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Expert Advice for Parents on Children and Psychotherapy

Expert Advice for Parents on Children and Psychotherapy

In You and Your Child’s Psychotherapy: The Essential Guide for Parents and Caregivers, mental health professionals (and CUNY professors) Michael O. Weiner, LCSW, and Les Paul Gallo-Silver, LCSW-R, BC-HSP, set out to demystify the therapy process for you and your child. 

What are the main reasons a child or adolescent is recommended for psychotherapy?

MW: Parents call me when they’ve noticed something does not feel right. It can be because of one particular interaction—behavioral or mood—that a parent or caregiver felt was atypical as compared to friends or family. Children come to therapy when something is out of balance.

LPGS: It could also be due to significant family changes such as divorce, death, separation, or the serious illness of a parent. We’ve also seen a lot of kids who needed help after trauma at school, such as the death of a classmate. And of course it also comes into play after a major event—for example, after 9/11.

Why is psychotherapy suddenly so popular?

MW: There’s certainly more awareness of trauma, and this has led to more parents requesting therapy for their child. However, many parents come to therapists hoping for a “quick fix.” There’s absolutely no long-term efficacy in this approach—the lessons learned at an early age don’t hold, because the child’s issues aren’t being addressed at a deep enough level. 

LPGS: Many parents just want to put their kids on meds. Instead of getting to the root of the issue, this solution actually avoids addressing the behavior. 

MW: Kids are complex and the ways to address their problems are equally complex. After and during therapy, a strong, confident parent emerges, but this is missing from short-term interventions.

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Many parents feel that they must have failed if their child has been prescribed therapy. What are your tips for guiding parents through this experience?

MW: It’s important to understand the context of therapy. It’s not because the parent made an error. The whole occupation of parenting is incredibly difficult. So my first point would be to tell parents that they should give themselves a lot of leeway, because coming to therapy is really a courageous step. Asking for help with parenting is appropriate. We give the parents tools so they can know more about their child—our first role as therapists is to empower parents.

LPGS: What part of parenting does not cause guilt?! It is most certainly normal to feel responsible for your own child, and parents should understand that they are taking a caring step for their child by bringing him or her to therapy.

MW: My second tip would be to encourage parents to ask questions—even if a question crosses the line, which is exactly the type of question that may end up being part of the building of the relationship. And it’s also important because kids look to their own parents to see how safe the world is, how safe they are. My third tip would be to shape your expectations. We all know that when a child has an infection, it will be 10 days of antibiotics…but we don’t all know the routine behind the mental health process.

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