Staying together for the children?

By David Joel Miller.

Staying together for the kids isn’t enough.

Unhappy Family

Unhappy Family

In relationship counseling we run into a fair number of couples that have been together a long time, often 20 years or so, and now they find that they just can’t hold it together anymore. The most common cause of this issues is that they have spent the last twenty years “staying together for the kids” instead of staying together because they want to be together.

Most people who have worked with children will tell you that your children are not being fooled by this behavior. Kids know when mom and dad are distant and don’t like each other even when there is no outright fighting going on.

Growing up in a home where the parent’s wish they were not together is not much fun. If you are in that situation consider letting go of your resentments and working on the relationship. If you have to live there you might as well find a way to make the relationship better.

Relationships can self-destruct without children.

It is not unusual for relationships to go through a period of severe distress just about the time the oldest child is graduating from high school. Couples look at each other and ask “why did we stay together all these years?” If it was for the kids now what? Do you two still want to be together?

Relationships like cars or houses need maintenance. If you have just used your relationship to focus on the kids and have not kept the connection with your partner healthy then after the kids are gone there is not much left.

Some couples split up and try to start their lives over. Most of the time they end up in new relationships, now wanting a relationship for themselves instead of for the kids. Often both people get new partners. Who wants to be alone once the kids are gone?

Guess what? This complicates things. You are not a twenty-something anymore. Your new partner comes with an ex and some kids. So you, your ex, your new partner, your ex’s new partner and the kids and all their partners keep crossing paths. You think you put your needs on hold for the kids before? Looks like it has just gotten worse. Do you get to enjoy life while you are still alive?

You can distract yourself from being where you are.

Lots of people stay in bad relationships and suffer. They think that the suffering they will go through by staying is less than what they and the kids would go through if they end this relationship.

Plenty of people go through these young-children-years by trying to stay busy and distract themselves from a relationship that is not meeting their needs.

Dads tend to work a lot. The old idea was that dad worked and paid the bills so that the rest of the family could have a good childhood. The result of this model was that dad got robbed of being a part of the family he was paying for and the rest of the family gets to resent dad for never being there.

Lots of expensive toys do not make up for a lack of loving relationships.

Moms also get caught up in this. Mom usually has two or more choices of ways to stay busy and avoid looking at what is lacking in her life. Mom can become a fanatical “soccer mom.” Spend all day and all night not just taking kids to places but also volunteering to help the activity take place. Mom can get so caught up in the school and the soccer league and the clubs that she does not have time to talk with her own kids let alone dad. Or mom can insist the kids need more things and expensive activates and she can go to work and stay busy that way.

What will mom do if the kids escape? Some chase the grandkids down and try to stay busy and others drop into a deep depression because their life has no meaning without someone else to make happy.

Staying and suffering and going and suffering should not be your only choices.

Smart couples develop other choices. If you are having difficulties you work on the issues. Couples counseling can help, so can making sure that you allocate some time and resources to maintain your relationship. Couples that enjoy being together and doing things together survive the kid’s exodus.

Think this over. You have a lot of time invested in your family. Are you waiting to do your time so you can escape after the kids leave or are you willing to work on this relationship so that the two of you will have reasons to be a couple after the kids have moved out and on and started their own families?

There is life after children. You can have a good relationship after your kids start their own lives if you two can get through the process without hurting each other so much there are just no good feelings left in the relationship account.

If your relationship feels like doing time, consider getting help from a professional relationship counselor.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

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Why counselorssoapbox by David Joel Miller

By David Joel Miller.

Who is this David Joel Miller and why is he writing a blog called counselorssoapbox?

Amazing Happy Places Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Amazing Happy Places
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Counselorssoapbox is a blog about recovery, wellness and having a happy life. Yes, you guessed it, I am David Joel Miller and I write this blog. It occurs to me though that I have not explained why I write this blog and why I called it counselorssoapbox.

Someone is snickering under their breath the words “for the money” If you were thinking that then you would be more delusional than I was when I started writing this blog. Not delusional in the psychiatric sense, but delusional in that I had no idea how much work writing a blog on a regular basis would be. As for this blog making money, I definitely will not be quitting my day job, or my night job for that matter, anytime soon.

My first exposure to all things psychological was, like many of you, a few classes in psychology. It was the sixties after all. I have since learned that psychology, the kind we study in high school or most colleges is only a distant relative of counseling and recovery. Clinical Psychology, that takes 6 years of college for a Ph.D. and then you can start looking for the answers to why life is the way it is.

My first exposure to counseling and therapy was as a client. I discovered school counselors could tell me what classes to take if I wanted to make the big bucks but none of them seemed to know how to be happy along the way. Eventually, I ended up seeing some therapists. I discovered that there were helpful therapists and unhelpful therapists.

Becoming a therapist was not in my original plan. I took the classes and became a Drug and alcohol counselor. Along the way, I learned a few things. One was that there was a lot of wisdom in those 12 step programs. The other was that my AOD (Alcohol and Other Drugs) clients all had families. If I wanted to be helpful to those families, especially the children and the significant others, then I needed more training.

Next stop was the classes in how to be a Marriage and Family Therapist. Originally here in California, this was called a Marriage, Family and Child Counselor. Marriage in this context means any two or more people who have a close, primary, usually sexual, relationship.

Over the years of trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be when I grow up, I discovered that having a job or at least a purpose in life was an immense part of being happy. The answer to the who and what question I am still working on, but at least now I know something about the how of being happy.

To help people with their job issues and substance use issues took me in the direction of Professional Clinician Counseling and today I have that license also. From there I drifted, more like jumped, into teaching and supervising other counselors and therapists. So now you know a little bit about me. More is on my “about me” page.

But I still haven’t told you “Why a blog named counselorssoapbox?”

Throughout my process of becoming a professional in this field I kept thinking about those times I had sat on the other side of the desk and what I had experienced. I decided I did not ever want to forget what it was like to be on the client side of the room.

In graduate school, they explained a lot of stuff to us but honestly, I did not feel like some of these professionals I had seen had explained things to me in the way they were supposed to be explained. I asked about confidentiality and never seemed to get a straight answer.

Therapists were often good listeners but if they knew the answers to the “how to have a happy life question” they wanted me to suffer through the process of finding them myself and they flat resisted giving me any answers to these questions.

Counselorssoapbox started off as a way for me to express my opinions about what worked and what didn’t in the therapy world. I wanted to demystify the therapy process and explain what I had learned. Those times I got a reader question and didn’t have the answer took me back to reading the research and looking for more ideas. Writing a blog meant I needed to keep reading, studying and living wellness and recovery. So I just took it one post at a time.

What quickly happened was you readers prodded me in a few directions. Counselorssoapbox received a lot of questions about the safety of counseling, confidentiality and what gets reported. I was surprised at the number of search terms that involved counselors having sex with clients. So I put up a link to the publication “Professional Counseling Never Includes Sex.”  That post and the link keep getting hits so there remains an interest in this topic.

There has also been some interest in particular diagnoses and their treatment. While I can’t do therapy by blog post I have tried to provide general information on mental health and illness. All sorts of how to have a happy, productive, successful life posts find their way onto the blog also. Whatever tips on having the best life possible I come across I try to share.

There you have it. The answers to the questions who is this David Joel Miller and why a blog called counselorssoapbox.

What’s next? I continue to work on some books, both fiction and nonfiction and I write more blog posts looking for all the things that seem worthy of sharing with you. So if there are questions or comments related to the fields of substance use disorders, mental health, and wellness or living a happy life, send them along. I will do my best to answer questions or send you to someone who can. Comments and information from you or others gets shared here also.

If you read this far an extra thanks. Talk with you again soon.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Reasons Marriage Counseling will not help you

By David Joel Miller.

Are there reasons to avoid Marriage Counseling?

Will Marriage Counseling Help

Will Marriage Counseling Help?

Marriage counseling can save your marriage. It can also hasten the end to that relationship. I see many couples who have used marriage counseling to strengthen and improve their relationship. There are also those couples, up to half of all couples who attend couples counseling, who end up divorcing soon after the marriage counseling experience.

How can you tell if you are one of those couples that can be helped by marriage counseling or if you are one of those couples were attending a counseling session might end your relationship?

Here are reasons some people need to avoid marriage counseling.

1. You want the Marriage Counselor to decide who is right and who is wrong.

Specifically, you want the therapist to tell your partner that they are the one causing the problem.

If you want a right and wrong decision, see a judge for the divorce. Couplehood is a partnership. To be effective the counselor needs to stay neutral and rather than solving problems for you, they need to help you learn ways to resolve these disagreements in a more positive way.

2. You want the counselor to change your partner.

Change is an inside job. Changing a relationship requires the people involved to each work on changing themselves.

3. You have already decided to divorce and you want to prove that you did all you can to save the marriage.

A significant number of clients come to the first therapy session already having decided that they want a divorce. They want to be able to say to their friends and family that they did all they could. The truth is they didn’t want to fix or save this relationship.

If you already have your stuff packed and plan to move on no matter what happens in therapy, going for marriage counseling is just one more trial that you will need to get over to start your new life.

Counseling can be helpful when both parties know that this is coming and they are trying to work out some end of relationship issues, like co-parenting.

Counselors can and do work in the area of divorce counseling. But before you turn your marriage counseling session into negotiating a divorce talk to the lawyer types first.

4. You are making your partner go so you can punish them for their misdeeds.

The couple shows up for counseling often at the insistence of one partner who has demanded that they attend counseling as a condition of staying together. This can work if both parties are committed to changing themselves and things in their relationship.

What will not work is to inflict X sessions of therapy in which one partner beats the other up over the “guilty” person’s transgressions.

If there was an affair you can work on the reasons it happened in the first place or how to rebuild the relationship and trust. What is not helpful is just to use counseling as a way to flog the affair partner for their misdeeds.

An ordeal in the therapy room results in more resentments in the relationship and addition problems in the future.

5. You expect everything to happen in the sessions and are opposed to doing any “homework” outside of sessions.

Relationships need maintenance. Sometimes in sessions, you can get some of the “garbage” out. You can also learn some new ideal relationship skills.

What you are likely to hear in the couples counseling session is that relationships take work. You need to make repair efforts when things go wrong and there is work to do to maintain a relationship.

Expect that your convalescent period for an ailing relationship will include homework and skills practice you need to do outside the counseling session.

A good marriage counselor will make suggestions and may well suggest some homework assignments outside of session. Do not expect your therapist to do all the work. You need to practice good relationship skills between sessions.

6. There are topics that are off-limits and you are unwilling to talk about.

Couples come to therapy saying they have poor “communication” and they want to learn to communicate better. The next part of this conversation is that there are topics they do not want to talk about.

Some topics probably should be off the table. You like coffee and your partner is a tea drinker. You can share and each try the others beverage or you can fight forever over who is right. Some disagreements have no resolution and it is a waste of time to continue to fight over things for which there is no solution.

The off the table topics that cause relationship counseling to be unproductive are the big issues that stand in the way of having a good relationship.

Additions, drugs, alcohol, shopping, gambling, pornography, those things undermine any relationship. So you come to couples counseling and say you want to communicate better, only he won’t talk about his drinking and she won’t discuss her affair.

Is this situation likely to get better? Not unless the unresolved issues get handled. That resolution could be he stops drinking or tries to anyway. It could also be that she just has to accept she married an alcoholic and accept that if she wants to stay married. Either way, the topic can’t be off the table if they want this relationship to get better.

7. You expect your partner to do all the work and make all the changes.

A relationship involves people, more than one, so any real change in your relationship will involve both of you making changes. If you think that your partner changing will solve all the problems consider that each year we see a great many people who divorce and remarry.

Before long those new relationships are fighting and there may be second, and third divorces.

Pick a partner and you get a set of problems. Learn problem-solving in your relationship, not problem switching.

8. Your relationship is not worth the cost of marriage counseling.

Marriage counseling is often not covered by insurance. If you are mentally ill your medical insurance should cover treatment. But if you are unhappy do not expect the insurance company to pay for dating services or marriage counseling.

A lot of people who spend a great amount of time complaining about their relationship are unwilling to spend money to work through their conflicts.

Before you say you can’t afford couples counseling, consider that the average couples come in about six times. The cost of six or even twelve sessions with most therapists would not equal the cost of the retainer for the divorce lawyer.

How much is it worth to you to end your relationship? How much might it be worth to transform the relationship you have into the one you would like?

9. You already have a replacement partner lined up.

If you already have a new partner waiting in the wings. Not much rational thinking takes place in the early stages of love. After six to eighteen months the love neurochemicals wear off. At that point, you will discover that this new partner is a lot less perfect than you thought. But while you are in the throes of a new love it is hard to see the good things you are leaving behind.

If you can’t give yourself a year or two to try to work out the problems in the current relationship – well then you will get to do the work later.

Marriage or relationship counseling can be very helpful in transforming a relationship into the one you want. But if you go into relationship counseling with any of the 9 problems listed above your are not likely to get much help from being in couples therapy and the therapy may well leave you with one extra “relationship trauma” to deal with after your relationship ends.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Internet affairs? Internet addiction?

By David Joel Miller

Internet affairs? Internet addiction?

The internet is affecting a lot of real-life relationships. Today’s post over at our sister blog counselorfresno.com tells the story of three ways your internet usage may doom your other relationships.

This post is part of a series of posts written for clients of my Counseling and Therapy practice here in Fresno California But I thought it was worth sharing with the rest of you.

Do emotional problems, depression and anxiety, time travel?

By David Joel Miller.

Is time on your side?

emotional problems, depression and anxiety, time travel

Wrestling with father-time.
Photo courtesy of Flickr

When you go for counseling exactly what time period should you be concentrating on?

Some people want to spend a lot of time on working through the past. If you have been the victim of abuse or neglected you may find it difficult to move forward until you make peace with the past. Depression or anxiety may have their roots in the past, but at what point does continuing to relive the past interfere with the present and the future?

Staying in the present.

For people in recovery, however, you define that, the emphasis is more likely to be on the present, how to cope with that present, how to live life on life’s terms.

In changing your life, for me, the emphasis should be on the future. How can you get where you want to go without looking at where you will be when you get there? You know about your symptoms, your depression, or maybe you have anger issues or anxiety, what is important is how you move beyond those emotional problems.

Couples who come in for relationship counseling, we used to call that marriage counseling, often want to rehash the past, who did what to whom and why. Often this need to establish whose fault it was or who is right and who is wrong, gets in the way of establishing how that couple will develop the skills they need to create a happy relationship in the future.

Does it really matter why the homeless person is homeless? Say you figure out why you are depressed, has that changed anything. You are still depressed and now you have to pay for therapy to tell you what you already knew.

It might be more important to learn the skills they need to find and hold a job and then to get and maintain a place to live. In looking at why people have a particular emotional problem, I find it is only productive to look to the past when we are looking for ways to prevent this from happening again.

The same is true of break-up counseling. You separate, get a divorce, and now what? Do you stay stuck in the blame them or even blame yourself mode or can you see how there might be something you need to learn or something you need to do differently if the future is going to be different from the past?

Some counselors and this includes relationship counselors, want to work their way through the past. Sometimes you need to do this if there are things that you have not finished with, feelings you are not ready to let go. But isn’t looking forward to the future a whole lot more important than staying stuck in your problems?

The longer I have been involved with the counseling process the more I find myself focused on the future and how to create that happy life that I want for myself and for the client.

Lots of us have our stories, problem saturated or even problems soaked tales of how our life got this bad. We know why we are depressed, anxious or even addicted. What we find it difficult to talk about is what we want for the future.

In counseling, I like to use the “miracle question.” I ask the client if this problem you have were suddenly gone tomorrow, what would your life be like? If you had your dream job, what would you be doing? Many of them can’t imagine a life without their problem. Some are not willing to give that problem up just yet.

Some will downright refuse to press that happy button.

Some couples therapists find that the ability to imagine a good relationship predicts the success of relationship counseling. If you are in counseling to find out whose fault it is and then to punish them for your unhappiness, you are wasting your time.

Whatever you do, strive to leave those emotional problems from the past in the past and spend the present making plans and preparations for a happy, contented future.

Your depression, anxiety and other emotional problems can only time travel if you refuse to let go of them as you take this journey we call life.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

What will the therapist tell me about trust? Trust issues

By David Joel Miller.

What if I tell my therapist that I have trust issues?

Trust

Here is what I tell clients with trust issues. I am not too sure just what others may say and would encourage both professionals and client to leave comments about trust issues.

1. Trust is not an all or nothing thing.

The mistake we often make is we either trust too much, trust completely, or do not trust at all. There are plenty of friends that I trust, mostly, with some things, but I do not trust every friend from work with the pin number to my ATM.

Many people who say that they have trust issues have a habit of jumping into a relationship without getting to know the other person, and then when they are let down, they feel this person is not to be trusted.

This pattern of moving into over-close and trusting relationships too quickly sets you up when the other person is unwilling or unable to meet your expectations.

Be sure in getting into a relationship, any relationship, and that includes friendships, that you take the time to get to know the other person and find how much you can trust them and about what subjects.

This does not mean that you need to eliminate everyone from your life that you are not able to trust completely 100%. If you cut all the people, who are less than total trustworthy you may find yourself very alone. There are days I don’t even trust myself completely, but I like being with me anyway.

2. People who tell you things may believe them.

People say things, they think they are true but what they say may still be wrong. People often say that others have lied to them and as a result, they can’t trust anyone. This often happens when someone in a new relationship repeats things that others have told them. They believe what they say, and they may just be trying to be helpful but if the “facts” they have repeated turn out to not be true the other person who acted on the basis of those facts is likely to feel cheated or deceived.

Consider that the person telling you this may be wrong or mistaken and check the facts before you take action based on what someone else has told you.

3. Counseling is a corrective emotional experience.

For this relationship, to be helpful, you need to be able to trust the counselor. If you don’t, you need to look at why you are having difficulty trusting. Remember that no matter how much you trust that professional there are limits to what secrets they can keep. If you tell them you plan to kill someone they will not keep your secret. If you talk about child abuse, they will probably be required to tell that also.

Trust in this, and any other relationship should build over time based on how the other person handles the things you tell them.

4. Remember that people, even professionals can make mistakes.

Generally, professionals are “trustworthy, ” but occasionally we find one that is not. They may take unfair advantage of you. Take your time to get to know them and then make your judgment about how much you can trust them and with what.

This extends to friends and relatives also. We often have competing loyalties. Withholding facts from one friend can seem like dishonesty. Telling that person can violate the trust of another person. In romantic relationships, we tend to trust a lot when we want things to work. Later when the relationship goes sour, and that partner tells someone else our secrets we will feel betrayed and that our trust has been violated.

5. Most people have trust issues for good reasons.

The reason you have trust issues may well be that you trusted someone too much in the past and they let you down. If you have an experience in life of having your trust betrayed it is reasonable and normal to have trust issues with that and related issues in the future.

Remember that some people make a habit out of lying. They get what they want by not telling the truth. People in an active addiction get their needs met by misleading others. Sometimes the person you believed has lied so much it has become an automatic behavior.

Consider who you are trusting and do they deserve your trust. Especially be cautious if this person has violated the trust of others in the past. What makes you expect to be the one person that they tell the truth to?

6. People who are not trustworthy often find it hard to trust others.

The person who tells me they are suspicions that their partner is cheating and who want me to find out what others in their family are up to is often the person who has cheated or has done other things they do not want the family to know about.

If you are dishonest, it makes it harder for you to trust others.

Build your ability to trust by following these simple rules.

1. Pick people who are generally trustworthy.

2. Get to know them and build trust with them gradually watching what they do with little secrets before disclosing larger ones.

3. Make sure you are trustworthy. The old saying goes it is hard to con an honest person. Liars set themselves up to be deceived.

4. Make sure you are able to trust yourself most of the time. When you let yourself down be quick to forgive.

Here is hoping that you are able to overcome your “trust issues” and begin to trust yourself and others in appropriate ways.

David Joel Miller, LMFT, LPCC

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Why the therapist doesn’t care about your problems- unit of treatment

By David Joel Miller.

Does it feel like the therapist only cares about the other person?

flakey  m Sometimes you go for therapy, with a person you think of as “your therapist” only to find they don’t really want to talk about you or your problems. They are only interested in your family member’s problems. What is going on here?

One problem for therapists is defining the “unit of treatment.” A good therapist will try to explain this to you at the beginning, but sometimes they don’t and sometimes in the crisis of the moment you don’t get the details. Let me explain a couple of situations where this may be occurring.

When one member of the family has been seeing a counselor and now they want the counselor to help them with their relationship with another family member. Let’s say the client is a twenty-something woman and she has conflicts with her mother.

Mom gets invited to the next session. Mom wants to talk about how difficult it is getting along with her daughter and how she had to raise the daughter all by herself and now mom’s depression has been interfering with her life. Mom would like more respect and caring from her daughter.

The therapist does not want to hear about mom’s history of problems with depression, her hard life and all the times the daughter disrespected her mother. The therapist wants to talk about their last fight and how mom could better support her daughter by being more understanding of daughter’s mental health problems. What has gone wrong here?

The therapist is the DAUGHTERS therapist.

The unit of treatment is the DAUGHTER. They are not going to spend time on mom’s problems. If mom needs therapy then she needs to get her own therapist.

In this situation, Mom is a guest in the daughter’s therapy session. This can sometimes be referred to as a collateral session. A collateral session is all about how the guest can help the identified patient. If you ever get this kind of invite you should ask some questions. Is this for both of you to work out problems or are you only there so that the other party can tell you why you hurt them and they are expected you to do something to help them?

As a guest, you do not get confidentiality. You are not the therapist’s client and if you disclose that time you did something wrong you may get reported even if this is not a mandated reportable situation. Also if the daughter has told the therapist about things she has done in the past to the mother, like steal her money and forge her signature, the therapist can’t break confidentiality and tell mom.

Another situation that causes a lot of confusion is when a person is being seen for individual therapy and then asks their partner to join this. Say the woman above now wants to do some session with her husband.

Is this a request to stop individual therapy and begin couples therapy? Or is this an effort to bring the partner in to learn how to be more supportive and helpful to the wife?

This is an awful situation for a lot of men. They have talked with me in individual sessions repeatedly about how they went to a session with the wife and felt bushwhacked. The therapist, sometimes with a very feminist point of view, spent the session telling the husband how it was his fault, that all women are oppressed by their husbands and he is to blame for their marital problems.

Now any good marriage therapist knows or should know, that taking sides is likely to make the conflict between the partner’s worse and is not going to help the relationship. We should always be neutral. But if you have spent months listening to a client tell you all the awful things their spouse does to them, it is very tempting to turn this into a “heart to heart talk” by creating a safe place for your client to tell their spouse off.

This kind of session usually ends up in a blowout argument and possible violence or an end to the relationship. Counselors who do this sort of work should warn their clients to come in separate cars because after beating up on one of the partners there is no way that person is likely to give in say it was all my fault and go home to do as told.

If you go to a session with your partner’s therapist and this is not to begin couples therapy, expect it to be ALL about them and not you. A few therapists can handle this well and help the couple or family work some things out, but just who is here for treatment should be clarified at the start of the session.

The last example I will give is the parent, usually mom, who takes the child for therapy. They expect the therapist to help them cope with raising this defiant, belligerent child. What happens is that the session becomes all about how mom can be a better more nurturing parent and what the developmental needs of the child are at this age. She is instructed to spend more time reading to her child, help him with his homework and make sure to walk him to and from school to increase his sense of security. The sessions are all about the child.

Never mind that mom does not sleep nights because of the nightmares from the abusive violent relationship or that dad is away in prison for what he did to mom and child. Mom also wants help with how she as a single parent is supposed to work two jobs to support her kids and still do all this with the identified patient child. As much as she loves this child and knows he needs her attention she has three others who also need attention. What has gone wrong here?

The unit of treatment is the child, not the family.

Mom gets only the help that relates to her ability to help her son. Now sometimes the therapist will shift the focus and start helping mom. The risk then is that the therapist will side with mom and spend the sessions beating up on the child, telling him he is a bad person and that everything is his fault. A good therapist will balance all these needs and help the whole family but this is a difficult task.

There are a whole lot more issues around children in therapy we need to look at. Can they consent, do they get confidentiality and if so how much? Can an 8-year-old really consent to treatment? Is telling him he is the bad child an institutionalized form of child abuse?  And do we sometimes abuse the parent to make the child feel better? This post is running long and I need to leave those issues for other posts.

My conclusion is that there are good therapists who do a great job and not so good therapists who don’t do a good job of juggling these issues. Any time more than one person walks into a consulting room there are conflicts about whom we are helping and how we should be with the others.

Have you ever been to a therapist who just didn’t seem to care about your problems?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

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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 my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.