17 Dec How To Support Your Child Through Therapy
How to Support Your Child Through Therapy
Parents sometimes ask me how they can support their child through therapy. Indeed, some of my clients are parents whose children are getting therapy someplace else, perhaps through a school counselling service. They’ve often come to work on their own anxiety, some of which is around their children. This has prompted me to put together some general advice for parents whose children are having therapy. I tend to work with teenagers and young adults, so these thoughts are geared towards them. However, if your child is younger and having therapy, I hope that you will still find something here to help.
Supporting a teenager who is undergoing therapy can be crucial for their well-being. Here are some ways you can provide support:
If I am working with your child, then our work together is confidential. These are general ethics in our profession. The only time I can break that confidentiality is if I suspect your child of hurting themselves, others, or about to commit a crime. This means that I don’t discuss therapy sessions with you, apart from things like payments and timings. However, if there is something I think you, as a parent, need to know, I strongly encourage your child to tell you. If this is difficult for them, there may well be some work around communication within a session. Alternatively, your child can request that you join us for the next session and we discuss it together.
Confidentiality is an important part of the therapy relationship. Your child needs to feel that they can bring anything to the table.
The other time I may discuss a child’s therapy is with my supervisor (again, this is common to all therapists) who is there to make sure I am practising soundly, safely and ethically.
The best thing you can do is let your teenager or young person know that you are there if they want to discuss anything that may have come up in a session, but don’t push. You can ask now and again if they’d like to talk, but let them take the lead. If they don’t, respect their privacy and back off!
What do you need right now?
One thing I like to teach my clients is how to tune into their own needs. So, something you might do after a session is to ask them what they need right now? This could be space, a hug, a hot chocolate, for you to do something (like make an appointment with the school), or time to talk something through.
I would also encourage you and your child to leave some space, post-therapy session, for them to process what’s come up, rather than rishing back into the thick of things.
Take it slowly
Therapy can take some time, and it is a process of change. It’s important to be patient and supportive throughout their journey. With many teenagers and young people, it can take time for them to establish trust and feel safe with a counsellor.
Learn about therapy
Different therapists have different approaches. Some encourage talking alone, others focus on early childhood and family relationships, and others are quite goal-focused, bringing in tools and exercises. It’s worth thinking about what type of counsellor would suit your child. I have many teenagers who are very interested in the psycho-education I use around how the brain works and how the chemicals it creates can influence our emotions. Likewise, when they understand how anxiety is a natural mechanism that keeps us safe, they can feel more in control.
I use a mixture of all of the above processes, but at its heart I am solution-focused. This means that we work on making things feel better as soon as possible. I set homework, or experiments, in between sessions. These are small practical pieces of work to keep things moving forwards.
Learn about mental health
Read about what’s going on for them. If they are anxious, knowing about the mechanics of anxiety can help you understand their world, and what’s going on for them.
Attend Sessions (if asked)
I occasionally ask a parent into a session, or part of one, This is always in agreement or at the request of the child. It could be that we need the parent’s support for new behaviors the child wants to practise, or something has come up that they would like to talk about in my presence. It does not mean that anything is drastically wrong or that this is family therapy.
Even though these years are a time for finding selves and individuating from parents and carers, they still need all the help they can get with structure and a consistent routine. I have had parents swap shifts so they can get their children to sessions regularly and on time. Missing sessions sets us back and weakens the work.
Cultivate a supportive home
It’s not wrong for some teenagers to crave attention (this isn’t a bad thing, we all need attention) and a sense of being looked after. This isn’t difficult to provide, but may involve looking at what added stressors can be removed from the home environment for the moment.
Help with the basics
It’s interesting how much a good night’s sleep, nutritious food, regular exercise and staying hydrated can improve mental health. This is something you can help promote, or even encourage. I’ve worked with teenaers who have asked their parents to sign them up for skateboarding or karate classes. This has helped promote physical health, a sense of achievement and improve social skills. Find out what your teenager enjoys and encourage it.
Encourage a sense of control
Give your teenager a hand in deciding the therapist. Get them to decide on the dinner menu at home at least once a week. However, along with control comes responsibility, so encouraging this through jobs like taking the bins out and cooking once a week. Don’t under-estimate the importance of building self-esteem through achievement.
Watch, but don’t fuss
Do keep an eye out for any signs of crisis or deterioration in their mental health. If you notice concerning behaviour, reach out to their therapist, GP or mental health professional. Better still encourage them to do so and create a sense of autonomy and responsibility.
Nurture your relationship
As teenagers grow into young adults, your relationship can feel increasingly strained,or even non-existent at times. Don’t give up though! Spend quality time with your teenager. Even if this is playing X-box or silently watching a film together. Find out what they are interested in and at least learn a bit about it – you don’t have to go skateboarding with them but knowing the moves at least gives you some common language.
Building and maintaining a strong emotional connection can provide a buffer against life’s challenges. Likewise, tell them about the challenges in your own life, and how you overcame them, without preaching. Show them your own vulnerability.
I work with teengers, young people and worried parents whose children are having therapy elsewhere. I see clients online and in Folkestone and Hythe in East Kent. Contact me or book a call for a 15 minute chat about how we could work together.