Am I a Bad Parent?
One of the many services I provide is Family Therapy. Some typical reasons that parents may end up reaching out to me or other family therapists are the following:
1. My child is in individual therapy, but the individual therapist thinks family therapy would be helpful.
2. We need support with our communication.
3. Dealing with my child/teen's behavior has been negatively impacting our entire family.
And so on.
The challenge is, no matter how you get to me or any other therapist, a central issue remains. Even if you read thoroughly the informed consent paperwork, how can you give informed consent for something which you do not really know what is going to happen to you or your family?
I have found that no matter how many families I work with, parents are not prepared to hear feedback that comes from a therapist that may make them feel like they are a bad parent or that this is what the therapist thinks. Though I may prep a family for the real and unavoidable likelihood that everyone is going to hear things that push their limits – that does not make it easier to hear and it does not make it hurt any less. Many of the articles written for parents talk about how to prepare for family therapy, but not how to weather the storm that it can be.
Here are some things I find helpful for parents to know:
1. Most family therapists will let the family dynamics emerge on their own in order to understand your family. So, if you leave some initial sessions wondering why your therapist did not intervene in arguments or conflict in a certain way, it is because it is important to have a good picture of what your family looks like at home. Otherwise, our interventions will be based on incomplete information. Be wary of therapists who give you early homework addressing conflicts out of the office, when they have not spent enough time to have a good picture of what your family is like, and have not worked in real-time on those skills that would make such homework more successful.
2. Along these lines, interruptions, and arguments naturally occur. Intervention happens if the therapist feels the communication has become tangential, hurtful, or unhelpful to the family. The therapist may intervene if psychoeducation about a specific issue would be helpful to the family in providing context, but we are often doing so sparingly.
3. Therapists are often walking a fine line between avoiding taking sides and supporting a family member who feels unheard in making their point. If we try to support the child in getting their communication across because it seems like they are struggling to do it themselves or it is going unheard, it can feel like we are taking their side rather than the parent(s). This can also work in the opposite direction. Family therapists try to not speak for others if it is clear they can do so themselves.
4. Come prepared to work. It can be tempting if you feel your youth is disrupting the entire family, to say, “they need to take responsibility for X,” or “they need to do X.” Family therapy is based on the notion that the family unit is a central sustaining system for every member. Therefore, it is important to step back and consider the perspective that every member has something they can do to help that system work in the way they would like it to and every member has a story to tell that is important.
5. Know that we know this is difficult. Family therapists know that parents want the best for their children. Trust that we see ourselves as a collaborative partner in this effort, not just for your child, but for the entire family. Even though we are often watching pain take place right before our eyes, we know we are not living with it every day -- though hope you trust that us being outside the mix generally (but in the mix sometimes) can afford your family a different perspective.
6. Knowing that it is difficult, that does not mean you have to stick with a therapist who you may feel does not understand your family and more importantly your child. I always encourage people to therapist shop, while also being vigilant to what might just be the difficulty inherent in challenging long-standing, old patterns that do come up when you are doing the work. It is also true that there are some therapists who are just not a good fit for your family (me included!).
For those who work with me now, thanks for doing the most challenging thing, that is often< I hope, rewarding in the long-run.