What Do a Mango Tree and Child Therapy Have in Common? By Lawrence Rubin, PhD, ABPP on 7/2/18 - 5:06 PM

I am from Brooklyn. While a tree might have grown there for someone else, it certainly did not do so for me. A few shrubs here and there, some weeds poking up in the cement cracks perhaps, but nothing more verdant than that. I was thrilled, upon moving to my current home in Florida to have a mango tree on my property.

Everything I ever needed to know about therapy I’ve learned from that mango tree…but more about that in a bit. Each year like clockwork, the tree blooms, fruits, sheds and ultimately yields. And each year like clockwork, I worry that for a variety of reasons, it will not actualize its mission. And each harvest season, I must remind myself that this magnificent living thing has its own rhythm, its own wisdom and needs me there simply as a witness, unassuming caretaker and gentle guide.

In similar cyclical fashion, right around this time for the last two years, I received a call from Jamie’s parents. “Hi Larry”, says Tom, Jamie’s dad, “Jamie just finished 4th grade and asked to see you; he misses you.” Tom went on to describe how his creative, playful and precociously intelligent and self-aware child had flourished and evolved despite the challenging climate of public school. Now, a rising fifth-grader, Jamie was again expressing anxiety over leaving the familiar landscape of fourth grade.

I first met Jamie when a mere sprig of a second-grader, who at the time was nervous at home and at school, fearful of making mistakes, prone to clashes with his parents and the occasional classmate as well as very sensitive to criticism. Our therapeutic play was at his pleasure, not my design, as I believed a client-centered approach best fit his growing needs. I trusted that through his drawing, role-plays, arts-and-crafting as well as popular culture-based story telling that he would play out exactly what he needed to express; and that my non-directive feedback would provide whatever additional insight he might have needed.

It was now two and-a-half years later, and there stood Jamie in the middle of my therapeutic playroom, surveying all the possibilities before him. Without flinching, he quickly went to work; reminding the bobo doll who was boss, animating a group of hand puppets in lively conversation about fears, worries and confidence, and finally turning to me saying “I’m done, let’s go talk to my parents about why they brought me here.”

And so it was! This little mango tree named Jamie told me exactly what he wanted and needed, reminding me of my role and its limitations while imparting a simple lesson that applies to mango trees and child therapy alike. Trust in their wisdom, potential to grow and ability to tell you exactly what they need. The measure of the bounty will be its own reward.  

File under: The Art of Psychotherapy, Musings and Reflections, Child & Adolescent Therapy