About Parental Counseling

Parental guidance takes a lot of its principles and techniques from therapy, in that it assumes that a major engine for behavioral change is better self-understanding.  

However, it is different because it is clearly and consistently focused on the relationship with the child, whereas in therapy by definition the focus is on the person himself.  Parental counseling also has a lot to do with giving information—about child development, about handling specific difficulties and situations, about interpersonal dynamics—which has little or no place in therapy. It sometimes becomes apparent during the process of parental counseling that one or both parents could use individual help with issues that are affecting their functioning as parents.  Then they have to make their own decision as to whether to go for therapy.

Why Do You Assume It’s The Parents Who Caused The Problem?

I do not and neither, I’m happy to say, does accepted wisdom in education and child psychology nowadays. In this context it’s crucial to differentiate between criticism and description.  If you’re thinking about getting parental guidance, apparently something about your child’s behavior or your relationship with them is worrying you.  

In order to work on that we need to see very clearly what it going on; you wouldn’t expect to fix something without knowing what’s not working right, would you?  This description, don’t forget, is going to show us the strengths and successes of the relationship as well as the glitches, so we’ll know what resources we can draw from. Since most parents care so much about doing a good job for their kids, it’s easy to develop guilt feelings about whatever isn’t going right.  That’s too bad, because guilt is not a constructive emotion.  It’s a spoiler, diverting energy from creative thinking about change to self-recrimination.  The counselor and the counseling process are not looking for guilty parties; we’re looking for resources within the family and for points of entry for change.

What Does All This Have To Do With Me?

When parents understand the emotional consequences of such difficulties for the child—primarily low self esteem, a build-up of frustration and aggression, exaggerated need for control, or a tendency to avoid and withdraw—they can learn parental behaviors that support the child, minimize frustration, and mediate between the child and his/her environment.  This adds up to a very significant contribution to the child’s coping, and to avoiding emotional problems.

I Feel We Need Counseling For Our Child But My Partner Refuses To Participate. What Should I Do?

Of course it’s optimal for both parents to come for counseling together.  The parental coalition is the most important resource for helping a child.  Each parent has a lot to contribute to their child’s well-being.  Every kid needs to feel their parents’ investment in them. But I am practical.  I believe that when it’s impossible to engage one of the parents, you work with what you’ve got.  I’d rather do a less-than-ideal job than no job at all, where a child in need is concerned.  

You must know, though, that legally a child cannot be treated if one parent objects; it’s essential to have both parents’ agreement, if not participation.

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© Copyright Michal Rokach Shamay.
Licensed marriage and family therapist #112104. Registered dance & movement therapist R-DMT #1937 ADTA.
(510) 944 1549 | michal@somaticmft.com
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