When I was younger, I remember dreaming of going to a therapists office. It’s not the typical teen dream, but I had things I wanted to get off my chest and I didn’t think that my parents or my friends would be good enough listeners. I approached my mother, as I knew my father frowned upon seeking ‘shrinks’. It took a little convincing, but finally she agreed to let me go.
This first foray into a stranger’s office to spill my beans felt a little scary but, it also felt freeing. I sat across from a very lovely woman, who in retrospect was probably not a great therapist, but to me she was just what I needed. As one of six children ranging a span of nineteen years, it was sometimes difficult to feel heard at home. It was no one’s fault it just was what it was. But, here in this office I had 50 minutes, uninterrupted, in which I could get undivided attention and some time to reflect on my inner anxieties. I don’t even recall one bit of advice she may or may not have given me, but what I do remember was a feeling of self-acceptance that was so necessary at that time. I didn’t go to her very long, perhaps a few weeks even, but it was enough time to make me feel heard and more confident to handle the challenges of my life at that point.
Fast forward to my own parenting generation. We are a generation of helpers, some even say helicopters. We take our little ones “late” on speech to a speech therapist, not walking fast enough – PT, not writing clear enough -OT. But, having a hard time with transitions, socially or just feeling sad often parents are still leery or even secretive about the need for a ‘shrink’.
My husband just finished reading the book Columbine. This terrible tragedy resulting in death, trauma and a forever changed country, has me wondering if perhaps early therapy for these boys (one of whom was the son of a military guy, causing the family to travel city to city) could have helped change their trajectory. Who knows for certain, perhaps not, but as a mother of 2 teenagers I take feelings and changes seriously.
When my oldest had trouble transitioning into high school, I am not ashamed to say we sought help. Not because he was crazy, not because there was really anything wrong with him at all. We took him because he asked. No more, no less. Feeling heard and accepted by a well-trained, impartial pair of ears helped him feel confident and able to handle the challenges most high schoolers face.
Some may wonder, why we couldn’t just do that listening ourselves. Well, of course we did. But, any parent of a teen will realize that a parent’s power of persuasion only goes so far. Ultimately it is what that child feels about himself and his peers that truly matters at that point in his life. A good therapist has the ability to empower the child, pass on a box of tools to handle tough situations and teach them how to handle the multitude of let downs growing up comes with. We, as his parents, just supported those fundamentals and learned right along with him.
I think it is high time we lead by example. There is no shame in accepting our limitations or needing outside support. There is no embarrassment in allowing ourselves the ability to be vulnerable and emote. There is value in learning to express ours feelings, take initiative in making change and allowing our children to feel empowered.
Wondering how to go about finding a qualified therapist in your area? Start with your pediatrician. They usually have a plethora of great people to offer. Ask your friends and you’ll be surprised by how many of them share the name of the person they take their child to see…