Collaborative Problem Solving Important Information for Parents

In the last two decades, traditional wisdom about what was best for children and what was considered normal and natural behavior, gradually disappeared and became unfashionable. While caregivers were once encouraged to look for the causes of children’s social and emotional problems, to be firm and enforce appropriate behaviors, today they are told that behaviors, such as temper tantrums, inattention, sad or anxious feelings, may be symptoms of an illness or mental disorder, and need treatment, more often with drugs.

Overnight it seemed, the public began to be inundated with news stories telling them that their children were suffering from an ever-increasing number of mental disorders, such as ADHD, “depression”, “generalized anxiety disorder,” “bipolar disorder “and many others. This new way of looking at children’s behaviors was not based on any objective medical tests, x-rays or scientific evidence of brain abnormality, yet doctors have been writing a staggering amount of behavior and mood-altering medications to millions of children and adolescents, medications that are not risk-free, such as stimulants, antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs to millions of children and adolescents.

What is a parent to make of this new trend and is it really healthy?

Contrary to media reports, this experiment has in fact put millions of children on a path to lifelong illness. In his book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, Robert Whitaker describes the results of numerous clinical studies which show that medicating children with behavior and mood-altering drugs does more harm than good. -1

Collaborative Problem Solving: A Non-Drug Approach?

If you are like most parents, you may resist the idea of medicating your child. In that event, you may be guided by well-meaning professionals to try a collaborative problem-solving approach with your spirited child. This parenting program is advertised as one of the ten best treatment programs to help parents prevent the development of mental disorders and learn healthy skills. The program, which was developed by Ross Greene, a psychologist, has been widely marketed throughout North America as the “classic parenting guide” to parents, teachers and mental health professionals,

The program appears harmless at first glance but upon close examination, you will notice that Greene’s deceptive use of language disguises his real intent. Caregivers need to beware, particularly if their child has been described as “irritable”, “cranky”, “obsessive “, emotionally reactive”, “hyperactive” or “grouchy”, because Greene promotes psychiatric medications for these children, as you will learn by examining the finer details of this program.

The Program

Greene outlines three ways or options that adults can use to handle unmet expectations, referred to as Plan A, Plan B and Plan C.

In Plan A, parents are advised to stop using firm commands, time-outs, stickers, rewards or punishment because they don’t work with explosive kids. Why? Greene says it is because they have not learned the developmental skills necessary to deal with solving problems. He then recommends the use of the option, Plan B, in which the adult and child are to work together, collaborate, and agree to behave differently to solve problems.

In Plan C, which may come before Plan B is actually worked on, parents are advised they may have to momentarily drop their demands for such out of control behaviors, as hitting, swearing, throwing things, and punching holes in the wall, for the sake of avoiding a bigger melt down. Greene suggests these problematic behaviors can be solved later in Plan B, supposedly by a “friendly giant” who is to enlist the child as a joint partner in a collaborative or cooperative problem solving meeting.

The problem with Greene’s Collaborative Solving approach is that no amount of negotiating or collaborating will work for children and youth who have not had their basic living needs met or for those who have been allowed to do as they please. Children are not little adults and, like all humans, want to do things in their own way. Many children are experts in manipulation. In fact, some adults, who have had few restrictions on their bad behavior as children, have learned that they can get their way by engaging in threats, lying, bullying others, name calling or deceiving others of their real intentions. No amount of collaboration will work with these behaviors.

Extra Help

Chapter 9 in Greene’s book, The Explosive Child, is where you learn what is hidden behind the promotion of the Collaborative Problem Solving program. On page 176, the reader is told by Greene that some challenging kids need a “little extra help” to participate in Plan B, namely behavior and mind-altering psychiatric medications. Greene says that some kids are so emotionally reactive, irritable, impulsive or short fused that Plan B needs to be supplemented with ADHD medications, antidepressants and even a class of the most disabling medications, antipsychotic drugs, such as Risperdal and Abilify.

Greene fails to mention that these medications can paradoxically cause a number of disruptive behaviors in children, such as aggression, tantrums, mania, psychosis, hallucinations, sedation, suicidal ideations and long-term illness.

Hidden Conflicts of Interest

Greene has worked in the same department with Joseph Biederman, an influential psychiatrist, and chief of Pediatric Pharmacology at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Biederman was responsible, more than any other psychiatrist, for fueling the view that ADHD and pediatric bipolar disorder in children are “serious brain diseases,” although the American Psychiatric Association has had to admit that no genetic or brain pathology has ever been found for any disorder.

Unknown to parents, Greene received funding from Eli Lilly and Company and co-authored multiple research articles with Biederman claiming that stimulants and other psychiatric medications were effective and safe in children. In 2008, an investigation into big pharma’s influence on psychiatric research found that Joseph Biederman had accepted 1.6 million dollars to promote hazardous drugs to children on behalf of over a dozen drug companies, including the creation of a market for “pediatric childhood bipolar disorder” for Johnson and Johnson, and recommending treatment with anti-psychotic drugs, such as Risperdal, in children as young as two. The known dangerous side effects of antipsychotic drugs, in particular, excessive weight gain, hypersomnia and tics, were ignored by this influential doctor.

While Greene was later terminated from the hospital over a dispute on the ownership of the CPS approach, a Think: Kids, program in the psychiatric department at Massachusetts General Hospital, continues to use the principles in the Collaborative Problem Solving approach with parents, teachers and community professionals, under the direction of Stuart Ablon, a former student of Greene’s.

The Collaborative Problem-Solving approach is nothing more than a marketing tool to expand the use of psychiatric drugs in children and adolescents. Parents and other caregivers should avoid the CSP program and any mental health professional who suggests their child needs behavior or mood medication. There are many traditional parenting programs at local libraries which are helpful. Look for books that put parents back in control of their children’s health and behavior.

1- Whitaker, Robert, Anatomy of an Epidemic, 2010.