When parents decide to take a child to therapy for behavioral or emotional issues for the first time, they may have concerns about their role in the counseling process.
Although every situation is different, the following is a guideline on what parents can expect their involvement to be during the therapeutic process:
Preschool, elementary school • For a young child, a parent’s participation and follow-through is essential. Not only will the behavioral health professional need a report on the child’s behavior between sessions, but it is also important for the participating parent to learn skills to help his or her child succeed in therapy.
In Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, an empirically supported treatment for conduct and emotional disordered young children, parents are just as involved as the child in therapy. During sessions, parents are coached by the therapist and are taught new ways of interacting with their child. The goal is to establish a nurturing and secure relationship while increasing the child’s positive behavior and decreasing negative behavior.
Preteen, middle school • For children falling in the tween and early adolescent age group, parent involvement during therapy sessions is still necessary, but there is more confidentiality between the child and therapist. Having a foundation of trust between the child and the therapist is very important in making progress, and the child being able to speak freely without his or her parents around helps build that rapport.
Although the majority of the session is spent with the therapist and child alone, the therapist will usually meet with parents at the end of each therapy session or set up a separate meeting to discuss concerns and strategies to implement at home.
High school, late teens • Depending on the concern, typically, for high school students and older teenagers the parent involvement in therapy is much less. Although an individual in this age group still relies heavily on parents, it is a phase of life where they begin to transition from a child to an adult and are learning to reflect on problems and come up with their own solutions.
Although older teens have a lot of independence and adult-like activities such as driving, making their own money and keeping a schedule, a parent staying engaged and keeping the therapist updated on the teenager’s life is important. There will always be situations where a teen will need a parent’s help or be in a situation where a parent will need to assert authority.
In general, the most important thing a parent can do to help the therapeutic process is follow-through. The more a parent commits to “homework assignments” issued during counseling, the more likely the child is to succeed. At any age, children thrive on consistency.
Lisa Hadley is an education specialist for St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s helpline for parents of teens. Call 314-454-8336 for information as well as referrals to mental health providers.