Remark by counselor on sadness - "Are there guns in the house?"

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I want to ask my fellow caregivers for their Alzheimer's Disease advise. My 84 year old mother with AD has been living with us for 1.5 years and she has been declining. She and my family have had a difficult situation for a long time, but I managed to at least find a place in my home to protect her. She is in Stage 6, and I am getting pressure to put her in a nursing home. In the meantime, my wife wanted us to talk to a counselor about our feelings. This is a woman counselor who apparently helps people on Alzheimer's issues. I did alone, and then with my wife. My wife has less emotional impact on this, and she and the counselor were asking me what was giving me pause, and mostly it has been that I don't think my mother is at a mental state of degradation in terms of agitation, where she would readily fit in, based on the other tours I have been to. But they kept pushing me on my feelings about, and of course, as any human being who loves their parent is, I am sad about it. I told them how painful it was to watch your mother "die a little every day, losing her identity," and I couldn't help but cry a little. When the session was over, I had to go to the bathroom down the hall, because I had just got off work, and rushed over to make this appointment. When the female counselor was there with my wife, she asked my wife "are there any guns in the house?" I NEVER said anything that would inspire such an extreme response, and in fact, I am an anti-gun person. Now, I cannot tell you how offended I am by this insult behind my back. I have a right to be sad, I have a right to grieve, the ongoing loss of my mother, just like I would any member of my family. I keep it in check, I do my job, I support my family, I care for my mother, and I do a lot more. I am a healthy, responsible, competent adult. I don't think I should go to with my wife to a counselor, who asks me my feelings, to hear behind my back "are there any guns in the house."

The one time I open up face to face with someone, and this is what I get. It is not fair. I don't want to go back to someone who will disrespect me like that. Do you agree, or do you think I am making too much of this remark? I am incredibly offended by the callous nature of this comment.

29 Comments

3930 helpful answers
Hi Jeffrey,
I'm so glad you wrote - and no I don't think you are overreacting. I'd be furious, too. It could be that the counselor was just covering all the basis to protect herself, but from what you said you are understandably sad and you should be able to say that without the counselor thinking your are suicidal.

Some counselors are better than others. That's just a human fact. Also, some are better with one type of person and others are better with a different type. My suggestion would be that if you and your wife seek more counseling (and that is a find idea) you find a different counselor.

Meanwhile, please keep coming back here for support.
Take care,
Carol
Huh?

Why is that question offensive? Every time I see the psychiatric nurse for depression she asks if I have had thoughts of harming myself or ending my life. I have never been suicidal in my life, but I am not offended by the question. It seems appropriate to me. I am not suicidal. You are not suicidal. But some people are.

Of course you have a right to grieve. Mourning for the many losses we go through as our loved ones decline is normal. Mourning isn't the same as depression. But persons in mourning can also be depressed. And persons with depression CAN (but not necessarily do) have suicidal impulses.

I can't figure out why the question seems disrespectful to you. I think you should see this counselor again and ask her to explain the question she put to your wife. Hear her perspective before you throw in the counseling towel.

Wow! Breathe!

Yes, this is having less of an emotional impact oh her than on you, because it is your mother that is the focus of concern.

Evidently, your mother's doctor has diagnosed her as being in stage 6 which is the stage of severe decline and means there is need constant supervision and that frequently requires professional care like a nursing home. She's in the stage where agitation and wandering can happen at any time.

Thus, I don't think the comment about are there any guns in the house had anything to do with you personally. I think it was a precautionary question the counselor thought needed to be asked given the stage of Alzheimer's that your mother is in. Remember, we are talking about the disease and what it does to people. Thus, you have to cover all of the possible bases.

I think you need to continue to work through your feelings with a therapist. Keeping them all bottled up is not healthy or helpful. It sounds to me like your emotional circuit board is overloaded and needs some down time.

This is a tough time right now with the decline of your mother and your anticipatory grief which is all part of the process. You will make it through this.

Take care and keep in touch.
Another aspect to this topic is that you did not hear the question directly but from your wife. I am not suggesting that your wife was trying to be inaccurate, but you did not get the full context, tone of voice, and how this fit into the conversation. The question no doubt upset your wife and what she passed on to you would be colored by that.

I do think that even if you decide to change counselors you should put this topic to rest by one more visit to discuss the question and your reaction to it. You may decide, "She's a bad counselor." or "She's a jerk," or "Oh, I see where she was coming from," or something else, but I don't think you should let this fester. Opening up about your feelings is necessary in counseling; you shouldn't feel disrespected for doing so.
It's a hot topic, the question of sadness/depression/self-harm/violence, because of recent tragedies, and the counsellor was probably ticking a box. It's like when I ring our national health advice line and have to plod through all the questions on "is she breathing? Is she conscious? Is she a danger to herself or others?" before we can get on to the subject at hand, which is usually something like "she spat out her medicine but I can't tell how much, do I repeat the dose or not?"

Awful things happen which at the time are unexpected, but afterwards anyone who could have prevented them by being more alert to remote possibilities will a) feel terrible and b) often get blamed. So they check. That's all.

If I'd overheard that remark, I think I'd have answered the counsellor for myself, ideally keeping my sense of humour. Something like "no, and I wasn't thinking of cutting my wrists or stabbing anyone, either."

But I feel for you. With the stress and sadness in your life at the moment, you must feel very tender all over and I don't for a second blame you for feeling offended by this the counsellor's question to your wife. But don't stop going either. Apart from anything else, you should tell the counsellor how you feel about her lack of candour with you - air it. You'll feel better.
3930 helpful answers
Good point, Jeannegibbs, in asking the counselor about her thought process. However, if I saw a counselor out of grief or sadness and he or she automatically asked if there was a gun in the house, I think I'd feel that the counselor didn't understand me very well. Maybe that can't be expected on the first visit, so you may be right. But I do understand Jeffrey feeling offended and misunderstood. He was talking about being sad and the the counselor made the jump to suicide.

Jeffrey, maybe you came across to the counselor as depressed more than sad and that's why she made that comment. Or maybe that is part of her training - to think suicide until proven otherwise. One session often isn't enough to know.

I don't mean to imply that anyone should give up counseling. But I do know, from the experiences with a loved one who suffers from major depression, that counselors and the people that they work need to be matched. That doesn't mean a counselor is bad if the match isn't good - it just means that personalities or techniques or a combination of the two aren't working. As I said above, one session often isn't enough to figure this out.

Anyway, Jeannegibbs, as always, made some valid points. There's never any doubt when she answers we need to think what she said.

Carol
Thanks for your comments. cmagnum - no it wasn't about my mother. A really good day would be when my mother cut use a zipper or button a button, let alone use a weapon. I had talked to the counselor one on one before on the details of my mother's situation. She waited until I was down the hall in the bathroom to ask this question. She chose not to ask me to my face. She is a "transition counseler" with a role to help families struggling with Alzheimers, not a psychiatrist.
I'm sorry that she did not wait until you were back to ask that question.

Unfortunately, we no longer live in the day when psychiatrist do any counseling. They just hand out medicine often based on the therapist's input, but not always.

Take care of yourself.
Jeffrey, a book that helped me a lot during my journey with my husband through his ten years of dementia is "Loving Someone Who Has Dementia" by Pauline Boss. She writes about "ambiguous loss" -- the grief we feel when our loved one is there but not there. It applies to situations like POWs, where the person is gone but there is no body, and like dementia, where the person is not fully present but there is no death. It is a very helpful concept. It is definitely OK to be in mourning in these situations. Reading the book helped me understand my own feelings.
I don't think the question was in any way offensive especially as it is your own mother and you were visibly distressed during the visit. She did not want to upset you or give you any ideas by asking you the question outright. Men do not show their emotions as readily as women and she may have felt that as you became tearful that you were more deeply depressed than you were admitting and asked the question of your wife to reassure herself there was no iminent danger to you. i am not in anyway suggesting that you do not have reason to feel unhappy with the looming death of your mother and the day by day changes you have to observe but it is all a matter of a professional's perception.
Are you feeling pressure to place your mother in a N/H. Many people do feel very guilty about having to do that to a loved one. If it is in the best interests of the entire family and the elder will be well cared for then it is in the best interests of everyone especially as the surviving family will have to pick up the pieces and carry on after the loved one dies.
The therapist may have not been in pratice for very long and could have misread your reactions or perhaps she just is not the right therapist for you. the first meeting is always a good time for both client and therapist to size eazch other up and decide if they can work with each other. Try someone different if you don't want to go back. Go alone or with your wife whatever feels comfortable to you.
Does your wife mind caring for your mother? did they have a good relationship prior to Mom's illness? perhaps she is simply worn out and feels she is always stuck in the house with MIL while you get a break every day going off to work. This sounds like a simple reaction to an inappropriate question but I suspect there is more behind it than that and it may be helpful if you feel like it to share more background. We are here to help. Blessings

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