By David Joel Miller.
When should your child’s therapist include you in the conversation?
Sometimes the therapist should be talking to the parent and sometimes not. Which is which and what factors are in play?
The child’s age.
If your child is 4 then yes, most of the time the therapist should actively engage you in the conversation and in participating in the process of therapy. You need to be a part of what is going on. You are with the child 24 /7 and you will need to do things to maintain any progress that is made in therapy. Mostly, if the child is young, the parent needs to be involved. Most of the work will focus on helping the parent to manage this child’s symptoms in the home environment.
When your child is older will the therapist talk to you?
What if your child is 44? Sorry folks, I know that you parents think of this person as your child, you care about them and want to help them. But once they pass 18 they get privacy and confidentiality. Unless they are severely disabled and you are their only caregiver it is unlikely you will be included in the conversation at all. Even then most of the conversation will stay confidential between the client and therapist. Your child will need to tell you what you want to know or you will not get the information.
Between four and 18 years of age the “including parents” part gets iffier. The older the child the less that parent will be included in the therapy.
The more the parent pushes to know every detail of what the child is saying in therapy the more this intrusion can interfere with making progress. As the parent pushes more to control the therapy we therapists also get progressively more suspicious.
I love it when the parent cares about their child and wants them to get well. But the parent who insists on being present at every session and wants to know everything that the child says and the therapist does – what is up with that?
Is the parent the solution to the child’s problem or the cause?
Most therapists have stories of parents who seemed over interested in what their child said in therapy. One reason this happens is that the parent is the cause of the problem.
Parents who are abusing their children are afraid the child might talk about that abuse. Some parents have their own secrets they want to hide, drug use, alcoholism, criminal activity, all manner of things.
Even if the parent is not the proximate cause of the problem, the family’s situation may be what is making this child depressed. Most parents want the conversation focused on the child and they do not want any discussion of the domestic violence or other problem behaviors that take place at home. Some parents do not want the therapist finding out that one parent has been missing for a few years in prison or that there have been a whole string of step parents.
When parents are present, or when the child thinks the parent will hear what they say, they don’t talk about the embarrassing things.
Most kids do not talk about the pressures to have sex or the urges when parents are present. They know what their parents have told them about drugs, alcohol, and sex. They also know what the parents are doing in these areas and that what parents say and do are often at odds. So lots of embarrassing things get left out of conversations when the parent is present in the therapy room.
The fear that the parent will disapprove or the risk of embarrassment should the parent know what is going on might keep the child from talking about things that really need to be discussed.
Even that fear of failing algebra may not get talked about with mom in the room. The kid knows mom will just rag on them to study more rather than hear that this fear of failing algebra is giving them test anxiety and making it harder to finish the test.
Therapists help families through role changes.
During those late teen years, the parent’s role moves from protecting the child to teaching them how to make choices and learn from their mistakes. Parents, if your teen’s problems are severe enough to need the services of a professional then you probably will not be involved in the discussion until the teen has worked the problem out.
One thing a therapist should do is help the teen work up the courage to tell their parents what is wrong. Sometimes we even facilitate the teen telling the parents embarrassing things.
Many a child is surprised to find that when they do work up their courage and tell the parent this secret, the parent is more understanding and supportive than the teen expected.
Lots of problems could be worked out if a family could just talk about the issues in a supportive; “we are all in this together” atmosphere. But for family’s who can’t do this or have lost the ability to talk with each other, there are professionals that can help.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books
- Do therapists tell parents what kids say? (counselorssoapbox.com)