When I first started out as a therapist, a good part of the work I did was with children and adolescents, which I still continue to do today. Providing therapy to children and adolescents comes with its own set of struggles and barriers, in comparison to working with adults, but one common issue I frequently saw was the belief by parents that if their child or children were in therapy it meant they were failures as parents or bad parents. Sometimes this would result in the parent or parents becoming defensive, denying any issue or problem, and refusing to take their child to therapy. This belief of being a failure or a bad parent would prevent their child from getting the help they wanted or needed. Yes, I will be honest, with some of the children and adolescents I have worked with the parenting styles or lack thereof was often a primary source of the behavioral or emotional issues of the child or children, but that was not always the case. There have been many situations where the parents or parenting styles had absolutely nothing to do with what their child was going through.
Just as with many adults who seek out therapy, many children just need someone outside of their world to talk to about whatever they may be going through in their lives. They may feel uncomfortable talking about certain topics with peers or family, want a safe place to discuss something that they know will not leave that space and is free of judgement or consequences, or they are just seeking an alternate perspective or additional guidance. It is not necessarily a reflection of the relationship with their parent or parents or parenting styles. In my experience, it has actually improved the relationship and communication between the parent(s) and child since the child or adolescent is able to “practice” the conversation in the room before approaching their parent(s) about an uncomfortable or difficult topic.
Sometimes too, even for children and adolescents, there are underlying mental health or behavioral issues that require the help from a professional. Again, this does not mean that the parent has failed. If a child becomes sick or develops a cavity, a parent typically does not think “I am a failure at being a parent.” Rather, they take their child to the doctor or dentist who has the education and training to take care of the problem and improve the situation. The same holds true for education. Most parents send their children to school to be taught by teachers who have received the education and training to do so. This same mentality should be used when there is a mental health or behavioral issue; the assistance of a trained professional should be sought out. Every one of us has times in our lives when we do not know how to fix or change something and we turn to a professional who does. Mental health and therapy are the same.
I have seen the struggle, anger, disappointment, guilt, and judgement parents have felt and dealt with when they are referred to a therapist for their child. It’s unfortunate that there is still a taboo around mental health and a negative perception of going to therapy, even more so when it is a child or adolescent who is the client. Just as I tell all of the parents of children and adolescent clients I see, if your child needs or wants to go to therapy, it does not mean you have failed as a parent, you are doing what is best for your child by taking care of their mental health and well-being. If you feel that your child or adolescent could benefit from therapy, please contact Symmetry Counseling today to schedule an appointment.