatever you need. Chances are this cherub is going to fall from grace. We use the biblical expression. Sooner or later, something will happen, and you’ll say, this is not what I expected. We have to change our [00:15:00] expectations to allow that to come in.
As clinicians, we have to change our expectations in terms of the parents coming in and being sane, reliable, logical historians and not dissing them for not being that way. We have to meet them where they are because, let’s be honest, there is nothing sane about parenting.
Dr. Sharp: That is so true. I want to tell a quick story just to illustrate this, and I’m sure you may have thoughts on this. I consider myself to be a relatively even-keeled person. And certainly, before we had kids, that was true. I think that’s changed.
But I remember after our son was born, our first kid, this was maybe, [00:16:00] I would say within 1 to 2 months after he was born, we lived in a two-story house. It was one of those homes where there’s a landing between the bedrooms upstairs so you can look down to the “balcony” to the living room below. It’s one of those kinds of things. And I remember carrying him from our room to his room and having clear intrusive thoughts that I was going to trip and drop him over the balcony or drop him down the stairs.
And then lo and behold, two days later, I was having intrusive thoughts about accidentally squeezing his head too tight and crushing his head as I was carrying him. And I was like, there is something very, very different happening in my brain right now that was not happening before we had this baby. I don’t know what that is. It’s a little [00:17:00] weird, but I have OCD all of a sudden, and I don’t know what to do with it.
Dr. Rita: That’s right.
Dr. Sharp: But I didn’t know to talk to anyone about it either. Since then, luckily, I’ve had conversations and other parents have validated that experience, but it was […]
Dr. Rita: It’s actually good that you didn’t talk to anybody because had you gone to your standard psychiatrist and said, I’m having these OCD. You would have gotten a diagnosis that is rooted in nothing. It’s rooted in being a parent.
Dr. Sharp: Right. That’s such a good point.
Dr. Rita: Yeah. So it’s really good you didn’t talk to anybody. That is a great example of that there is nothing normal about parenting. Your brain has completely changed. And so, imagine the pressure of a parent and plus birth itself is a trauma. For those few lovely people who have experienced a trauma-free [00:18:00] birth, God bless you. You don’t have to listen to this next part that I’m telling you.
For the vast majority, giving birth, even if the birth process itself isn’t traumatic, having a brand new newborn is incredibly traumatic, frightening, anxiety-provoking in our society. It may not have been true 100 years ago, even 50 years ago, but we are raised that people really focus on their careers. We have a very adult-centric society. We’re not living with blended multi-generational families. We come home with a newborn and we are starting from level one, ground zero. And it’s very frightening.
Now, imagine the stress of a parent who has [00:19:00] exhibiting differences, goes to the site of the pediatrician, talks about the differences and the pediatrician says, oh, I think he needs to be assessed. Trauma one, trauma two, or trauma five by then. The actual walking in to one of us to get an assessment is really frightening for many parents.
There is some, I will make a loophole, sometimes with parents who have adopted children, I have found in my experience, they’re a little less traumatized because on some level they’re less intimately, I don’t know how to explain it, but they’re a little less intimately expecting perfection. They might be expecting that there’s something and let’s find out about it. But the majority of parents and even a majority of adopted parents also, I don’t mean to say that, but there’s a level of [00:20:00] trauma in coming into our office and they’re already going through phases.
So we as clinicians, very important to widen our lens while they’re coming in and change the conversation. At the intake, changing the conversation, starting with, how are you guys? How are you doing? How are you coping right now? Let’s take the temperature of the room. And what you’re doing is you’re starting to create a bond between you and the parents, which is going to be critically important when you give feedback. They have to trust you. They have to know that you see them clearly, that you’re not being reductionistic, that you’re not judgy, that you’re on their team.
And I can talk about the hormones that play, especially with dads, there’s elevated [00:21:00] vasopressin which is a male hormone protecting the nest, protecting the roof. They found this in animal studies, elevated vasopressin. They’ve also found men with new babies are very defensive and protective. With moms, there are other hormones at play. This is not the focus of this conversation, but I touch on it a little in my book, a lot more in my newer book. But you have to take the temperature to see where they’re at. Chances are, they may not be on the same page.
Dr. Sharp: Well, I just wanted to ask, are there other ways that you do that in the room? How are you taking the temperature in that initial appointment to start to build that bond with the parents?
Dr. Rita: So, taking the temperature as I hear their story. I say, tell me your story. It’s not giving me the medical [00:22:00] records. They’ve emailed me all their medical records, which I will read over. They email me their IEPs. I read it over. But it’s like, tell me the story. What happened?
And after telling me the story, I press pause and I go, wait, hang on, because maybe they’ve told the story 100 times, or maybe it’s very new. If they haven’t told the story a lot, or they’re still in a lot of PTSD, you will see certain reactions happening. The mom will start blinking rapidly, classic PTSD- Post-traumatic recall reactions. Well, she’ll start blinking rapidly, tearing, losing focus, having a flashback.
It’s really important to talk about that and say, this is normal. Normalize it. I understand this must have been really hard. Talk about a newborn baby with the Knoxy. I rushed to the hospital at 48 days old. We’ve all heard the horrible stories, [00:23:00] but that’s why I press pause. This isn’t just a clinical retelling of information that will somehow lead to a better neuro-psych report. This is your story.
Dr. Sharp: That’s such a good point. Even that small tweak in language, that’s huge. I felt a shift within myself when I heard you say that as a parent and what that might be like. Tell me your story feels very different than what brings you in or what’s your biggest concern or something like that. There is a different quality to that.
Dr. Rita: Yeah. I have found that true. And then there are different opening questions depending on what level. We haven’t talked about phases yet, but after what we expected and the trauma, there’s denial. Denial is very normal. It’s the deer in the headlights phase where you are shut down, not integrating information [00:24:00] whatsoever.
And you will find this when parents go to their pediatrician for checkups. How many people have had the experience, they go, the pediatrician gives them advice and they leave and they don’t remember anything? Very normal. Your brain shuts down to protect itself against trauma, very normal. So a deer in headlights is normal.
Parents may come in and some of the, I hate to say some of the dads are a little more in denial than the mom sometimes because they’re in charge of the homeostasis of the household. They feel this it’s part of their vasopressin and their neuroimmune response. And they don’t want the [..] whereas women tend to be, I hate to stereotype based on gender, the main caretaker, maybe more intuitive and have a very good Geiger Counter as to [00:25:00] something is wrong.
But if they come in in denial, it’s very important to phrase things in a certain way. Like if anything, what keeps you up at 3m? Let’s talk about the worries that you might have at 3:00 AM that your morning brain tells you is not rational. You were just worried. This is the time to bring that up and maybe we can clean it up right here and now.
Some of them are like, I’m a terrible parent because I work too long. I go, okay, let’s clean that one up. We’re all working now. If everyone feels they’re terrible parents, then we’re raising a terrible generation. I think the kids will survive that. And then some will say, well, I think there might be something wrong in his development because I don’t feel a connection to him. I worry that I don’t feel connected to him. I go, okay, that’s a point we need to [00:26:00] bookmark. I’m writing it down. And pure transparency.
And education goes a long way. So a lot of parents will come in, I hate to downplay the dads for this one again, they will come in, they will not have done as much Google research as the moms on what is a neuropsychological evaluation, right? What are we going to do here? What are you going to find? So educate them. Take them through the process. I also show them my hot chocolate machine. Well, in days during in-person testing, I had a hot chocolate machine. It’s fun. We get to visit with you in the waiting room. And here are some of the tests we might be doing.
The anger phase is the one that’s the most off-putting. And if you think about it, let’s take from a deer in headlights into anger. So if you’re in the supermarket standing in line and someone steps on your toe and it hurts, [00:27:00] your initial response is, oh, why did you do that for? Luckily, we have a frontal lobe that restrains ourselves from our limbic region from just going off on the person.
But if you’re in trauma and it’s your child, and you have elevated levels of vasopressin, which is the protective Papa bear hormone going at you. You are going to shoot the messenger. And the messenger is going to be you or the teachers or that dumb pediatrician or what our society. When I was a kid, we didn’t do this. This is just ridiculous. We’ve all gone through that. We’ve all had parents like this.
Dr. Sharp: Absolutely. I can think of several right off the top of my head.
Dr. Rita: And parents get a bad rap because underneath the anger is love. [00:28:00] If we look at it from that perspective, we can change that conversation. He’s just in a phase, he or she. They’re just in a phase.
Dr. Sharp: How do you respond to that in the moment, whether this is during an intake or feedback, throughout the testing process? If you’ve got an angry parent, let’s say a dad confronting you, that shows up in any number of ways, how do you interact with him?
Dr. Rita: So it doesn’t usually happen by the end because the whole testing process, I’m interacting with these parents and I’m building a team and I’m building a mutually understandable relationship. I’m in the relationship business. And so, I might get that in the beginning and I call [00:29:00] it for what it is. I totally understand where you’re at because I do. In fact, I wrote a book about you and your response right now. I get it.
I get that underneath all that anger is feelings of protection and loving your child and worried that someone’s going to screw it up. I totally get that. And I want you to know that I’m on your team. And you tell me any time you’re feeling misjudged or that I didn’t get the information. This is really important that this process, by the time we’re done that you and me we’re on the same team.
So there’s a step there that you can’t ignore. You can’t just plow through and roll your eyes and go, oh, difficult parent. That’s so reductionistic. There are difficult people in society. What are you going to do?
Dr. Sharp: That’s true. I think a lot of people would [00:30:00] say that in those cases, there’s always something underneath, right? There’s usually an unmet need or fear or anxiety, even in “difficult people.” There’s usually a reason.
Dr. Rita: And you can do a snap readjustment. I’d be careful with that because then comes out all these insecurities and all these personal things sometimes where the person could easily take over the session with their own needs. And so, you have to put boundaries about it, but at least you’ve gotten to the place where you’ve got buy-in. Once they’re starting to share how they had such a hard childhood and everything they struggled with, you’re starting to get buy-in. My intake sessions can take a long time. They’re easily two hours.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. People who’ve listened for a while know that we do to our intakes as well. I don’t know how you can fit it into[00:31:00] an hour.
Dr. Rita: Oh, no, there’s a story here.
Dr. Sharp: I just wanted to ask, if you run into parents who bristle or throw up the quills during those initial sessions, are you almost automatically assuming that there is some trauma present in going down that path as opposed to just chalking it up to bad days, bad manners?
Dr. Rita: I never assume anything. I ask. I’m just curious. Or if one spouse is really out of control, I’ll say to the other one, is he always like this?
Dr. Sharp: Oh my goodness.
Dr. Rita: Oh yeah. Why not? Hopefully, you’re creating rapport from the first phone call. I vet on the [00:32:00] phone. From the first phone call, I’m creating a relationship. And by the end of the phone call, it’s like what we’re going to do, what we’re going to hope to do. Here’s our game plan folks, correct me if I’m wrong. So it becomes we process. Very important.
Dr. Sharp: Right. Yeah, I totally agree. So what else? We were talking about anger. I know it’s hard, but I’m going down all these tangents and asking all these questions.
Dr. Rita: After anger comes depression. Depression is universal. It’s normal. I hate to say it. We have good feelings and we have bad feelings. That’s how the human being works. We’re not perpetually happy, optimistic people. In fact, if you read about positive psychology with Marty Seligman, we know that our brain automatically goes to a negative set point if we [00:33:00] don’t work it.
Depression in parents is endemic, particularly in women. We start with postpartum depression and how poorly that’s understood; how poorly understood is the individual trauma that a biological mother goes through or a non-biological mom who is meeting this little stranger and all of a sudden it’s assumed that she’s got primary responsibility. They don’t know what to do with that.
All right. So we got depression as a clear indicator. And when a child has differences, the first thing that a mother is going to do is blame herself. I’ve got a penny jar in my office, which is [00:34:00] pretty full because just about every intake I do, sooner or later, the mom is going to say something that sounds like self-blame. I show them the jar and we put a penny in. I don’t allow any self-blame in my office. I would take it off the table. Dad’s very rarely will do this. They just have different mechanisms. But the mom, well, what did I eat during pregnancy? I have migraines. I worked. Oh, I didn’t read enough to the child when he was young. Maybe that’s why they have a reading delay.
I actually heard a teacher telling the mom that she worked too much and didn’t read enough to the child, and perhaps that’s why the child is having a reading delay. So blaming the parents is endemic to our society. And I personally will not allow that. [00:35:00] I take a very vocal stand. I’m giving parents a voice.
Dr. Sharp: What might you say in those instances? How do you take that off the table?
Dr. Rita: I say take it off the table.
Dr. Sharp: I had a feeling you were going to say that.
Dr. Rita: I hear that from every parent that comes in here, literally, almost every parent that comes in here. There’s eyesight research. I don’t think there’s any research to support not reading enough to your child with dyslexia. I don’t think so.
There’s a culture of fear out there. You have to do the right things and then your child will be perfect. And we’ve got to shatter that from the first session. This isn’t bad parenting most of the time. I mean, sometimes God knows what’s like. I don’t want to be blind to human failures as well, but we have to change the conversation about how parents are seen in our office, in the pediatrician’s [00:36:00] office, in the psychiatrist office, in the psychotherapist office. There’s no such thing as child therapy without having some interaction with the family. It can’t be.
Dr. Sharp: Yes. I’m glad we’re on the same page. You can’t see kids without parents.
Dr. Rita: I can’t finish without my very important bargaining phase. After depression comes bargaining. Maybe we missed something. And here’s where Dr. Google plays such a strong role nowadays. What is the first thing a parent’s going to do when they’re worried about a kid? They’re going to go to Google, right? I do it. You do it. You’re going to go to Google and what you find on Google is so frightening most of the time, so off [00:37:00] and sometimes it’s okay. You got to know your sources whether it’s fine.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, there’s some good stuff out there.
Dr. Rita: There is, but parents don’t always know where to look. And then I cite…
I mean, if I got one criticism for the book, it was people who felt that I sided on the side of the establishment too much.
Dr. Sharp: How so?
Dr. Rita: Well, I said, accept the standard of care first. Instead of putting your child on some whack job diet and doing all these supplements that are poorly researched, first find out what a trained clinician says. Try that first. And I cite the Charlie diet where Jim and Nancy Abrams developed the Charlie diet for their son, Charlie, who is [00:38:00] severely epileptic. And it really worked. And so, yeah, if you want to do some research, if you have the means and the funds and the tenacity to do that, go for it, but don’t turn your child into a lab rat. The mini-mall treatment centers that promise treatment for everything. We’re all…
Dr. Sharp: That doesn’t work?
Dr. Rita: Yeah.
Dr. Sharp: That’s disappointing. No, I’m totally with you.
Dr. Rita: My colleague and friend, if I could do a plug for Devon Maceachron, she writes a column called MythBusters. She’s a neuropsychologist. She may have been on the show.
Dr. Sharp: I do know Devon. Yes.
Dr. Rita: Anyone curious can definitely look at some of her MythBusters. She’s much more into citing research and [00:39:00] facts. So bargaining is endemic. I will get parents that I’ll give them the whole list and we’re on, but then they’ll email me a few weeks later and say, well, what about this vitamin. It’s tricky because it’s a little out of the scope of what we’re trained for. And it’s really tricky for us to even talk about it.
Dr. Sharp: That’s so true. I get a lot of questions like that as well. So I just want to touch on, first of all, that you see that as part of bargaining. Can I go about this a different way? Can I change this somehow than what the professional guidance is? But you’re right. That is a little bit outside the scope of our expertise in many cases. We can reflect on the research, but we’re not nutritionists or physicians.
Dr. Rita: I send them back to their pediatrician.[00:40:00] Pediatricians have been to school for a long time, devoting themselves to children’s health. We’ve been in school for a long time devoting ourselves to what we do. Why don’t you first start with us? But a lot of parents, that’s not how they roll.
And so, I beg them, don’t turn your child into a lab rat bag. But sometimes they’re right and we’re wrong. And that chapter may need rewriting at some point because we really not as know it all experts as we think we are, but we try. I mean, we know what works for dyslexia. We know that it’s systematic, intensive. We know what works. We think we know what helps autism we think, but things are out there and being discovered all the time.[00:41:00] In the book, I give sources. If you want to do research, go to your local university specialists, find someone who you can engage in research on, just don’t do it on yourself because if you’re an accountant by day, you’re not going to go home and invent the magic pill that’s going to cure your child by night. It just doesn’t work that way. Let’s be realistic.
Dr. Sharp: Good point. That is one of those things Google tends to empower people more than is appropriate sometimes. And I’m guilty of this too. I’m fully confident I can build a treehouse this weekend and I don’t know that that’s the case.
Dr. Rita: Good luck.
Dr. Sharp: Thank you.
Dr. Rita: And I think what informs my practice a little bit is humility also that I’m the first to say, parents are the experts on their child in a large sense, but we have to understand that they go through emotional [00:42:00] things that may cloud their judgment, or they need to be educated a little bit. And it’s not from a judgemental or condescending way, it’s just a team works better than a single unit, especially when you have challenges.
Dr. Sharp: So true. Are there other behaviors that might fall into the bargaining stage that you have noticed that we could be on the lookout for?
Dr. Rita: Oh yes. A lot of people bargain with God, especially people who are religious. There are no atheists in trenches, as the saying goes. When they discover religion, they will take on religious practices. They will pray. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that. It’s actually quite lovely because religious associations create community also and [00:43:00] create an accepting community. So there’s nothing wrong with that, but it can lead to some magical thinking.
I started to pray for my child three times a day and I feel that’s working. So, there’s a religious aspect to that. Another form of bargaining is you bargained with everything in your life. It can lead to a certain bit of OCD. If I do everything perfectly, it will be better for him.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, absolutely. I see that a lot.
Dr. Rita: Yeah. And then, the brain does, if we’re given the right support, ideally the brain comes to a place of acceptance. Now you can feel, by the way, these stages can happen all in one day and you can go back and forth between them also.
There [00:44:00] is something called habituation where the brain seeks homeostasis, so you will habituate to a situation. And that could be a good thing if you work it right. Honestly, when I got to the chapter on acceptance, I felt like I had a whole new book to write because I said, what do I know about acceptance? First of all, I hit a snag. I thought that was going to be the fun chapter to write. And I realized, what do I know about acceptance? I’ve been focusing on the parents and their struggles and what do I really know my acceptance is?
I’m a fighter I’ve been fighting for stuff my whole life. What does it mean to actually accept what you have, surrender to it, and know that you’re doing the best you can. So that took me just into the world of Zen-Buddhism, meditation, mindfulness, everything that we know [00:45:00] right now about whether, you can leave out Buddhism, everything that we know right now about mental health, clear, centered focus tools to provide equanimity and mental health.
Some people still are not on the bandwagon, but most people are coming on that these are tools that are very helpful for helping people come to a place of equanimity. I also write about how you can hold two feelings in your heart at the same time, it’s like two stones. You can have grief that your child will never walk or something like that, but you could also have a lot of joy. And I give a lot of anecdotes.
I’m a beach person. I was once walking on the beach, and I saw family and the kid was in some sort of contraption that they were pushing, too old for a stroller, [00:46:00] but some sort of contraption with tubes all over. And as I walked by them, I noticed that everybody was smiling. They were just emanating joy. And it really taught me something. You can find joy. For the outside world who wouldn’t expect it, but there is lots of joy in this journey of having children with differences and being able to cultivate the joy and the fun and the jokes.
There are a lot of anecdotes in my book. I did a lot of research and a lot of interviews. It taught me so much about changing your expectations so that not what I expected becomes changing your expectations. And this is what we have. This is who we are. This is what we’re doing, and we’re going to do the best job.
One more point about acceptance is that a lot of parents become experts and advocates in their fields.[00:47:00] So we talk about post-traumatic stress disorder, but in this chapter, I talk about post-traumatic growth.
Dr. Sharp: Let’s hear about that.
Dr. Rita: It’s an overlooked phenomenon that lo and behold, and we all can think of people that out of their personal experience of trauma comes growth, comes resilience, comes an expertise that they never would have cultivated had they not gone through this process. It’s not true for everybody, but it can be true for you if you work it.
And so it is possible to rise from the ashes of despair and trauma and become a leader. And then, nothing propels parents more than their child, right? And you can become a leader. Not everyone wants to be a leader. When their kid hits 18 [00:48:00] and they leave home, some people just want to kick back and chill, fine. But for a lot of people becoming a leader and an advocate, particularly people I’ve interviewed that are very well-known right in the world of differences, become leaders in spokespeople. And they never would have done this had they not been given the gift of not what they expected.
Dr. Sharp: Right. I like that reframe. And I know that there are a lot of families out there where that does happen. It becomes the fuel for sometimes a lifetime of advocacy work in supporting their kids and others.
Dr. Rita: Well said.
Dr. Sharp: That’s really amazing. I wonder, I’m trying to think how to ask this question, are you explicitly talking with parents about that? I’m just trying [00:49:00] to work through the dynamic of presenting maybe a reframe of acceptance and joy and advocacy in the face of what probably feels in the moment a really devastating diagnosis or adverse event or whatever it may be.
Dr. Rita: Very good question. Just like you take the temperature and the first session, you take the temperature in the feedback session. And PS: I never meet with them at the very end and lay a bombshell at their feet. Never. I’m always giving them hands.
If I feel I’m going to have a bombshell to give them, three quarters through the process, I go, can we have a phone call? And I discuss some of my concerns is like, I will say, some of the issues that we’re discussing or what I’m seeing may be looking like [00:50:00] autism. And I want to discuss that with you. And I want to ask you a few more questions. That’s it?
Basically, when they come in, we’re already at a different stage. I also send the parents the report the day before we’re going to meet. I don’t send it a week before. Sometimes I send it the night before and I say, reports need gentle unpacking. I’m just sending it to you in advance so that you can, if you have time to do a quick readthrough, and then you’ll be a little more prepared to come in the next day. Most parents have done a readthrough, they’ve printed it out, they’ve underlined and they’re coming in.
And so, we can elevate the conversation beyond the diagnosis to what do we do. And if we’re reading the temperature right, the final feedback can actually end up somewhat spiritual. There’s somewhat something spiritual [00:51:00] that you can do.
It’s interesting. I’m going to segue a little bit to personal experience I had. I once cut my hand by accident with a really sharp brand new knife. I ended up in the ER. I was sitting with the doctor as he stitched me up. I got this flash and I said, you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I got a flash that we’re in a partnership together because he was saying, he was talking to me as he was stitching it up. What do you think? How’s that? How’s that? And I said, does this ever feel spiritual to you that we’re like some sort of partnership? He goes, all the time. Absolutely.
And I realized that when you’re in a sacred partnership because nothing’s more sacred than raising children, and when you’re lucky enough and privileged enough to be in a sacred partnership with parents, helping them with their [00:52:00] children, there’s an act of spirituality in the feedback that, now I’m going a little overboard. People might be rolling their eyes out there. Sorry. I’m in California. […]
Dr. Sharp: We’re all good. You’re safe here.
Dr. Rita: Yeah. But it’s not just our diagnosis and do 1, 2, 3, and 4. Very important diagnosis and do 1, 2, 3, and 4, but also empowering the parents to feel a certain way is critical to making sure that 1, 2, 3, and 4 happened.
Dr. Sharp: Say more about that. When you say empowering them to feel a certain way, what way might that be that leads to following the recommendations or leaving the feedback in a better place?
Dr. Rita: Well, you can do this. You can do it. You’re good parents. [00:53:00] You were wired for this already. You don’t know it, but this is your destiny. This is good. This will work. I have confidence. And I’m very honest, I think you have a rough road ahead of you. I think this will have some real challenges here.
Sometimes there’s a mismatch in personality between a parent and a child, and I’ll call it out. Mom, you and your son see the world completely different. You have a different sensitivity. He’s highly sensitive. You’re too blunt. Dad, do you relate more emotionally to the child? Yes, I do. Okay. All right. So, mom, I want you to hear dad’s signals when to back off, but you can do this. The research shows that some of these approaches are going to help.
I talk a lot about your army. It doesn’t take a village. It takes an army and you’re [00:54:00] the CEO of your army and you’re in charge of hiring and firing. So you may hire somebody, if you don’t like that person, there’s nothing in the Bible that says you have to use that particular person. I want to empower you to make good decisions. It depends who I’m talking to really.
There are different levels of parents and different levels of sophistication and fear. Some parents need more of a handholding like, I’m going to call this person, we’re going together, set up the schedule, and some parents are willing to take it. But it’s those little details. You can’t just drop them off at the end of the bus stop and say good luck.
Dr. Sharp: Right. Such a good point. I think that brings us full circle to the beginning when we were talking about what do parents do with this information and how many outside the vast majority, maybe don’t read the report or [00:55:00] don’t follow the recommendations. They just get it and then trail away.
Dr. Rita: Well, so it’s our job, I believe not to give us more work to do, but I think a little follow-up is important and a little encouragement. I know you can do this. For example, I have a little crystal ball that was a gift from one of the most severely dyslexic kids I’ve ever worked with. I was following her since she was in 2nd grade, and she’s now a physician or about to be a physician, but I mean, severely dyslexic. You’ve never seen any. Her university tells her she used every accommodation ever created and then some. Anyway, she got me this little crystal ball.
So I show this crystal [00:56:00] ball to a lot of people and I tell them the story about the severely dyslexic little girl, anxious, lots of physical problems and she’s now a physician and specializing in XYZ, married, doing very well. It was a rough road, but you can do that, or I’ll tell them a story like that. When you’ve been in practice as long as me, I’ve got lots of stories like that- success stories. So I challenge you. You got to give them hope.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, that’s a great way to summarize it. Sending them away with hope is super important.
Dr. Rita: Yeah. And if we can learn to be less clinical and a little more empathic and human which goes really against how we retrained. The tests are complicated that we give, our analysis is complicated, our scoring system. We’ve got so [00:57:00] much to do, but when we’re with a human being, we have to be human.
Dr. Sharp: Right. This is really good. As we start to wrap up, and just time has gone by really fast, it makes me think a lot of this seems to overlap with some of the stuff that Karen Postal talks about like making room in the feedback session for grief, for depression, for let it go, give yourself permission to do some “therapy” with what families. We got to get away from the numbers and the percentiles and connect with our parents and hopefully instill some hope.
Dr. Rita: Right. The problem is a lot of parents in the feedback [00:58:00] session are still in deer in headlights.
You’re not going to get that grief. You’re not going to get the kinds of responses that they might have 36 hours later.
Dr. Sharp: Right. Talking about follow-up, do you have any processes in place where you formally follow up with parents after a week, a month, three months, after a feedback session?
Dr. Rita: I should.
Dr. Sharp: I should too.
Dr. Rita: I do have a week after. It depends on the case. Usually, they’re going to get in touch with me because I’ll say, by August we should meet at school and go over the child’s program for the following year. Usually, they’ll get in touch with me, but not necessarily. And yeah, it would be really good to have a calendar. When you go through so many cases, you lose track, but it would be, yes, thank you. There’s always room for improvement.[00:59:00] Yeah, checking on them a month later, but not asking how are you?
Dr. Sharp: Okay. What would you say instead?
Dr. Rita: I haven’t thought about it how to. Normally, it’s just very intuitive for me. I go back to who they are and what’s going on and say, how’s it been going? How have those remediations I sent you been going? Do you have any questions about them? Is there anything you want to talk to me about? I’ve also developed a program for parents that want to work with me a little more short term, I don’t believe in dual interests, so I’m not going to, even if they bag, but I do therapy or whatever. I’d like not, but I’ll do a short-term like four weeks follow-up in terms of really troubleshooting and putting things in place and [01:00:00] just support.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. I love that. And I asked that question as a suggestion of something to do differently. I’ve thought about it so much. We don’t do that in our practice either right now in any formal way, but I’ve thought about it so many times how it would be nice to have some follow-ups too. So maybe we can both think on it.
Dr. Rita: We can brainstorm. I offer follow-up sessions for parents to come in. I always do. And it’s their choice, whether they want to take me up on it. It’s extra financially. And so, they feel they’ve already spent for the child.
Let’s see how it goes.
Dr. Sharp: Of course. That’s fair. Well, I know we’ve talked through a lot of information and you just got me thinking more deeply about this process and [01:01:00] how to support parents and connect with parents and really, really tap into their story, like you said, in a way that we maybe haven’t done so far.
Dr. Rita: I’m so glad. If I can do anything to change the way that testing psychologists work with the family and see the child is just the stone and the ripple of the pond rather than the Boulder that they just have to focus on, it would help the process greatly.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. This is just another time, I’ve thought this a couple of times during our interview, but there’s a lot of overlap it seems like with the therapeutic assessment approach from the things that you’re mentioning. There’s a lot of overlap there.
Dr. Rita: Yeah. I listened to that and I thought, oh, wow. Yeah, there’s a lot of overlap for sure. Her level one, two, and three and the different levels. I would phrase them in [01:02:00] phases, but her level of dissonance is definitely important.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. It’s cool. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that y’all’s episodes are coming close together, at least temporarily for me. I know the release and how they might come up, how they might relate, as far as releasing them might be different, but the fact that they’re coming so close together is important
Dr. Rita: Interesting.
Dr. Sharp: Message to pay attention to.
Dr. Rita: Totally.
Dr. Sharp: Well, before we wrap up, Rita, any other resources, of course, aside from your own book, which will be in the show notes? Anything else that listeners might want to tune into to go down this path?
Dr. Rita: Other than my book?
Dr. Sharp: Another way to phrase it, if they want to get in touch with you, are you open to questions or responses? And if so, how do they [01:03:00] find you?
Dr. Rita: Absolutely. My website is, www.drritaeichenstein.com, and then email me through my website. I’d be delighted to field questions. I know there are people on the east coast that are actually running groups, parent groups based on my book, and I’ve had some interest in developing a workbook based on it, but no time yet. And again, had I found good resources, I probably wouldn’t have written my book, but the fact is that we’re not finding a whole lot out there. If you’re interested in research, there’s some very interesting research going on which I could tell you about in terms of the developing parent brain and things like that that are going on.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. That’d be great. We can coordinate offline here. Send me [01:04:00] anything you might have. I’d love to put those in as well.
Dr. Rita: Great.
Dr. Sharp: Cool. Oh my gosh. Thank you so much for the time and for talking through this.
Dr. Rita: It’s been fantastic. I’m so happy to be able to connect with my people, my colleagues, the testing psychologists folks that we deal with because this is really important.
Dr. Sharp: It sure is. And I love that. I feel like it brings… I’m just fascinated about ways to bring more depth to the work that we do and take it beyond the numbers. And this is just another of those instances. So, thank you so much for that opportunity.
Dr. Rita: My pleasure.
Dr. Sharp: Okay. Thank you so much for listening to my episode with Dr. Rita Eichenstein. I hope that you took a lot away from this as always. Rita has a really interesting way of conceptualizing parenting. And it certainly resonated with me. I’d imagine it resonated with some of you as well and [01:05:00] could resonate with many of your clients and families. Like I said, her book is fantastic. I would definitely recommend checking that out. You can always find out more about Rita and her work on her website.
Okay. Let’s see. No housekeeping items or major announcements for this week. All I will say is if you are not a member yet of the testing psychologist community on Facebook, I wouldn’t encourage you to check that out. You can search for it in the Facebook search bar. It should be easily found. We have about 6500 psychologists in there just talking about testing, business cases, and so forth. And it’s a great area for discussion.
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All right. Y’all take care. Do good work. Talk to you next time.