5 Ways you’re Sabotaging your Child’s Therapy

Let me begin by stating the obvious; you care about your child’s wellbeing and want to be sure that you do everything in your power not to be “the reason” he or she seeks professional psychological help in adulthood. Every parent has the cliché nightmare of being the main topic of conversation during their adult child’s therapy sessions. One of the most effective ways to mitigate this is to hook your kid up with a therapist quickly once you first notice a problem.

But hold on juuuust a minute – most of the time, footing the bill for your child’s mental health services isn’t enough to “fix” the problem. Us therapists are known to get frustrated that some parents seem to think that’s where their responsibility ends. We complain in our heads about them “dumping the kid off in therapy” and “expecting me to fix it.”  But of course, that’s not going to be you, because you are a way better parent than that—and you’re going to learn from other parents’ mistakes and end up with rave reviews from your child’s therapist.

Sabotage #1:  Expecting your child to be “fixed” after a few weeks of treatment

Trust me, nobody believes in the power of quality psychotherapy more than I do, but expecting a quick fix from mental health treatment is like taking a diet pill with the hope of waking up looking like a Victoria’s Secret Angel – it just isn’t gonna happen.  That being said, it is possible to see change rather quickly. Please, please, please do not complain to your child’s therapist that you “don’t feel like it’s working” as soon as your child has an inevitable setback. Progress is not linear, as much as we’d like it to be. Parents have a tendency to become accustomed to seeing positive changes in their child’s behaviors and mood and forget why they came to therapy in the first place. Having specific and measurable goals will ensure that you “remember where you came from” when your child starts to improve – it will also help your child’s therapist not to give up because you will never be satisfied.

Sabotage #2: Insinuating – or saying – that your child is “The Problem”

This can be extremely invalidating to your child and often paints an incorrect picture. Do not act like your family would be perfect if only your child would [insert your deepest wishes and desires here]. Human beings are a culmination of nature AND nurture, and, you guessed it, you contribute to both parts. Your child’s therapy will be much more effective and meaningful if all caregivers, and possibly even others living in the home, participate in psychotherapy together. We cannot expect children to implement new strategies learned in therapy without the support of their environment.

Sabotage #3: Attributing psychotropic medication as the reason your kid is getting better

 Psychopharmacology can often play a major part in progress seen and experienced in therapy. To imply, or state, that your kid is getting better because they are “finally on the right meds” is not only insulting to your child’s therapist, but to your child, as well. Parents often do not know the huge amount of work and effort their kid puts in during their therapy sessions and even between sessions. Insinuating that they are improving because their psychiatrist found the sweet spot of their Zoloft dosage is a bit short-sided – not to mention extremely invalidating.

Sabotage #4: Triangulation

Triangulation is just a fancy therapy term for making your child’s therapist out to be the bad guy. Oftentimes parents can become jealous or resentful of their kid’s therapist due to feeling threatened by the relationship between the two. It is NOT you versus your child’s therapist. Don’t make the mistake of putting your child in a position to have to choose you or them. We are all working towards the same goals and the more you can show that you trust and respect your child’s therapist, the better able your child will be to do the same and make progress in therapy.

Sabotage #5: Ignoring, or defying, the therapist’s advice

Behavioral therapists can sometimes come off as a bossy bunch. Take it from me; there is a method to the madness. If you’ve been given a directive to issue a consequence to your child, do us all a favor and implement the protocol. Failing to do so can inadvertently send a message to your child that will later come back to bite you in the @$$, especially if your child knows that they messed up and “deserve” a consequence. It shows your kid that they do not have to listen to you, respect your rules, etc. because you are not following through on what you say you are going to. This can lead to big problems in the future. If your child does not respect you, that will be a recipe for disaster. To quote a wise woman, “children are not born with respect, they must learn it, and you must earn it.” Do yourself a favor and listen to the advice your child’s therapist gives you – even if you don’t understand it or necessarily agree with it. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

Sarah Kmita, LPC--MHSP