adoption, family

College For Our Prodigal?


There were many years where we questioned if Marcus would finish high school. He HATED it. He couldn’t stand the authority, the lack of choices, and the reading. He had an IEP in school and finally graduated through a specialized night program. He now has a full diploma, as opposed to a GED. Marcus is the first one in his biological family to graduate high school. I saw his cognitive testing scores once, when he was a junior. It came as no surprise to me that his IQ was high. He was rather shocked at the time.

Now, Marcus is twenty. He has choices. There used to be four things he despised in life: lack of choices, therapists, police, and hospitals. He would avoid all of those things if possible. As a foster kid “in the system” he had no choices. Marcus was moved wherever and whenever often without much notice.

He was frequently in what is known as “intensive foster care.” This means he was the only child in a specialized foster home as part of a program for troubled youth. He was assigned a number of therapists. He had no choice in this. Some of them dug too deep, too fast. Some of them made what he perceived to be disparaging comments about his biological family. None of them ever got Marcus to talk. Ever.

Recently he started to mention college and my mother and I got really excited. As a retired English teacher (and the best one there ever was!) my mom started to make plans. Marcus is most likely dyslexic so reading is hard, but he has learned strategies to compensate. She suggested a program where he could utilize speech-to-text to write his papers. Nana offered to tutor him through the English classes. I could help him with Psychology. If he chooses this path, he will not walk it alone.

Over the last few months Marcus has hovered around the periphery of our therapy appointments. He has asked a lot of insightful questions about his sister, Mary. He thinks she may be able to find a way to release her anger the way he uses his punching bag. Still, Marcus would never come into the sessions. He just sat in the car until we finished and then went to dinner as a family. Once he actually sat in the waiting room. However, he avoided eye contact with L, our children’s longtime trauma therapist.

Imagine my shock when Marcus approached me last week and asked what he would need to do to become a therapist. Luke assumed he wanted to be a physical therapist at first. When Marcus clarified for us he said, “No, I want to be a therapist to help kids in the system. I want to help kids that are like me.”

Tears. I cannot help it. This kid will make me cry. Every. Single. Time. So we took him to see L. He got dressed up in his brand new purple polo shirt, new purple Nikes embroidered with his name, and his purple sushi socks. I’m pretty sure that it was a professional look despite the ski cap he likes to keep on his head. He announced, “I’m ready for therapy. I’m in my party clothes!”

I went in with him to talk to L about his possible career path. Keeping in mind that he has never spoken to a therapist, I felt that just getting him into the office was a feat! I should have remembered how magical L is with what she does. Somehow her humor and casual demeanor drew him out of his protective shell. As soon as she settled into her chair with her legs tucked under her (I usually take my shoes off in her cozy office) he laughed and started talking. L has this effect on people. In the past he would stare at the ground with his arms crossed and tell the therapist to “f**k off!”

Not this time. He got some great career counseling and advice. L was open and honest about the fact that he would need to go through about six more years of school. She gave some information about the TF-CBT model she practices. L spoke about how trauma responses physically affect the body. To my astonishment Marcus spoke openly about some of his own triggers and some coping skills. L encouraged him and agreed that having a therapist who had experienced foster care and trauma could relate to clients. She also pointedly told him that he would really have to address him own stuff before working with others. If not, it could trigger him.

So he agreed to go back for at least two more sessions to work on his own stuff. Amazing. When I paid the bill he saw what kind of money he could possibly make. I just saw that any amount of money would be worth it for Marcus to finally get some support, or maybe insight, in therapy.

So, will he go to college? Maybe. I don’t know. Marcus has come so very far. The sky is the limit for him.

What I do know is that two therapy sessions is a win. And I am so proud.


**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.




13 thoughts on “College For Our Prodigal?

  1. skinnyhobbit says:

    Would it be too early to tell dear Marcus that good therapists, especially trauma therapists, go to therapy when needed, including regularly to work on their own stuff and self care? 🙂

    Such a win that he went in with you and talked to L!

    TF CBT is also not the only model, he’s got options should he ever want to work on his stuff at a deeper level than 2 sessions.

    My country uses Trauma Systems Therapy for kids in therapeutic group homes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you I am going to look into that! Yes, he seemed receptive to regular Therapy but he’s starting with 2 sessions. You always have great advice. Do you mind if I ask which country you are in? Trauma Systems Therapy isn’t something I’ve heard of before. I’m interested.

      Liked by 1 person

      • skinnyhobbit says:

        Sure, I’m in Singapore 🙂 Trauma Systems Therapy is a systemic therapy which involves the community around the child / teen.

        Chronic issues due to complex trauma can be hard to treat, especially as the kids or teens have experienced repeated abuse.

        I’m glad Marcus is dipping his toes into therapy, and I’m glad he hit it off well with L! Even if he just has a couple of sessions with L, I believe that it’ll be an important positive thing given his history with other therapists! It seems like L can engage him where he’s at, and also very major that he was the one wanting to go in this time rather than being mandated. Choice is so important. Also I feel so amazed and pleased that he’s thinking of college because it means he’s starting to believe he has a future ahead of him! Many people who’ve survived abuse have a sense of “foreshortened future” where they don’t believe they’ll live long, or have a good future ahead. I believe that as Marcus continues seeing the healing the other kids have achieved with L, he’ll continue to have hope for himself 🙂

        You’re always so kind in your comments to me, and it doesn’t go unnoticed! *blush*

        Liked by 1 person

      • skinnyhobbit says:

        *hugs* it’s something I and my partner (he grew up abused too) and a lot of survivors struggle with. It’s huge, really huge that Marcus is thinking of a career and college. As he talks to you all about it, I’m guessing he might eventually share doubts about his ability to handle college, grad school…all things his bio family won’t have the experience or knowledge to help with since he’s the first to graduate high school. You strike me as middle class (sorry if I’m wrong!) and there’s a lot of things middle class know about school.which working class don’t often know because so many working class youth drop out of school to work. Things like how to study effectively, getting along with competitive students, contact with professors, how to pay for those expensive textbooks or get second hand…so many things. So be realistic, hear his doubts, offer advice etc, and keep on loving him!


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