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May 6, 2012

Shall I take my son to a psychologist?


Dear Asad,

I am a 37 years old widow with four kids, living in Dubai. My late husband passed away around seven years ago. He had a heart attack while watching TV one evening with my eldest son who was nine years old. He died on the spot – in front of my son.  Obviously this was a tremendous loss for us all and we were devastated. But my son, who witnessed his father die in front of his eyes, took it the hardest. To date he has not recovered from the shock. He acts and behaves normally but has acquired serious behavioural issues, both at school and home. He has become extremely aggressive towards his younger siblings and shouts at them and beats them up regularly. This in turn has led to his siblings being afraid of him now. When he is in the house they try to stay away from him. Their fear of him is now beginning to negatively affect their behavior too. They have become stressed and fearful. They don’t want to be near him at all. They hover around me when I am at home with them and don’t want to be left alone with their elder brother.

In school, it’s even worse. He has lost all interest in studies. He has become unruly and aggressive there too. He gets in trouble daily at school and I often am called to his school because of his troublesome behavior. He is disrespectful to his teachers and tries to bully other kids. This more often than not leads to fights between him and other students, many of whose parents have rightfully lodged strict complaints against him. As he has been studying at this school since kindergarten, they know about the passing away of his father and how he was traumatised by experiencing his father’s death.  They have been very caring and supportive but now even they have grown exasperated and have given a final warning that he would be expelled if he got into any more trouble.

I simply don’t know what to do with him now. I have tried everything. I have tried talking to him lovingly, I have tried being strict, I have involved his grandparents, I also involved his teachers but nothing has worked. I now have been advised by a very close friend that it might help if I take him for professional counseling to a psychologist but I am not comfortable with that. Considering taking my son to a psychologist makes me feel as if he’s mad or something. He is not mad. He is just disturbed. I really don’t want to take him to a psychologist but my friend advises it very strongly. What do you suggest? What should I do? Will taking him to a psychologist help? And what about the stigma associated going to a psychologist in our society? I really am confused. I don’t know what to do.

Confused Mother

Dear Confused Mother,

You definitely must have had and still must be going through a tough time after the passing away of your husband. I am sorry to hear about how your eldest son witnessed the death of his father at such a young age. No doubt, it has traumatised him exceedingly. It seems, by your description of his behaviour and actions, that he has been unable to overcome that experience. It’s still very much inside him and most probably will always remain there. But what needs to be done is to find a way for him to deal with it and try to overcome it so he could move on with his life without feeling traumatised.

I totally agree with the suggestion of your friend about taking your son to a psychologist. That would hopefully be good for him. A psychologist would be able to help your son in ways that you or anyone else has so far not been able to do so. Psychologists are educated and trained to deal with issues like this. They have greatly benefited people who have been traumatised in one way or the other after a tragedy, something which your son is going through. Psychologists help people in letting go and moving on with their lives in a positive manner.

As for your reservations about the social stigma associated with psychologists, I don’t agree with that. That might have been true a couple of decades ago, and that too in a few narrow-minded societies, but it no longer holds true. It’s only your thinking that makes you believe that. I would urge you, as a mother, to rise above that and help out your son by taking him to a psychologist.

Besides, what’s more important to you? That your son recovers completely from the tragic experience of seeing his father pass away before his life and live a normal life? Or the fact that you believe it’s a matter of shame or mental illness that one visits a psychologist? Do him and yourself a favour and take him to a psychologist.

All the best!


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