This is a common lament of frustrated parents who drag their child to see a therapist. The parents are seeking the help of a counselor typically because they are at their wit’s end. They are most likely overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness, desperation and possibly anger. A well-trained therapist understands the parents request cannot be met. How so, you may ask?
In some families they have labeled one individual, typically a child, as “the problem.” Therapists use the label of the “identified patient” (IP) to describe these situations. These parents place the broken family dynamics at the feet of this individual family member. A large amount of energy is directed at the child who is abusing drugs or acting out in some form or fashion. This hyper-focus on the IP takes the focus away from the other problems the family has created through their interactional patterns. These parents are in denial regarding their “problem child,” who is actually a symptom of the family’s problems. Such an entrenched and misguided mindset makes it more challenging for the parents to accede that it is the whole family that must adjust.
Conversely, a family that understands that many of its members are in need of counseling indicates a level of emotional health and flexibility, which eases the changes that must take place. A well-trained counselor has an understanding that the family dynamics must be mired in rigid relational patterns. Therefore, the IP needs to make some improvements and the family interactions must also undergo improvements. It is up to the therapist to avoid joining the family in scapegoating the IP and in sidestepping problems in the rest of the family system.
Children from loving, well-adjusted and Godly homes can also be lead astray by their own sinful choices and by the lure of illicit society. Emotionally healthy parents will benefit from seeking therapy for their child and for themselves on how to deal with such a confusing set of circumstances. Pursuing guidance from a mental health professional is a demonstration of humility. Even the best home life cannot guarantee that a young person will not exhibit poor judgment, impulsiveness, immaturity and risky behaviors. This is because we are fallen and live in a fallen world. God is gracious in allowing us ‘free choice’ and using it wisely rests ultimately at the feet of each of His children.
The ultimate goal of counseling with a Catholic family therapist is to identify and resolve the problem(s) that are creating unhealthy dynamics and to support each other in a Godly and loving atmosphere. Results in therapy can never be guaranteed, however with hard work and prayer the family may increase insight, communication, and differentiation among the members of the family.
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3
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