Why Couple’s Counseling When Your Child is in Therapy?
When a child has psychological problems that are serious enough to warrant counseling treatment, it is important to look at the stress factors for the whole family. Children who are acting out or have serious symptoms create a tremendous stress load for the whole family. The parents’ relationship may be fragile or challenged for reasons beyond the child’s diagnosis, but the child’s behavior problems, and the worry about the child’s emotional needs, is likely to stretch even the happiest couple to the limit.
In a perfect world, the parents could take time off work to lower the stress level in themselves and in the family system. The school would cater to the child’s emotional needs and extra support from relatives and friends could buffer the family. In our current society—it just isn’t likely that those options are available.
Another way to address the already stressed family system with a child who is struggling, is to help the parents become more competent at communication, and at juggling the emotional and logistical load. Parents who are already frayed around the edges can cause further stress by neglecting their positive relationship and companionship in favor of giving the child who is in pain, their last drops of attention and care. Meanwhile, the partnership becomes strained and eventually can be seriously damaged by the “delayed maintenance”. In the long run the risk of the marriage eroding, or even breaking up, is a much greater threat to the child’s mental health than his or her original symptoms.
Sensitive children are likely to feel the strain between parents. They “read” the subtle irritation between partners. Sometimes they feel that they have caused the rifts. Sometimes they act out to distract the parents from the marital conflicts. Children may also feel hyper responsible (guilty) for the stress they have caused the parents. They try to act super human to make mom and dad feel better. This results in more stress and more symptoms for the child, as well as shame if they feel they have failed to make the parents’ happy.
For a really comprehensive child treatment process, the whole family must be considered. Simply giving attention and support to the diagnosed child may relieve some symptoms, but the child is likely to return to those symptoms when the therapist is removed from the picture. The best treatment involves supporting the parents to attain a new level of self care and mutual support so that they can provide ongoing emotional safety for the child as he or she develops. In the case of diagnoses like ADD, bi-polar disorder, depression and anxiety, the child may need for their partnership to carry the extra stress that these biologically based symptoms cause during teen years of development.
The emotional connection, sensuality and warmth of the marriage bond is a like a “shock absorber” in the family system. It allows the ups and downs of family life to remain in the container of love and acceptance. The mutual appreciation, pleasure and honesty between parents allows the child to truly grow up in an environment that is flexible enough to absorb the extra stress of the child’s recovery and maturation process.