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What is Parent Counseling and Do I Need It?

If you are struggling to be the kind of parent you would like to be, parent counseling might be right for you. Find out how it is different from coaching and how it can help.

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Kids do not come with owner’s manuals, but when we become parents, we all bring a story of our own. We all have experiences, habits and patterns that impact who we are and how we parent. Parent counseling helps parents look inward to uncover and address these issues, but it also looks outward at the child to uncover what he needs, how he is wired and how to effectively intervene.

What is parent counseling?

Parent counseling is similar to, but distinct from coaching. Coaching is not a highly regulated field so there are no standards of practice or universal ethical guidelines. That’s not to say that parent coaches are not effective. Many are. But the distinction between coaching and counseling is that counseling is offered by a professional with training and insights into human behavior and emotions. Counselors are subject to licensure restrictions that keep them operating “in their lane.” There are many different types of counselors – marriage and family therapists, professional counselors, psychologists and clinical social workers. All are highly regulated fields with standards of care and ethical guidelines.

Parent counselors are trained to look at the big picture and help parents self-reflect and self- assess. For example, one technique that I like to use with parents is an incident processing form. After a particularly difficult interchange with a child, the parent writes down who said what, what body language was observed, as well as internal emotions and self-talk. These last two pieces of information are essential in understanding why we tend to do what we do as parents and how we can make shifts to do things differently. Processing this type of counseling intervention requires experience and training that makes counseling distinct from coaching.

Do I need parent counseling?

Let’s be honest, most parents are just winging it. They use how they were parented (either leaning toward the polar opposite or embracing their own experiences), Google, and friends to make their parenting decisions. For many people this is sufficient to be effective. But if you are finding that what works for other parents does not work for you, or if you are struggling to control your own emotions as you parent, parent counseling can be very helpful.

You may be struggling to effectively discipline your toddler, confused by what you are reading online about the “best” way to parent this challenging stage. Or maybe your school-aged child is dealing with anxiety, distractions or socialization difficulties. Or you may be having a hard time reigning in the screens and devices that compete for your relationship with your child. Or maybe your relationship with your teen is peppered with either silence or conflict. These are just some of the issues that a parent counselor can help you work through.

Parent counseling isn’t individual therapy. If you are struggling with a mood disorder or have a trauma history, cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy might be a good first step. It’s like the airplane oxygen analogy – you have to take care of yourself before you can effectively take care of others.

What will I get out of parent counseling?

Parent counseling is focused work. You will gain insights into who you are and why you react the way you do. You will also learn more about your children and why they act the way they do. This is foundational for effective intervention. As with medicine, you cannot prescribe a cure unless you understand the nature of the disease. Parent counseling helps you understand what is hiding underneath behavior and will provide you with tools to effectively intervene.

Parent counseling is often short-term and very focused with assigned tasks and interventions. It doesn’t have to be a long-term investment. The parent counselor is not interested in becoming a crutch, but rather a teacher that passes on skills and insights which you can take with you on your parenting journey.

If you think you might benefit from parent counseling, you can search for a parent counselor in your area here. Or if you live in Connecticut, you can contact me here. I offer free 15 minute consultations where we can explore how we might work together. It would be an honor to work with you.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

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About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker who offers individual therapy to women and moms in Connecticut. She is the author of More Than a Conqueror, A Christian Kid's Guide to Winning the War on Worry. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of the things she is most passionate about: God's word, parenting and mental health.

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