Three's Company: The Parent, Child & Therapist Relationship Explained
When a parent decides to bring their child to therapy, there are a lot of feelings that accompany that decision. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on parents to be everything for their children—provider, comforter, mentor, etc. So, it is safe to assume that if their child requires professional intervention regarding their emotions or behavior it could feel like an indictment on a parent’s abilities.
Instead, I’d like to offer a reframe—a way of looking at the situation differently—
What if, by accepting your limits as a parent and recognizing the benefits of therapy you are instead giving your child a chance to grow?
What if you are modeling healthy coping by saying, “You know what? I don’t know how to help but I’ll find someone who does know”?
When I receive a call from a parent looking for services for their child, I am immediately excited. This is a huge, brave step! How a therapist conceptualizes their work with families is as unique as they are. I see it like we are all on the same team. I invite parents and child to the first session so that we can all meet each other and make sure we are a good fit for one another. I ask families to fill out my intake paperwork before arriving to that first appointment and together we go over the paperwork. So that I am getting the best impression of the presenting concerns that are bringing the child to therapy.
First Session with Monet;
1. Discuss your child's presenting concern
2. Go over confidentiality and the limits of confidentiality
3. Determine if Monet is a good fit for your child (does your child appear comfortable? are you feeling heard? are your questions being answered?)
4. Schedule next appointment together
I make sure to spend time explaining the concept of confidentiality—that what is said in session will not be shared with anyone else (while acknowledging certain caveats to this) and to explain the limitations of confidentiality with regards to minor clients. The caveats mentioned above include my duty to break confidentiality if a client is suicidal, homicidal or is being abused. I let both parent and child know this. I also drive home the fact that if there is something I feel that the parent should know, I want the client to feel empowered to communicate that concern to their parent rather than me simply breaking the news.
Facilitating communication within families is a big deal to me. What that can look like is this—let’s say a client discloses in session that they are self-harming, and plan to self-harm again. I explain to the client the significance of their parent knowing about this (for their safety and to prevent any inherent risks involved in self-harming). I offer up some possible solutions; we can bring parent into session with us and together we can discuss what has been disclosed and come up with a safety plan, the client can independently discuss with their parent what has been disclosed (and I will follow up with parent in 24 hours to ensure the information has been shared as well as sharing safety planning measures) or I can share the information myself with the parent and discuss safety planning. Clients, regardless of age, should feel empowered that while it is hard to talk about certain topics it is worth feeling uncomfortable for a brief amount of time so that communication and growth can happen.
Communicating Important Issues
1. Monet and your child will invite you into session to discuss any concerns
2. Monet will encourage your child to go to you with the concern, and Monet will follow up 24 hours after the session to ensure the info has been shared and to discuss safety planning if needed.
3. Monet will contact you in 24 hours to discuss the concern after your child has consented to Monet doing so.
Parents are encouraged to reach out to me via phone call so that they can share any concerns or questions they may have. At the end of each session, I’ll ask my clients what I can share with a parent about session (“We talked about boundaries, relationships, and self-care today, are you okay with me sharing that with dad?” or “What can I share with mom about our session today?) Most of my adolescent clients freely share with their parents what is said in session, but I do think it is important to maintain open and clear communication with the parents I serve as well. I often take a minute to thank a parent for bringing their child to session because it does take time and effort for the therapeutic process to truly work.
If I cannot adequately serve an adolescent client, I am also confident in my ability to refer families to more appropriate services. Sometimes I am not a good fit, or I haven’t been trained in a specific type of presenting concern so I will find another therapist who is and make the connection (I offer to reach out to the therapist on behalf of my client to find out if they are accepting new clients and what the referral process looks like). I will sit down with the parents and child once again and talk about what I am observing in session and how I feel as though I am undertreating the issue. Working within my scope is essential in providing appropriate treatment. What I mean by that is recognizing what knowledge I possess, and what knowledge I lack (as part of my ethics I am responsible for knowing this information and constantly checking in with myself about said information). I also recognize the effort it takes for families to get to therapy, and I do not want to waste their time or resources if I am not adequately addressing the issue at hand.
Working within my scope is essential in providing appropriate treatment.
Putting your child into therapy can be a scary but worthy decision. It is my goal that all parents I serve feel vindicated in their decision and supported just as much as their child is.