The Role Parents Can Play in Youth Psychotherapy

Recovery from psychological suffering may be slow and tumultuous for both youth and their families.

As a social worker who helps youth over 16 years of age, I’ve often encountered the difficult struggles of parents trying to take a more active role in their child’s healing process. My clinical work often reminds me of the famous Tolstoy quote: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

When family connections are frayed and parents are fatigued, that may be the time when parental involvement in therapy is the most difficult but also the most necessary.

Sometimes parents refer their children to me and choose not to follow up with the sessions. Parental absence can occur when children have relational issues, anxiety, substance use issues and when children are acutely ill with a major mental illness.

Some parents are hesitant to participate in their children’s healing process because they don’t realize that they can be important contributors to the expected transformation. What is required is usually simple and straightforward. Involved-parents provide me with incredibly useful background information, insights and alternative perspectives.

Parental over-involvement to the point of intrusion or interference can sometimes be a problem.

So called “helicopter parents” are those who need to know and control the minutiae of their children’s activities/whereabouts at all hours of the day. They are quick to rescue their children from every trial and tribulation life has to offer.

I do not think these overly-involved parents realize they are clipping their children’s wings before they are fully grown. Not left to their own devices to make mistakes and learn to problem solve, children do not gain the skills and experience needed to deal with normal challenges of natural development. “Helicopter parenting” can paradoxically become another form of absenteeism; these parents are quick to send their children to remedial math classes, external care givers, multiple extra-curricular activities and even therapists in the search for “quick fixes.”

Some parents are simply overwhelmed with life’s demands.

Today’s families rely heavily on two incomes or struggle with financial stresses. Between household chores, looking after ageing parents, time for friends and partners, there may not be enough time or energy left to provide the thoughtful and consistent guidance children need.

Sending your child to therapy is usually not like sending them to remedial math class. You might be able to simply drop them off and pick them up from a remedial math class and without any other effort from you, your child will likely know enough to pass the exam. Therapy is often different. When your child participates in psychotherapy, you may have more opportunities to take an active role.

A parent may need a child’s permission to speak directly to the therapist.

As a parent, you may need to take the initiative to get your child’s permission to speak directly to the therapist. I know this does not seem fair because you are likely the one paying for the therapy. However, this is the standard of practice for every therapist member of a professional college or regulatory body.

In-person meetings with the therapist will let you in on what is going on. You can take recommendations home where you can create continuity for therapeutic interventions provided in the office. You will very likely gain valuable information that will assist in your parenting role for other children. Face-to-face encounters with the therapist help form the circle of care around your child.

Meetings with your child’s therapist can also be a way for you to get support for more difficult decisions. For example, if your child needs additional care by a psychiatrist, as an out-patient or in a hospital setting, the recommendations may be better absorbed in the safety of the office of your child’s therapist. The sooner parents connect with their child’s therapist and the better the parents’ rapport with the therapist, the faster issues of shame and stigma can be addressed and resolved.

Parents need support to take a more effective role in their children’s therapy.

Regardless of preexisting parenting style, if your children need therapy, make sure you refer your child to a qualified professional therapist. But do not pull out after making the referral. Follow along as best as you can.

 

The views expressed in these blogs are the author’s own and not necessarily reflective of those of Psychotherapy Matters. 

 

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Stuart Goldman
Stuart Goldman, Psychotherapist

Stuart is a member of the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers and the Ontario Association of Social Workers. He has over 20 years of experience in both inpatient and outpatient settings in assessing and treating a wide variety of issues including anxiety disorders, mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder), psychosis, grief, interpersonal difficulties, men's issues, family and marital conflict, self-esteem, anger management and career counseling.

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