Brittany LaFleur, LCPC
Oftentimes, parents bring a child to therapy at their wits end about how their child is behaving and/or out of concern for their mental wellbeing. The current state of their child is negatively impacting the family, and they need help. They want me to treat their child to change their behavior, fix their relationship with the child and elevate the child’s mood so that the family can once again function as desired.
To me, one member of the household in therapy, is like only filling one car tire with air… All tires must be full and the axis aligned for the car to run smoothly. This is not just limited to parents, but includes siblings, too.
If the family is a unit, why are the children the only ones in therapy doing the work?
During my intake, parents are often surprised when I ask them if they plan to attend therapy themselves? Some are even offended. I’d like to take the time to explain why I think it is so imperative for parents to also be in therapy.
There are several benefits to this approach.
- There is no parenting manual, and there certainly is not a parenting manual for a child with mental health and/or behavioral challenges. A therapist has both the experience and knowledge to help parents navigate such. Tools and coping strategies for siblings can also be helpful.
- It allows all members of the family to process the effects of one member’s mental health/behavior. It can be traumatizing for family members to witness their loved one’s suffering. Therapy is a safe space to explore the common feelings of fear and shame.
- It decreases the chances of parents missing signs another family member is struggling. A child with externalizing behaviors (tantrums, substance use, violence) or obvious signs of poor mental health (self-harm, panic attacks) are often the ones in therapy. This behavior may be in reaction to a familial conflict or traumatic event also witnessed or endured by a sibling, who may be struggling more internally than they lead on.
- As parents, unprocessed issues from our childhood can become triggered by our kids. This leads parents to react in unhelpful ways to their children, both consciously and unconsciously. Therapy can help a parent increase their self-acceptance and self-understanding so that they can parent the way they truly want to.
For most families, it is not timely or feasible for every family member to receive weekly individual therapy. Instead:
- Find a family therapist (LMFT is the licensure you will want to look like) and schedule a few family sessions. Go back for maintenance as needed.
- Look for parent and sibling support groups
- Attend a parent management class/workshop
- Schedule parent sessions with your child’s therapist (*These sessions should be used for behavior management, not as personal therapy. If members do need their own individual therapists, it is not recommended to see the same therapist)
- Ask your child’s therapist if it would be appropriate for a parent or sibling to joining for a session or two
When we take a holistic approach to therapy, results are attained quicker and have a longer lasting effect.