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Counseling/son with ill friend


My son has a long history with depression, but at 32, finally managed to get through college with honors (bachelors).  He had a relationship with a girl his age, early 30s, and then the relationship became one of friendship as he was going away back to school.   She has become ill with a serious cancer, and is now depending on him for emotional support as she is not comfortable with her family, even though she has to live at home right now.   He feels trapped and guilt ridden but cannot say no.   He is not living a life, he is back home and basically stays in his room all day as she reaches out to him continually.   It is time for him to start job hunting, as he has financial responsibilities that we, his parents, cannot take on.   It is a complicated situation; i feel for this girl terribly, but she needs other means of support in addition.  I have been supporting him, but can't keep that up, it is not good for him or me.   any thoughts on how to gracefully say to a person who is ill you have to take care of other business, work, etc?   According to him, she won't take no for an answer.   Thanks for any thoughts

Hi Nancy - you describe a complex multi-problem situation. A place to start resolving the problems is to identify specifically the sets of needs that are interacting: [1] your marital and family needs; [2] your son's current and near future primary needs; [3] the young woman's needs, and [4] her family's needs.

Next, you family adults discuss who's responsible for filling each set of n needs.

Next, discuss these ideas about individual personal rights, and have each of your adults draft a Bill of Personal Rights;

Discuss your individual and group specific short and long-term priorities now, and note major conflicts;

Next, everyone review and discuss these ideas an depression and normal grief; If your son has been grieving all these years, what has he lost?

Discuss these ideas about relationship addiction - "c-dependence." If your son has this common condition, encourage him to start a personal recovery [healing] program.

Next, invite your son to study and apply these:

Finally, you parents consider hiring a veteran family systems therapist to help you sort out and define a workable plan for all of you.

Overall, I encourage the adults in both families to patiently study, online lessons 1 thru 6. It is about both your families and your ancestors.

This is a LOT to absorb and integrate, so pace yourselves in digesting it. If you have further questions, please ask. - Pete  


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Peter Gerlach, MSW


I can answer questions about mood disorders, depression, suicide, relationships, communication skills, problem solving, clear thinking, bonding disorders, trauma recovery, addiction management, grieving, shame, guilt, fear, reality distortion, and trust disorders; courtship, family functioning, "problem kids," mediation, (re)marriage, divorce, stepfamilies, stepparenting, boundaries, self-neglect, abuse, parental neglect, personality subselves, ("parts work"). I cannot answer legal or medical questions.


I maintained a private therapy practice near Chicago for 27 years, and have worked with over 1,000 men, women, couples, and families on a wide range of personal and family problems. I have been in personal recovery from growing up in an alcoholic family since 1986, and have worked with five therapists to heal my own psychological wounds. I maintained a "warm (phone) line" for callers on the topics above for 20 years, and have taught over 200 seminars and classes in midwestern universities, churches, support groups, and schools since 1981. I have practiced internal-family therapy ("parts work") with trauma-recoverers since 1991.

National Stepfamily Resource Center (NSRC) Experts Council; Compassion and Choices, and Final Exit Network

# Several hundred articles in my non-profit "Break the Cycle!" Web site at These articles are augmented by over 150 educational YouTube videos .

# six books on childhood-trauma recovery, effective communication, and stepfamily courtship, coparenting, and management.

A bachelors degree in mechanical engineering (BSME, 1959) from Stanford University, a Masters degree in clinical Social Work, (MSW, 1981), and over 500 hours of post-grad training in the topics above - including clinical hypnosis, spirituality, codependence, addicrtion-management, and guided imagery. My post-grad traning includes two 9-month internships on doing internal-family therapy at the University of Illinois.

Awards and Honors
Hundreds of grateful emails and comments from students and clients all over the world.

Past/Present Clients
Over 1,000 average Midwestern-US women, men, couples, and families. A physical disability limits me to doing telephone and Skype counseling now.

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