See a therapist?

Don’t you just love it when you expect to hear a standard piece of advice and instead you hear something that spurs you to look at an issue in an entirely different way? In my case, a magazine I was reading presented a relatively common parenting issue. A mother wrote in revealing that her eight-year-old son’s short temper and aggressiveness were becoming an increasingly difficult problem. She wanted to take him for therapy, but her husband disagreed.

The magazine asked three professionals involved in family counseling and therapy to answer this mother’s question. I could have predicted the first two answers which can be summarized as: Good for you for recognizing a problem and wanting to deal with it; therapy can be invaluable; here are ideas for getting your husband onboard; one way to end the logjam between you and your husband is to let a therapist advise you as to whether this needs intervention or not.

The third “expert” was the one whose answer surprised and delighted me. A social worker with a private practice who also gives parenting classes, he advised against therapy. More specifically, listing a slew of potential negatives, he advised against therapy for the son. At the same time he encouraged the parents to seek guidance (which might or might not be from a therapist). Let me amend my words from my Musing’s opening—rather than spurring me to look at an issue in a new way, he reminded me of what I have long known. Parents are the most important people in their children’s lives and need to accept that responsibility.

There are times that parents need to trust experts. Mothers and fathers cannot take the place of a pediatric cardiac surgeon no matter how dedicated they are. For most things, however, parents can do far better than those they can hire. For example, a friend of mine gave birth to a baby with Down’s Syndrome. Rather than accept the recommended twice-a-week visits from a therapist, she read and researched extensively, and trained herself (or hired someone to train her when necessary) in exercises that would benefit her son. Her husband and children also became proficient in spotting opportunities to enhance the baby’s environment and in playing with the baby in ways that were conducive to his optimum growth. Instead of a few hours of a trained therapist a week, this baby had a team of people who loved him constantly working with him.

I was speaking with a neighbor who works professionally with children accessing remedial services. Her office is one of many in a professional building filled with occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists and psychologists. She estimates that the main issue plaguing over 75% of the children they serve is parental mismanagement or abdication of responsibility. At the very least, the parents are inadvertently exacerbating the situation. These are caring, loving parents. They make the time to drive their children to therapy for which they often pay at least some of the cost. Yet, they don’t recognize that if they put in the time and effort to change and acquire skills, their children might not need outside help at all or might need much less help.

An eight-year-old’s violent, angry outbursts are scary and disturbing. Some children might indeed need professional help. However, parents won’t know what is needed until they get their own house in order. Parents often intensify a situation because they lack the skills to run a warm, calm, orderly house. Working on themselves will yield greater results than hoping that years of therapy will correct problems that possibly could have been avoided or lessened in the first place.


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