Updated: Jan 13, 2021
One of the biggest challenges a parent can face is the diagnosis of a mental or behavioural health issue in their child. But as a therapist who specializes in this area, I see the most committed, loving, responsive parents I have ever met. And what a powerful thing for a child to receive.
Here is an excerpt from an interview I did with BC adoption magazine: How can parents best support their child through mental health challenges and past trauma? Do they need to parent in a particular way?
Yes, parents need to parent differently when there is a diagnosis present. Sometimes parents are stunned at the techniques that I ask them to simply “throw away.” I educate all of my parent clients that parenting is not a technique or system. Parenting is the development of an attachment bond over time. Once we shift our focus, with added understanding of attachment and relationship development and the impacts of positive healthy attachment, we happily throw away old parenting techniques that never worked in the first place. And our children often appreciate it.
I advise parents to seek a counsellor or psychologist who has a background in family systems and parenting in the context of mental health diagnoses. The family system and parenting relationships are the primary source of impact and change for any child. There can be more success in a thoughtful, informed, supported parenting approach than in weeks or months of taking your child to a counsellor.
I begin counselling with the parents. With mental health diagnoses, parents are often overwhelmed and concerned. They take their child straight to a counsellor, but many children who have been taken to counselling in this way will say to me, “obviously my parents think I am the problem.” The child sinks further into low self-esteem and despair.
I do extensive work in education about the aspects of the diagnosis and then move to address past parenting approaches and what has been working and not working. We then re-define the parenting approach to include a healthy vision of a functioning family system that accommodates and accepts the diagnosis. This is a much more exhaustive process than many parents expect. It isn’t until then that the child is included in therapy. Read the full interview here: https://www.bcadoption.com/resources/articles/ask-expert-mental-health-and-trauma-children
Britta Regan West
MA, RCC, TITC/CT-CFST
Clinical Counsellor, Clinical Traumatologist, Compassion Fatigue Specialist