It’s tough for a parent to see their child suffering. It is horrible to feel helpless in the face of their pain. It can be difficult to relinquish your role as confidante and key source of comfort. But sometimes it is necessary to take a step back from a situation to give a young person neutral space and time to work through things – and when this happens, it can be helpful to view your role in the process through their eyes.
For parents of young people engaged in counselling, the following are some observations on finding the right balance between supporting and pressuring, listening and forcing, reacting and responding:
1.“My parents are saying I have been coming here long enough”
When a young person first comes to KYDS, we usually schedule a block of six counselling sessions and then review how things are going and determine next steps. One of the cornerstones of KYDS unique approach to working with teenagers is to give plenty of time for trusting therapeutic relationships to develop and to create pathways enabling underlying issues to move toward the surface of discussion. Unlike many other services, we are not bound by strict rules limiting the number of counselling sessions according to available Medicare rebates etc. This allows us to continue working with young people who may initially present with one issue, but discover at the heart of the matter is something far more complex requiring a longer-term intervention where pre-determined session limits are not always appropriate.
At KYDS, continuing therapy is a consultative decision between the young person and their counsellor and although this may be discussed (with a young person’s knowledge and consent) with parents, it is important for parents to remember that everyone progresses through challenging situations at their own pace and that pressuring for time-lined results is not beneficial.
2.“My parents keep asking me what we talk about in session”
Parents are the mainstay support for most young people and parental interest in the counselling process is both welcome and a wonderful example of support. There are, however, some factors for parents to be mindful of to ensure young people do feel supported, rather than further burdened, by the counselling process. While some young people love to debrief with their parents after a counselling session, others report that their parents intensely quiz them about session content, causing great discomfort. It can sometimes affect what they disclose even to their counsellor. If a gentle, open-ended question in a casual but private setting (eg in the car on the way home) opens up discussion – great. If it doesn’t – don’t push.
Whilst a counsellor’s role would be much easier if they could disclose all the details to a helpful and supportive parent engaging the parent’s assistance and commitment to move forward together, there are hard and fast limits on disclosure of confidential client information. The commitment to maintaining client confidentiality is foundational to the therapeutic relationship and the level of support a young person is willing to receive from a professional. The client needs to provide permission for disclosure to parents. Very often, one of the main aims of therapy can be, over time, to improve the security of the relationship between a young person and their parents, such that these disclosures occur naturally within the family unit. Allowing a young person to decide what they disclose is important and helps them take ownership of their health, developing the self-efficacy required for facing future challenges.
KYDS provides easily-accessed, confidential counselling & mental health support services for teens.
Ph 9416 0900 www.kyds.org.au
KYDS is a registered charity, supported by the community. All donations are 100% tax-deductible.
3.“I did what we talked about and Mum / Dad freaked out”
Whilst improvement through therapy is often linear, this is not always the case. To someone outside the counselling room, sometimes symptoms may even appear to escalate (before they improve). Counselling may result in a bell curve of symptoms for all the right reasons.
For example, a young person with little confidence to speak with their parents about difficult issues may begin discussing quite serious concerns after beginning therapy. This is not necessarily a reflection of a dark turn in their thoughts, but of an improvement in how confident they now feel to raise important issues with you. It may demonstrate their relationship with you is secure enough for them to turn to you when in need.
As another example, therapy for self-harm often explores learning to process emotional distress in less destructive ways. This may mean writing down or drawing painful thoughts and clients may be encouraged to schedule time to practise this at home. Processing these thoughts “externally” is considered a healthy therapeutic progression, although it can be quite confronting or alarming for an observer (such as a parent or carer) who may not be expecting it. The most important thing at this stage is acknowledging and rewarding the new, healthier behaviour (ie external emotional processing), with the actual content of the emotional outflow of less importance.
As parents, it is understandable to want to know what’s going on for your child and to want to know they are safe and supported at all times. Young people are not plants and cannot simply be “watered” once a week at counselling – parents have a real and important role supporting their child between counselling sessions, providing a healthy environment of warmth and comfort, without becoming overbearing or restrictive in their approach and responses.
Parents are welcome to contact us for information sessions regarding youth-related issues and mental health presentations and their management at home, including anxiety, depression, anger, disruptive behaviours, selfharm, etc. Feel free to check our website and follow our Facebook page for information and local events parents and carers may find helpful and to browse through the leaflets and fact sheets displayed in our waiting area at the KYDS Lindfield office.
A few other trustworthy organisations with helpful resources for you and your teen:
- Youth Beyond Blue: youthbeyondblue.com has a variety of information to support young people going through tough times – fact sheets, shared experiences and online chats with professionals.
- Youth Source: youthsource.com.au is an online directory of services and resources relevant to young people and their families in Northern Sydney.
- Parent Line NSW: 1300 1300 52 is a telephone counselling, formation and referral service for parents, grandparents and carers of children under 18 who live in NSW.
- Resourcing Parents: resourcingparents.nsw.gov.au provides information on parenting courses – a great way to boost your confidence as a parent and meet like-minded parents for further support.
- Parentworks: parentworks.org.au offers a free, evidence-based, father-friendly online parenting program.
- Butterfly Foundation: butterflyfoundation.org.au provides specialist support relating to eating disorders.
Final words: be patient, be kind to yourself and give your young person time to work through things at the pace they feel comfortable with.