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Parents and Psychotherapists: Some Common Denominators

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Like Judy Collins singing, "I've looked at both sides now," I can tell you that practicing psychotherapy is far easier than parenting.

Therapists are fortunate to have the opportunity to dedicate time to learning, studying a vast array of psychotherapeutic techniques, reading about child development, reviewing case studies, receiving supervision from seasoned practitioners, as well as undergoing our own psychotherapy and/or psychoanalysis.

At the opposite extreme, few people recognize the complexity and few have the chance to seek assistance or advice on how to parent. Parents rarely receive formal instruction for their endless, ever-evolving intricate task.

Economic factors also favor the psychotherapist. The practice of psychotherapy is regarded as a respectable way to make a living, while parenting is an economically depleting endeavor. Money often flows out of a wallet or bank account faster than milk pours from a bottle.

Reversibility vs. irreversibility also places the advantage in the court of the psychotherapist. A person may become a psychotherapist and decide to change professions, but becoming a parent is irreversible. (Giving up a child for adoption doesn't completely eradicate the emotion involved in the experience.)

The therapist's task is contained in the hour's session, while the parents' job extends over long hours that include the stresses of everyday life, inflicting a handicap similar to racing with one leg.

But a similarity between the roles in the area of communication. Ideally both parents and psychotherapists aim to transmit messages with integrity and sufficient consistency to encourage and guide the child or client in positive directions. The relative success or failure of the task lies in achieving the goal: to help the individual discover and explore his talents and find the way he can contribute to society.

Good parenting and psychotherapy involve a kind of artfulness. In other words, what to say and when to say it makes a huge difference. For example, we want to guard against expressing our thoughts and feelings when doing so wounds feelings and diminishes self esteem. We must select words wisely and at times sacrifice spontaneity and authenticity.

An example is a father with an overweight daughter; he does well to contain his feelings and to help her by introducing less-caloric foods and setting a good example by eating healthy low-caloric meals himself.

Unfortunately, it's a rarity when society comes to a parent's aid when they're having trouble. Nor do parents receive thanks for a job well done. Which isn't to say that rewards don't exist; on the contrary, nothing compares to the joy of raising a healthy, well-adjusted person able to contribute to society).

Conclusions: The tasks of parenting are underrated, under-appreciated and under-supported, and in many ways, exceed the complexity of the psychotherapist's role. However, the psychotherapist is in a good position to teach the parent how to become a better communicator, a vital ingredient involved in good-enough parenting.