“Fix my child, please!” is generally an unrealistic expectation and request that is only rarely spoken aloud and directly but often suggested by the initial presentation when parents bring their child to see a therapist. They have come because they are worried about something, not uncommonly associated with the child’s behavior and/or attitude.
It is important to understand that the office of a psychotherapist is not a human body shop where a child can be dropped off to have the dings taken out, be tuned up and detailed ‘” Then, picked up looking and running as good as new. It is a process that necessarily involves the parenting people as well.
There is an important psychological principle involved. It is called homeostasis. The idea is that for any one person who is part of a family system to change, the rest of the system, in all likelihood, needs to change as well. If not, any change achieved by the singular identified patient is quickly susceptible to regression to whatever things were before.
The family system generates an interpersonal equivalent of gravity. Unchanged, it will always exert a force that will pull people back ‘” in a family ‘” to the way they were.
Successful interventions with children most often require parental involvement then: Not just to support the work of the therapist with the child, but to work to be part of the solution and sought after change by being willing to look at the need to make changes involving other aspects of the way the family functions, including themselves and their ways of parenting.
The guiding principle is a simple one: If you want something to be different, you need to do something differently. Wanting another person to change what they are doing without participating in a process of change for one’s self makes the quest, more often than not, futile. 35 years of clinical practice brings me to the point of comfort with the need to be that blunt about it.
This does NOT mean that the parents are responsible for or have somehow caused the problem. It simply is an acknowledgment that the ways they have been trying to deal with it have not been working well. If they had worked, they would not be sitting in the office of a therapist seeking help. The therapist does not become another, somehow better, parent. Rather, the therapist tries to join with the family ‘” both the child and adults ‘” in ways that allow for an examination of experience and efforts in the quest to have family life improve for everyone.
Where is the need for change and the willingness to work at it on everyone’s part, the hope of change for the better is justified. When this is not the case, the therapist (no matter how skilled s/he may be) is not apt to be able to be of much help.
Finally, there are some parents who feel that there is some stigma associated with bringing their child to see a therapist. In fact, it is regarded as a sign of psychological strength to acknowledge when help is needed beyond what even the most loving parent can provide themselves.
Unless you were trained to do so, you would probably not try to remove your own child’s rupturing appendix. Even those so trained learn it is best to not try to be both parent and healer to one’s own child.