By Carol Lozier
Also available in a printable version if you would like to send it to your child's therapist
As an attachment therapist, I write articles for adoptive and foster parents. However,
today’s post is written to my colleagues --therapists who work with adopted or foster
children and their families.
In educational workshops parents are instructed: Remain in the room during your child’s
psychotherapy. Yet, most therapists are not trained to keep parents in the therapy room.
Commonly, most therapists meet with the parents alone, and then work with the child
alone with a short time for both parties together. While this practice is commonplace, it
is not optimal for adoptive or foster families.
A long time ago, I decided to keep parents in the session though it was not how I was
trained either. At first, it did feel odd but not only have I become accustomed to it, I
prefer it. Adoptive mom, Amy, highlights her rationale to include parents in the session:
“The therapist is partnering with me to help heal my child. The therapist is teaching
me how to therapeutically parent my child by modeling the wording. I am there to help
the therapist too- she may incorrectly interpret my child’s silence, or withdrawal or
hyperness. At those times, I can point out, ‘he does this when x happens,’ and then we
can work together to address what to do when x happens at home and she's not there.
In speech, OT, PT, there are exercises that you do between visits, and the same is true
with ‘feelings therapy'. Besides, she is with him for one hour a week; I am with him the
other 167 hours that week and I have to know how to help him.”
10 Reasons for Therapists to Incorporate Parents in a Child’s Session
There are numerous reasons to see the adopted or foster child within a family therapy
setting. Let’s identify the top reasons to involve parents in the child’s therapy session:
1. Parents Are Our Co-Therapist. In an effective therapy session, one of the
parent’s roles is to be our co-therapist as they know their child better than we do.
Oftentimes, parents will identify a negative belief or trigger that we were unaware of,
or they may identify helpful information that we overlooked. Besides, issues come up
at home and parents need to be equipped to work on them as they arise. Adoptive
mom, Cheryl, addresses this point: “Today, I was able to help my son connect back
and work through an issue. As a result this has been one of the best weekends we
have had in a year. I don't think I would have been able to help him work through
that had I not sat in on his therapy. It has helped me to understand him better too.
My perspective has changed so much since being a part of his therapy; it has helped
me as his mom.”
2. Parents Aid In Healing The Past. Parents need to be included in the session
as an aid to the healing process. In therapy, when a therapist and child re-create
past trauma, a parent’s presence offers emotional protection to the child while they
work on difficult or scary past events. Also, when a parent is a available, they can
make corrective, healing statements during the therapy process which is far more
powerful than ours.
3. Clarify Information. When a parent is in the therapy room, they can clarify
information or fill in gaps of missing information. Many times, children do not know
or do not remember information about their past. In these instances, parents can
quickly relay the information to us.
4. Correct Inaccurate Information. Along the same lines, if the parent is in the
room, they can correct information that the child misunderstood or misquoted.
5. The Child Can Turn to Their Parent. During the session, the child may
have numerous needs from simple questions to reassurance to needing to use the
restroom; the parent has to be accessible so that the child can turn to them for help.
We want the child to lean on their parent for help, and not us.
6. Encourage The Child. One of the parent’s roles in therapy is to encourage their
child’s hard work. At times, the child will encounter difficult emotions or issues, and
it is necessary for the parent to praise and support the child through this time. It
is another opportunity for the child to lean on his or her parent, and turn to them
instead of away from them.
7. Honesty. Let’s face it, there are times when children are not honest. They are
not honest because they do not want to feel embarrassed or get in trouble, and
sometimes because they do not want to admit to their wrongdoing. When the parent
is present it ensures honesty from the child. This is important for a multitude of
reasons, but especially because a dishonest answer can lead us down the wrong
path, wasting precious time for the child.
8. Be A Role Model. We are a role model for parents. They learn valuable skills
when they watch us work with their child, and it is a great opportunity for us to coach
them on parenting and therapeutic skills. Adoptive mom, Lynn, shares: “Being in the
room allows me to be a better parent at home. These issues can't be fixed just in
therapy sessions. They get fixed by the parents doing what they need to do between
the sessions. Being in the room, I'm able to learn how to respond to things better.”
9. What Was Instructed? As the counselor, it is our job is to teach the child
healthier skills. If the parent is not a participant, they are not familiar with the
instruction and can not encourage their child to practice the new skill.
10. Bonding. There will be times when a child feels upset in session, and we want
parents to comfort their child. If the parent is not in the room that task is left to us
and then, the wrong person is connecting with the child! Janie, adoptive mom to
Andrew explains: “As a mom, I don't want to miss out on the important moments
of healing that happen in therapy. We love our kids and work so hard, and I don't
want to miss out on the rewards of when my son is genuine and vulnerable, because
that's not a side I see every day. It's important that I be a part of that too.”
I understand that the majority of therapists have been trained to separate parent
and child during the therapy process, and trying something new is initially daunting.
Nonetheless, I hope that the potential benefits, and the parent’s heartfelt comments
spur you to consider changing your practice. I hope you will experience the value it has
for both you as well as the parent and child.
Note: All names have been changed to maintain the confidentiality of families.