In recent years, more and more children and teens have been engaging in therapy. While some attribute this trend to increasing stress for children (e.g., technology, academic pressure), many therapists will tell you what else they think is causing it – increasingly savvy, proactive parents. More and more, parents understand that intervening early when you have mild concerns saves time and heartache compared to the old-fashioned “wait-and-see” approach (which can be more like “deny-and-avoid”!). Going to therapy is nothing to be ashamed of; it has the potential to bring families closer and to help kids learn to better manage their emotions and relationships. The parents who bring their kids to therapy know this! Yet many did not have access to therapy when they were kids – stigma around mental health services was radically different a few decades ago. Even if parents have accessed therapy as adults (good for you for taking care of yourself BTW!), their kid’s therapy likely looks and sounds pretty different than therapy for adults. So, parents often have questions about therapy for children and teens. As a child psychologist, a stated and unstated question that I hear a lot is: “If this therapy is for my child, why do you always want to talk to me??” Great question. Let’s unpack this:
- Great things happen in the therapeutic space (whether it’s a physical room or virtual connection) – but therapy is not magic. Therapy is often about learning new skills (including coping strategies and new ways of thinking), which takes time and practice. Think about anything else new that your child learns, including new household rules or changes to their weekly schedule. They rely on you to remind and encourage them, until over time the skills become automatic and engrained. Therapy is no different, so the therapist wants to be sure that you know what new things they are suggesting for your child, and why they might help.
- When parents are involved, it’s inevitable that at some point the therapist will ask how you are feeling about something – most likely, how you’re feeling about your child’s challenges. In response, we will likely say something supportive – we honestly cannot help ourselves. When parents connect with their kid’s therapist, they may question whether we are blurring boundaries. Never fear, we know that we are not your therapist, too! But good relationships between therapists and parents are essential. If we do not connect, we may not have the opportunity to communicate openly about your child. This could get in the way of progress in therapy, because we need updates about your child’s behavior and their implementation of new strategies. We also want to create a safe space where you may over time feel comfortable sharing the nuances of the issues that bring your family to therapy, which can lead to breakthroughs. While we are not trying to turn you into the client, we know that we need to connect with you to best help your kid.
- Another common misconception: I’m in trouble with my child’s therapist! Hey, no one is perfect, including therapists, so who are we to judge? In our training we learn to think from a strengths-based perspective, meaning we focus on elevating all of that good stuff you are already doing and building upon what makes your family strong and unique. So when the therapist works with you, it does not mean you are the problem – it means that you are the solution. Changes in things like family communication, the way you model handling conflict, and the way you respond when your child is being challenging can be game-changers. Lots of clinical expertise and research show that these kinds of changes have a larger impact than therapy where parents are not involved.
So no need to worry, spending time working with your child’s therapist is a best practice and will lead to better outcomes. Not only that, but it shows your child how open you are to discussing mental health and how on-board you are to doing whatever it takes to support them. When we work together with your child at the center, great things happen!