What is Parenting Therapy?

At the simplest level, parenting therapy can be thought of as parenting help. Often short-term in duration, therapy sessions can include all members or just a single person within a unit, and the specific treatment plan will depend on each situation. Whether it is a conflict between parents and children, family trauma, or dealing with children with developmental, physical, or mental health problems, counseling sessions are designed to help parents and give them the support and resources they need to be the best caregivers possible. In parenting therapy, you will learn the tools you need to function effectively within your family and provide the love and support that your children need for a healthy and stable upbringing.

People assume that parenting is something that should just come naturally. After all, having children generally does. The fact is that having children and understanding parenting are two entirely separate issues. At best, even when you have a good understanding of what it means to be a good parent, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can avoid stress and family troubles and be a perfect role model. In parenting, there is no such thing as perfection.

In many cases, beginning parenting therapy may be the best decision a person can make. Parenting therapy covers a multitude of issues ranging from postpartum depression to abuse prevention. Engaging in any type of therapy is usually beneficial, not only for yourself but for others around you, especially your family.

What Makes a Good Parent?

There is no shame in seeking parenting therapy, and it does not mean that you are a bad parent. In fact, the decision to work with a parenting therapist means that you have the courage to ask for help in what is undoubtedly the most challenging role you will ever have. Enlisting the services of a parenting therapist is the first step in providing your children the stability they need and giving yourself the support that you need.

To be a good parent, the most important thing you can do is love your children. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, parents have several main responsibilities which include:

  • Seeking appropriate help for children’s medical or development needs
  • Keeping your children safe from harm
  • Spending quality time with your children and listening to them
  • Setting limits and structure for children
  • Providing stability and consistency
  • Supervising your children’s relationships and friendships

Why You May Need Parenting Therapy

Parenting can be tough, and it can trigger deep stress levels in even the most well-adjusted adults. Stress and strain, when combined with the lack of sleep and other typical poor health habits, can result in a devastating combination. Parenting therapy is not something that every parent needs. In some cases, if you have a strong support system and people you can turn to for help, then it is possible that parenting therapy won’t be necessary. However, for some people, parenting can result in some stressful experiences that they need help with such as postpartum depression and forms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Common Parenting Issues

Every family has its unique challenges and concerns; however, there are many shared parenting experiences that many other adults can relate to. Some of the most common issues that parents face are:

  • Overcoming financial challenges
  • Securing quality child care arrangements
  • Navigating marital problems or divorce
  • Dealing with a death in the family
  • Helping children overcome difficulties at school, with peers, developmentally, physically, and so on
  • Relocating to a new home or new city

Other issues are less universal but can be major obstacles that parents must overcome to provide the best care for their family, including:

  • Losing a job
  • Providing care for a family member with a serious illness or injury
  • Adopting a foster child
  • Dealing with a mental illness diagnosis
  • Supporting a family member through an addiction, or dealing with your own addiction

In the face of stress, parents may turn to a variety of defense and coping mechanisms that can ultimately make the issue at hand worse. It can be hard for parents to realize that they need the assistance, especially since they are supposed to be the ones in charge of the home. In most cases, parenting therapy comes about upon the recommendation of friends and family members or a concerned care-provider like a family doctor.

In some cases, parents will proactively seek counseling when they anticipate a significant change in the family. Other times, situations are unexpected and out of your control and can cause a major disturbance in your family structure. In many cases, parents need to hire a therapist when they start to experience uncontrollable anger, chronic worry, anxiety, or irritability. Unexplained crying, mood swings, manic episodes, or bouts of depression are cause for concern. It may also become necessary to seek a therapist’s assistance if there has been a trauma or loss such as the death of a child or an abusive situation. In some cases, parenting therapy may be ordered by the court in a divorce case for the benefit of the children involved.

Goals of Parenting Therapy

Children model their own behavior, ideas, and beliefs around what they see and hear from their parents. Parents often do not even realize that their children are watching and listening to them. Because children are eager to mimic their parents, it’s important to model positive and healthy behaviors for your children. This is not always easy to do, especially in the face of unexpected adversity, stress, and life’s greatest challenges. Even under ideal family circumstances, it’s important to remember that you are human and making mistakes is normal and natural. You won’t “ruin” your children if you make mistakes; in fact, you can teach them that it’s ok to be imperfect and ask for help when it’s needed.

In parenting therapy, you or your partner likely have specific goals or outcomes that you’d like to see, based on your situation. For most parents, the common goal is being able to deal with “grown-up” problems properly, so that your children don’t have to bear any of the burden. To be successful in increasing your capacity to deal with stressors, anxiety, and challenging situations, you must first acknowledge that there is a problem to address. This is an important first step in any therapeutic scenario, and it’s one that should not be overlooked. Reaching out to a counselor or therapist takes courage, and admitting that you need help puts you one step closer to a solution.

When you begin parenting therapy, your therapist will spend time getting to know you and your family’s circumstances. To develop a treatment plan for you or your partner, it’s important that they know who the family members are. Depending on the situation, a therapist may meet with your entire family, including your children, with separate sessions for either yourself, you and your partner, or your children.

Methods Typically Used in Therapy for Parenting Therapy

The technique used for parenting therapy varies based on the issue. In situations that involve problems such as chronic worry and depression, talk therapy, medication, and positive interaction are some of the most common treatment forms. Postpartum depression, on the other hand, requires an entirely different approach and typically involves both one-on-one counseling and group therapy. In situations such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, controlled sessions with talk therapy and reintroduction and coping techniques are also common. It’s evident that the type of therapy that’s best for you and your family depends largely on your circumstances and needs. Many parenting therapists have a broad range of experience in working with families that allows them to form a treatment plan for your unique needs. If needed, a parenting therapist can refer you to a counselor with a more specific focus.

In situations such as postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress, many of the initial treatments involve the administration of psychotropic medication to help reduce symptoms. The medication is not intended to serve as a cure but merely as a bridging point to allow the therapist to help the individual construct the solution to better deal with the issue. All types of depression, anxiety, and many other types of mental illness can benefit from medications as a starting point for dealing with parent’s mental health issues. This does not mean that medication is a quick fix for your problems, but rather that it is one component of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a useful therapy method that is used in treating a variety of personal issues that parents may experience for themselves or with their children such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Phobias
  • Sexual disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

In CBT, therapists teach parents practical strategies they can use for dealing with difficult situations. CBT shows you how to identify harmful, negative thought patterns and replace them with a more realistic picture. For parents, this might mean learning to be less critical of the job you’re doing as a parent and accepting that you’re doing your best. Using CBT to help with some of the issues that your family is facing can be beneficial for everyone involved.

What to Look for in a Parenting Therapist

Comfort and accountability are two of the most important things in parenting therapy. Most parents are ashamed to even be in the office, and so working with someone who makes you feel comfortable is important. A family therapist is generally a good choice, but personal relationship therapists can work well too. For most parents, the therapy sessions are easier if the therapist is also a parent and has been through similar issues, but this isn’t critical. What matters most is your comfort level, as well as that of your spouse and children if they will also be attending sessions with a family therapist.

There are other important considerations to make when choosing a parenting therapist to work with. To gain the most from your sessions, you may want to meet with several potential therapists before deciding whom you want to work with. Bring a list of questions along so you can ensure that you have all the details you need to make an informed decision about choosing a therapist. Some of the most important things to ask a prospective parenting therapist include:

  • Do you have experience working with children and families?
  • What therapy methods do you use in your practice?
  • What should I expect from our sessions?
  • Will you also require sessions with my children and partner?
  • How many sessions do you recommend for dealing with my particular issue(s)?
  • What is your experience dealing with my specific problem or parenting challenge?

It’s not unreasonable to check credentials or references before you begin counseling, especially if your children will be seeing them as well. Just as you would interview a prospective babysitter or another caregiver, it’s smart to ensure that you’re comfortable with your parenting therapist.

How to Find a Parenting Therapist

It is important to understand that parenting therapists have dual responsibilities. While they are primarily there for your benefit, they must also consider the welfare of your child. This means that they may recommend courses of action for the child’s best interest that you disagree with such as insisting upon a representative for the child or evaluation of the home in situations where explosive anger and abuse are suspected or documented. These requests are not made as a personal attack on you or your spouse; rather, they are made on behalf of your children’s well-being.

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