“Parents’ Experiences of Their Adolescent’s Mental Health Treatment: Helplessness or agency – based hope.” 2018 Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
Jenny Brown. PhD
The high and moderate hope parents all described ways their treatment involvement provided an opportunity to observe the way they were relating to their child and consider what wasn’t working:
And then you start stepping back and looking at the situation before jumping in. Instead you try to work out what is the best way of dealing with it…
Well just stepping back helped us be more open to other suggestions, and to be able to look at it, sort of not so close in.
Parents’ description of the value of self-discovery in therapy sessions as distinct from instruction from their clinician was quite striking. High-hope parents described the effect of questions they were asked:
Questions would open up what I was doing.
Her questions helped me see that I was just building up more stress with what I was doing.
It gave me a chance to sort of step back enough to be able to help the situation.
Parents spoke of the value of gaining a more objective, observational vantage point to consider their interactions with their child:
It was actually giving you the chance to look at things differently. So you’re actually answering your own questions, so therefore you’re not being put down.
I think because we were so caught in the situation and it’s so heated and so tight …you don’t ever look at the situation from a distance to see where you’re going wrong.
In our meetings we were asked lots of questions about how we were doing things, like ‘How do things happen in the morning? And what are you doing?’ And it opened your eyes up, like, seeing it for the first time sort of thing.
One mother from the high hope group spoke of her considering ways she could adjust the ways she had been contributing to her 18 year old daughter’s dependence through participation in family sessions:
I think the idea about more independence came from listening to the way everyone interacted in the family. I wasn’t told to change.
The following parent quotes describe the agency promoting pathway of coming up with their own solutions through the clinician’s relevant questions:
We were always asked to think for ourselves.
It wasn’t like walking into a class room and learning parenting skills it was more questioning us and making us come up with answers.
It was very clear that we had to come to our own decisions and work things out ourselves.
I guess it was the realisation of me coming to that myself rather than them having to tell me. I guess they sort of painted the picture and I finished it.
While family therapy sessions were reported as useful at times, the majority of parents in the sample preferred the experience of parent only sessions. Parents who built increased agency described the value of exploring their interactions without the distraction of their child’s reactions:
The parent-only sessions just made it a little bit smoother, easier, just dealing with the parenting part.
In the sessions without her it was more carefree because I didn’t have to worry about what she’s going to take on.
The individual meetings were better. You can be more open. You can say what was happening. I think it was the fact that you could actually unload something.
The step-parents in particular, who had reported feeling sidelined from the biological parent’s alliance with the adolescent, expressed the value of therapy without the child:
Parent meetings have given me an opportunity to put out my opinion on how it’s going forward, and how it affects me as well. Because I haven’t been able to do that, without criticism or fear about what it’s going to do in our relationship.
The pathway of parent owned solutions was reported as important in averting parents from feeling blamed:
I guess when someone‘s not telling you you’re doing a bad job or you’re doing something wrong and you realise it yourself you’re not feeling as bad.
You’re not spoken to in a put down way. It’s not like, ‘oh you’ve done that wrong’.
Each parent, with reports of increased agency, had relied on the discoveries from their parent and family therapy to reduce their external investment in solely finding a medical cure:
Our sessions have revealed that it’s not even a medical condition, its more her upbringing and the way I conditioned her, what she got used to and then her playing on that too.
- Professional Resource
In this edition of Family Matters, I talk with Dr. Jenny Brown about how she helps parents think about children with mental health challenges. We’ll explore how parents’ work on themselves can help foster maturity and resilience in their children. Dr. Brown is the founder and director of The Family Systems Institute in Sydney, Australia.
- Professional Resource
The reciprocity between parents and their child’s mental health treatment systems, Family Systems: A Journal of Natural Systems Thinking in Psychiatry and the Sciences, 14:2, 2020 Jenny Brown. PhD Excerpts Any treatment may achieve some symptom relief for a child even if it does not address the underlying parental process. This can occur through anxiety…