10 Years Later – A Decade-Long Success Story

Mother’s Mental Health Journey

Ten years ago, Zac was just five years old. An out-of-control child diagnosed with OCD and high anxiety. He was unhappy, frustrated and cried a lot. He had tantrums and loud screaming sessions – at home, at school, in the car, in the streets of their small town (Banff, Alberta). He and his family were in crisis. Their relationships were strained.

They had some help through their local mental health services and their school, but it was not enough.

The ultimate crescendo came when Zac had an “extreme meltdown” on a downtown sidewalk that left his mother Elissa at a loss for what to do — so she picked him up and walked directly to her doctor’s office. Her doctor immediately called her husband to come to pick Zac up and then admitted Elissa to the hospital, feeling that she had experienced a complete mental breakdown. He was right. The entire family had been taken “hostage” by Zac’s relentless outbursts and threats stemming from his anxiety disorder and OCD tendencies.

Elissa had reached her breaking point. They needed a plan to navigate their realities and gain control over their daily lives.

This is when Strongest Families Institute (SFI) got involved. Then Coach Katie Nickerson spent over six months taking them through two of SFI’s programs, which helped his parents more effectively manage his behaviour and another that addressed Zac’s anxiety and OCD. Along with regular homework and specific exercises, the family had weekly meetings with Coach Katie via telephone. Throughout the weekly sessions, Zac had come to trust and admire Katie. Once their sessions ended, he created a wonderful piece of art for her and invited her to his SFI graduation party.

Mother's Mental Health Journey

The family found the first few sessions very challenging. Elissa and her husband had to change their parenting approach completely while learning how to address their son’s negative (and positive) behaviours. Zac, too was discovering and practicing strategies to temper his frustration and outbursts.

“We called the techniques ‘magic tricks’. They had a huge impact on how our son responded to directions. Tasks like putting on his shoes or brushing his teeth suddenly became easy.”

And as the family progressed through the programs, which are based on cognitive behaviour therapy, the changes kept coming. “The strategies had a snowball effect. Zac’s behaviour improved each week, and he gained more control over his emotions.”  After several months, he had learned many ways to face his fears and manage his anxiety.

“The program helped us repair our family bonds to the point where we could enjoy excursions together like trips to the zoo or weekend getaways. Our son was very proud of all he had accomplished and one day exclaimed, ‘We are a Strongest Family, aren’t we, Mommy!’”

That was in 2012.

Today – 10 years later – and Zac is an active, well-adjusted 15-year-old. He is an avid ‘big mountain’ skier and regularly competes on the hills at Lake Louise. This is Zac’s outlet. Doing tricks in the sky is when he feels free of anxiety and OCD. He is a strong, social student with excellent grades and has his sights set on becoming a professional art therapist, so he can help others work through their mental health challenges.

“He is growing into an incredible young man,” says Elissa. “Zac still has challenges, but with accommodations at school, ongoing therapy, and SFI strategies he has come to trust, his life has become manageable. He can work through any emotionally dysregulated time.”

Elissa firmly believes that SFI’s programming provided the foundation for his success. “His needs continue to evolve as he goes through different life stages, but our work with Coach Katie and Strongest Families has been long-lasting.”

“Ten years ago, we were feeling out of control and hopeless. Today we are a stable family unit with a future full of promise and opportunity. Katie’s warmth and dedication helped save our family and repair broken bonds. I feel so thankful that we connected with Strongest Families at such a pivotal point in our lives.”