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Counseling Case: Helen Robinson

Helen Robinson is a 43-year-old Caucasian woman who came to counseling due to problems in her marriage. Helen holds an MFA in playwriting from Yale. She is married, and she and her husband Steve have three children. She met Steve while she was attending Yale and he was working in New York City as a bond trader. Steve is 48 years old and grew up in suburban New Jersey. The three children are a ten-year-old boy (Luke), a twelve-year-old girl (Grace), and a fourteen-year-old boy (Charlie).

Helen grew up in suburban Chicago. Her parents Sarah and William are a nurse and medical doctor who met while serving in the Korean War. William is 82 and Sarah is 77. Sarah and William are quietly religious. They are retired, living most of the year in Chicago. They raised five children in a loving but not very demonstrative family. Their oldest child is Helen's sister, Mary Grace, who is 48. Next oldest in this family is Elizabeth ("Betsy"). She is 45. Helen is the third child. The fourth is another daughter, Tess, 40 years old. The youngest child is a son, Will. He is 38.

Helen's family of origin had the appearance of the "perfect" family. Her dad was a very successful surgeon, but he was not encouraging or involved in the children's lives on a daily basis. Her mom was loving and steady yet also somewhat reserved, perhaps more concerned with what others thought than she would have liked to admit. In some ways the family environment was one of benign neglect the children behaved well and so no one thought there could possibly be anything wrong. But in fact, two of Helen's sisters had eating disorders and her brother has battled alcohol addiction.

Helen and Steve lived in New York City after they got married. Helen had an administrative job with a theatre and wrote some at night, although she stopped writing when they had their son Charlie. They had plenty of money, but Steve began to gamble during a period when his work was not going as well as he would have liked. They owned a small house at the beach that they sold when they were about to have their third child, thinking they would use the proceeds and move out of the city. They made $75,000 profit on the house, which they put into a money market account while they looked for a new home. Helen was eight months pregnant when she found the perfect house and subsequently learned that Steve had gambled away all of the money in the account as well as most of their savings.

Helen was devastated, but having grown up in a family where you stick it out no matter what, she immediately began looking for treatment for Steve and housing options for their young family. He voluntarily entered an in-patient treatment center and then attended Gamblers Anonymous for a while. Unable to deal with the strain, Helen called on her parents for assistance (in spite of the fact that she believes that they never truly accepted Steve). They suggested she look in the Chicago area because it would have job options for Steve and perhaps less pressure than New York City. Helen's parents offered financial assistance in the form of a down payment on a house and although it was never stated, it was understood that the money was for a house in Chicago. Because Steve was not close to his family, he was open to the move, perhaps eager to just put troubles behind him. With a baby and two toddlers in tow, Helen found a home in a suburb near her family, engineered a move and supported her husband during his job search, which ended successfully. They have lived in that house for ten years.

Although he stopped gambling, Steve never really expressed any remorse for his behavior and has taken for granted Helen's loyalty and sacrifice during this difficult time in their lives. Although Helen grew up in a stable home, she received little verbal affirmation growing up. Thus Helen had self-esteem and confidence issues at the time she met Steve. By the time she sought therapy, her confidence had plummeted. In spite of the fact that she has a prestigious degree, she has little hope that she will ever write plays again.

On a recent trip to New York with some friends, Helen ran into a former professor from Yale. He is divorced, eight years older than Helen, and very handsome. He asked about her work and although she was pleased that he'd asked, she was also embarrassed that she'd done nothing (although in her mind this lack of progress was no great loss because she feels untalented). He reminded her that she won a competition during graduate school and he shared a couple of things faculty members had said about her in which they praised her talent and insight.

He asked her to meet him for a drink and gave her his business card. She didn't call him, but kept the card and did not tell Steve about the encounter. Having survived a crisis in her marriage, she now feels resigned to her life with Steve, though Steve does not support her career ambitions and has never really confronted his own demons.

Helen is a thoughtful woman and a good mother, who has no interest in destroying her family by having an affair. However, she is troubled deeply by the way she feels right now (that her husband can "do no right"). Her fear is that nothing will change for the rest of her marriage. She is surprised that the crisis she and her husband endured (because of his gambling) did not cause her to feel like ending the marriage. It is only now that she doubts the marriage (now that she's met someone who is interested in her). She's also interested in this former professor, irritated that her husband doesn't support her, worried about the aimlessness she is feeling now that her children are older. These feelings bring her to a decision to seek help.

Solution Preview

The main facts are: Helen Robinson has come for counseling. She has an MFA from Yale. She has three children, two boys and one girl. She was born in a suburban Chicago family that had five children. Two of Helen's sisters had eating disorders and her brother battled alcohol addiction. She stopped writing theater when she had her first son. They were comfortable financially but her husband began to gamble away the money. They sold their house but surreptitiously, Steve gambled away the money. Steve was treated for gambling disorder and ...

Solution Summary

Helen Robinson case is explained in a structured manner in this response. The answer includes references used.