At Down To Earth, our job, from Day One, is to “make ourselves obsolete.” That is, people come to us for help and it is our duty to define the problems and teach families how to solve the problems so they don’t need us anymore.
In our work with teenagers, we usually find that parents and teens have trouble talking to each other. The teen usually has lots of things they really want to talk to the parents about, but maybe when they’ve started those discussions in the past, the parents gave some advice or some direction without really listening to the teen and therefore, the teen shut up and quit trying to talk to the parent. Or, maybe the teen has some really scary stuff going on and they want very much to discuss it with their parents, but they are convinced that their parents will absolutely flip out and ground them for the rest of their lives, so they suffer quietly.
Some therapists choose to take on the role of parent and talk with their teen clients about the issues that trouble them and help them work out their difficulties in a confidential and private setting. Perhaps the therapist will help that teen work out that specific problem, but when the next problem comes up, the teen will have to run back to therapy to work the next problem out with the therapist.
We don’t take that approach because we don’t feel we need to BE the teen’s parent when they already HAVE parents that love them and want very badly to help them. Further, when a teen is “in therapy” and no one else in the family is participating, they do tend to feel like something is wrong with them and everyone else in the family is fine. They sometimes feel like they are being “blamed” for the whole problem and they sometimes resent that they’re the only one that has to “work” to fix it. That can make them angry and unwilling to participate.
Imagine how angry you might be if you and your spouse were fighting and your spouse said YOU better go to therapy.
Instead, we work on teaching both teens and parents how they can talk with each other and take us out of the picture. We don’t violate the confidentiality. We don’t tell the parents what the teen is saying, we prepare both the teen and the parents to have the teen say it to the parents directly.
We spend some time with the parents telling them that their kid has something they want to discuss and it’s going to scare the crap out of them and we work with the parents until we feel like they’re going to be able to hear the scary thing and not flip out.
Then we work with the teen to prepare them to say the scary thing to the parents. Then we’re right there with them when they do it and we guide the discussion if it’s starting to go astray. After parents and teens have done that with our help 3-4 times, they start to forget that we’re even in the room and they begin discussing all kinds of things that they’ve really wanted to talk to each other about. Bingo, our job is done.
So, parents cannot “put their kids in therapy” at Down To Earth because, no offense, we don’t want to be a part of your life forever. When any one family member becomes a client, that’s it, no one in the family is exempt, they’re all “in therapy” whether they meant to be or not.