When Counseling isn't Working

Parents sometimes express disappointment about their child's lack of progress in counseling and feel a sense of panic over what to do. Posts to the message boards frequently contain pleas for help and sometimes talk about wanting a medication to cure everything or sending a child away somewhere to be fixed.

If you feel that counseling is not working with your child, I suggest you carefully consider whether you have realistic expectations, a counselor who is a good match for your child, and an appropriate array and intensity of care for the problem.

Realistic Expectations
I sometimes detect in the message board posts a big rush for quick results. Of course we all hate to see our children having problems. When we go for help, we expect tangible improvement. But counseling is usually not a quick fix. First of all, it takes time to build trust and a relationship where children feel they can honestly express their thoughts and emotions. Also, many problems treated in therapy represent well-established habits that took years to develop and do not go away quickly. So my suggestion is that parents ask their counselor how he or she perceives a problem and request an estimate of how long it will take before some observable change might occur. This ensures realistic expectations.

Parents also express mistrust of the professionals' competency. While this may reflect unrealistic expectations about how quickly change should occur, it might also indicate that the professional is not sufficiently skilled in the problem presented. Ideally, this risk can be minimized by judicious selection when first seeking help. Instead of relying on the phone book, I recommend asking for referrals from someone you trust in your child's school, from parents who have had a successful experience with a counselor, or from your own pediatrician. Ask specifically for someone who is good at working with families, with your child's age group and type of problem. Be picky. Then at your first session, make sure that your child and you can comfortably relate to the counselor.

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