I have been advised to seek counselling for myself and our 12-year-old. I am hesitating to go ahead because a) How can a stranger help in a family situation? b) What will I hear that I don’t know already? c) I am worried about confidentiality.
In this age of nuclear urban families, many of us live without the parallel, compensatory larger family structure within our homes. Without other adults and elders around, parenting today has become a demanding, one-person or two-person task and responsibility. In addition to this, there are the stresses and strains of modern lifestyles, both on parents as well as children—work pressures, examinations, competition…
In this scenario, a counsellor has become an important and significant support-provider in the parent-child relationship.
What prompts people to go see a counsellor? Several situations:
When the parent-child relationship comes to a difficult point, and there seems to be an impasse, an inability to move forward.
When there is a persistent and recurring behavioural/ mental/emotional problem within the family unit or in school.
When parents/children experience overwhelming grief, anger or confusion over an incident or a development.
When there is need for intervention or help from outside the family unit over a particular issue.
What does a counsellor bring to the situation? Many aspects:
A professional, objective and all-round understanding of the situation.
A compassionate approach, enabling both the parent and the child to voice concerns, fears or grievances.
An ability to identify, intervene and break any vicious cycle of behaviour that may have formed within the unit.
A limited, time-bound plan to effect sustainable change in the attitudes/behaviour of the people involved, thus helping them move forward.
What are the things that a counsellor will not/should not do? There are several:
Will not offer medication. Most counsellors are not trained/qualified to do so, unless they also have a degree in medicine/psychiatry. If a counsellor thinks that there is a psychiatric-medication issue involved, either with parent or child, she/he will refer them to a qualified psychiatrist.
Will not take the place of the parent—in teaching children day-to-day good habits, helping with homework or babysitting.
Will not report to the parents everything that the child talks about.
Will not “gang up” with the parents and force the child to “toe the line”. This means that the counsellor will not be necessarily the “agent” of the parents.
Will not sit in moral judgement about anything that the child or parents reveal.
What should you tell your counsellor? Some key things:
First, visit the counsellor without your child and tell him/her whatever is on your mind, whether your own personal problems, your parenting issues or any other matter you may want to share.
Once you take your child, let your child speak, without interrupting him/her. The counsellor may also ask to speak alone with the child alone.
Always tell the counsellor the truth. It defeats the purpose if you speak in half-truths or hide an important family issue.
Go with an open mind, prepared to speak as well as listen. After all, you are not going there only to hear what you already believe. You are going to a counsellor for fresh insights.
A counsellor can step in when the parent-child relationship needs support and direction. There is an old saying: God can mend a broken heart—but you have to give him all the pieces. It is something like that with a counsellor.
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