If there are two groups of people that don’t want to be in the same room at the same time when the same argument is happening for the 5,009th time, it’s parents and teens. Young adults manage to conjure up rather remarkable dark, withering stares that leave me chilly from across the room. And, they often continue that voodoo side eye the entire first session. However, I can hardly blame them–I wouldn’t trust me at first either. Why would it make sense to make yourself vulnerable to someone you can only assume is aligned with your parents?
The job of a good family counselor is to find a way to communicate with everyone in the family, surly teens included. So how can parents help family therapy meet with success?
1) Do your research–Participating in family counseling requires you to trust the therapist enough to allow that person to speak with your kids alone, and to keep some things confidential about those conversations. Of course, if I hear anything that leads me to believe your child is in danger or may be hurting him or herself, you will be advised of the situation. Otherwise, sessions between counselors and kids are somewhat private. Knowing this, you should interview several therapists and choose one you believe shares your goals and values.
2) Do your homework–Therapy is like a rest stop on the road of family life. It’s a place to get a cool drink, gather your thoughts, and stretch for a moment. But, the real stuff is happening outside of my therapy room. If I assign homework, it’s because I want to bridge the learning between sessions and encourage consistent change throughout the week. When you participate outside of therapy as well as inside the meetings, you will teach your children that family is important and that growth is everyone’s responsibility.
3) Ask Questions–Now is the time to ask your kids how they’re feeling and what they make out of challenges facing the family. Families who succed in therapy do so because they have learned to break out of old ruts and speak to one another in a process-oriented way. When you enlist your kids to help solve problems (including the ones they create) they will feel valued and give you a taste of their love and creativity.
Your Partner in Healing,
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