There are, broadly speaking, two categories of psychotherapy: 1) remedial, where you have identified a personal problem and want to resolve it, and 2) growth work, where you recognize that you could be better, happier, and want to become the person/parent you know you can be.
The value of therapy is the same for both categories. In remedial therapy, you work on a known problem and, as a result of resolving it, become happier, better, more the person you were meant to be. In growth work, you take an in-depth look at your life and identify problems or issues you would like to resolve, and, as a result of resolving them, become happier, better, more the person you were meant to be.
A happy person is a better parent. A well-adjusted person is more likely to raise well-adjusted children. An angry person tends to foster anger and violence in their children. A depressed person may unconsciously limit her children’s expression of emotion. A person who makes changes in his own life gives her children permission and encouragement to make changes in theirs.
Most of us are pretty functional, handling the stress of day-to-day life, not usually getting too angry or too upset, or too unhappy. So why do we need therapy?
- We learned to be parents from watching our own parents. If your own parents were not the best parental role models (Did you have a good experience growing up? Do you want to be like your own mother or father?), then you may have inadvertently learned some poor parenting skills. Examining what worked and didn’t work in your own relationships with your parents can illuminate, and be the basis for changing, your own parenting behaviors.
- How we handle stress affects how we handle our children when we are under stress. When I was raising my children, I noticed that I was picking fights with them when I was stressed. In my own therapy, I learned where that came from and was able to change. You might also find that the things that make you stressed out are not the real triggers for your stress. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to eliminate some of your stress?
- We learned how to handle anger (our own, and other people’s toward us) from watching our parents. My father discounted my own expression of emotion. My earliest memory of that is having him laugh at me when I was throwing a tantrum at age 3. (Aw, isn’t she cute!) I did a similar thing to my own children, singing songs at them when they were crying or upset, rather than responding appropriately to their emotions. Similarly, if you hide from your anger or other emotions, you might learn not to show your emotions. This can result in a lack of honesty, intimacy and vulnerability in relationships, including those with your children. By addressing your own display (or lack) of anger, and its triggers, you can respond appropriately instead of flying off the handle, or retreating into your bedroom. You can develop honesty, trust and intimacy, and still get angry when it is appropriate.
- To Respond instead of React can change our relationships with ourselves and everyone around us, including our children. This requires us to assess how and when we react and why. If we are blind to our reactions, then we can do nothing about them. First we must see them, then we can heal them.
- The most important thing is to love ourselves, unconditionally. Only when we are able to love ourselves unconditionally, can we truly love our children unconditionally and have them experience our love as complete and unconditional.
Psychotherapy is an excellent tool to help us see who we are, where we have come from, and how we can make the changes we desire.
Elaine Baskin, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Institute for Personal Change. The Institute offers a 9-week “fast track” psychotherapy program designed for busy people who want to make changes. Elaine is happily married and has 7 grandchildren. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.