having an affair
Running head: CASE SUMMARY 1
Case Summary of Helen
CASE SUMMARY 2
Case Summary of Helen
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
CASE SUMMARY 3
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
CASE SUMMARY 4
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 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, even 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.