Rugged individualism. It’s a foundational belief in our country. And yet, we know instinctively, scientifically, and historically, that human beings are social and deeply interpersonal creatures.
So why, then, do we always insist on going it alone?
This is particularly unhelpful when we think about children who are struggling. It can take months (or years) of confusing behavior, school problems, and conflict before a parent will finally bring their child in to a mental health professional.
The stigma of therapy combined with the vulnerability of asking for help is a powerful deterrent in our culture.
Fortunately, some find the courage to seek help and end up in my (or some other therapist’s ) office. But then what happens? The parent drops the child off and leaves, only to return after the session is over. Granted, many therapists even request this. But is something lost when we all unconsciously agree to be “rugged individuals”? I think so. So much so that a few years ago I quit accepting children into my office …now, I only work with families.
Kids get referred to therapy for all kinds of reasons – school issues, behavioral issues, life transitions, sometimes the children themselves ask to go. No matter the reason, involving parents/caregivers and sometimes siblings can be incredibly beneficial.
Can it be uncomfortable? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.
If you’ve read my series on the brain (begin here if you’d like to give it a read), you know that children are in a stage of rapid development that is highly influenced by their environment and caregivers. So why, when working to help a child with a problem, would I not want to know his environment and caregivers?
The truth is, many parents don’t want to attend their child’s therapy because they don’t want to be told they are the problem. I get that.
My perspective isn’t that parents are the problem, it’s that they are the solution.
There are 168 hours in a week…how much will one hour in my office compare to the hundred plus at home if the parents aren’t informed, on board, and doing their own work?
So I don’t want the family in session to find blame….I want the family in session for two important reasons.
- I want to see what’s really going on. In therapy, there’s the story you tell your therapist and then there’s what I can observe if I actually get to see it myself. When we tell a story to someone else, our brains edit out or forget details we think are insignificant, or we choose to give our story a specific tint. If I can actually watch interactions between family members, I can be more accurate in my assessment and more efficient in my interventions – saving you time and money.
- I want everyone to feel their role is important, because it is. When a child is dropped off for therapy sometimes I get to speak to one parent for a minute or two, and that’s it. But what if I got to hear the perspective of multiple caregivers, siblings, or involved grandparents? What if everyone’s voice was valuable? I see two things happen when I do this with families. One, family members begin to realize their own part in the equation (problem AND solution) and two, each family member feels invested in change because they feel a part of things. What each person in the family does, matters. It’s a truth that feels tangible when everyone gathers in the session together.
Consider the power of everyone in the family knowing what happened in therapy, what interventions were used, what was said, what skills were practiced, etc.
Not only does it make it easier for the changes to actually become habit when everyone is on board, it can bond the family closer together.
Family therapy is a fantastic forum for clarifying communication, understanding behavior within the family, and planning for and actually practicing positive changes.
It can be scary to realize how powerful we parents are in our children’s lives – having someone to support you in being more intentional can make the job feel easier and family life more harmonious.
So next time you are considering therapy for your kiddo, remember…don’t send your kid to therapy, go with your kid to therapy!