The journey through the Wilderness of Life is filled with beauty and rife with obstacles.These are some of the lessons that I've learned on that journey. If you sometimes have difficulty seeing the beauty or traversing the obstacles then I wrote this for you.
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
My Children Are Perfect Because I am a Psychotherapist
My children are perfect because I'm a psychotherapist.
You didn’t know?
All therapists have perfect children because we are perfect
My father is a therapist and I and my brothers were perfect children (I hope no one who knows my family is reading this)
I have a bridge in New York I think you should buy.
I often wonder if the parents of the kids I work with are
curious about my children. Do you think my children are perfect? Do you think
my children never talk back or misbehave? How about this dastardly thought…do
you think there are never times that I’d like to drop my kids at the firehouse?
If you were, in fact, wondering. My children are not
perfect.They often talk back and misbehave, and there have definitely been
times I’ve thought about the firehouse (I would give them a ride though. I
wouldn’t make them walk there, that’s just mean.).
At the initial psychotherapy session I assure the parents of
kids I am working with that I am not winning any parenting awards. I also often
commiserate with them and tell them my kid did the very same thing they are
expressing their concerns to me about.
I heard a great line many years ago that, when repeated to
parents, never fails to garner knowing head nods. “There are two different
types of parents, those who beat their children and those who don’t. But we all
think about it.”
It occurred to me one day that in spite of the fact that I
am not winning any parenting awards I am doing a great job connecting with the
kids that I’m working with. Then the next thought that occurred to me was, “I
find it so enjoyable to connect professionally with children who are not my
own, why do I have to work so hard to connect to my children? I don’t want to
be that therapist who does great with everyone else’s kids but can’t deal with
his own. But that’s what it feels like sometimes.”
I also sometimes feel guilty in session when I am playing or
talking with a child or teenager and her father or mother is in the room and I
accomplish more in a 45 minute conversation than his parents have accomplished
in the last year with regard to establishing rapport and getting the secrets
out. I wonder what I would feel like if I was that father. Would I be so sad
that my child decided to let everything out in front of a stranger who says he
can be trusted but he wouldn’t tell me half of that stuff? I think I would be
sad, I might even cry.
And then I go home and my 10 year old seems to not really
want to talk and when she does I find myself zoning out.
Oh my gosh! I didn’t want to be that dad! The dad who does
not make himself fully present and mindful for every word his children say!
I’m working on an idea that I would like to share with you, my
I think that when children open up and tell their secrets it
is less about the child and more about the listener. When I sit down with a young
person I make eye contact, I show her that I genuinely care, and I also convey
the message that she can say anything she wants to and I will not judge her.
“It might be too tough for your parents, teachers, and friends to handle, but
not me, I got it.”
I can handle it because she’s not my kid. I care about her
as I do all of my clients but she does not represent the future of my hopes and
dreams and so I am able to open up more and be less critical of what she says.
When my daughter complains I think to myself, “why is she
always focusing so much on the negative? Why can’t she focus on the positive? I
need to teach her to focus more on the positive.” And then I open my big mouth
and start responding whether or not she is done with her sentence. When a 10
year old client starts complaining I lean forward and use non-verbal cues to indicate
that not only am I listening but I’m understanding and empathizing with him. I
am making him feel like he is the only person in the world and the last thing I
want is to change him. I also don’t interrupt him. These are the ingredients
that compel anyone, child or adult, to open up and confide.
“Hooray! Someone is just listening to me, not trying to
change me and not judging me! It’s awesome!”
A great Rabbi, Shlomo Carlebach, when he was alive, would
often use the formula of “I bless you and me” implying that he wanted or needed
the blessing as much as the benedictees he was speaking to. I will take the
liberty of doing the same thing here.
I bless you and me that we should be able to really open our
hearts and minds and listen to our children. There are times when parents must
direct their children, that is a big and important part of our job as parents.
And then there are times when we must pull back a bit and listen with mindful
attentiveness and convey to our children the message, “I love you just for who
you are, I want to hear from you, I recognize that you are a supremely
beautiful being and I don’t want to change your essence at all.” And through
that open and empathic listening our children should understand that their
parents care more deeply for them than any therapist ever could even though the
therapist is sometimes helpful and even necessary.
When a child is opening her heart to me in front of her mother I could feel guilty but that would be completely missing the point. This moment represents an opportunity. In about 45 minutes this experience will be over and this family will go back to their home, work, school, life. I may or may not see them in a week or two. While the child may remember the nice feeling of being able to open up to me it is only half of my job. The other and even more challenging half is to slowly remove myself and replace me with mom or dad or whomever loves this child. The opportunity is that I can move from being the primary recipient of the open heart to being a conduit that guides the beautiful soul material from the child to the parent because in the end I don't heal or fix anyone, my job is to facilitate healing that can be self promoting and self perpetuating.
If you or anyone you know could benefit from further exploration please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-803-4832. www.arihoffmantherapy.com