Written by: Schenike Massie-Lambert, Ph.D.
Over the years there has been a shift in therapeutic interventions for children, with the focus transitioning from “child-only” therapy to parent-child and parent-only skill building interventions. Recent studies have shown that the field of child psychology is moving in this direction because rates of recidivism and return to therapy were far too high to prove that child only interventions were truly effective (Jennifer W. Kaminski & Angelika H. Claussen, 2017).
Caregivers are our MVPs! Increasingly there has become a need to focus on the child’s caregiving system because they are an essential part of the child’s life. The caregivers typically have unlimited access to the child and are the backbone of the home. The child’s primary has the ability to set the tone for the family’s routines and rituals, culture, expectations, and tone in the home. In other words, they ultimately have the power to impact the effectiveness of a therapist’s interventions with their collaboration and cooperation.
However, the caregiver’s impact doesn’t end there, we often find that caregivers themselves are heavily affected by the children who are under their care. Caring for any child can be a challenge because they naturally test limits which can be developmentally appropriate; however when we add in numerous factors like history of trauma, other mental health concerns ,history of adoption, etc. the picture becomes more complicated. Caregivers are likely to be impacted by the youth in their home emotionally, physically, financially, etc. Consequently, it is imperative to provide support and interventions for caregivers so that they become more aware of their own needs, state of mind, etc. and are better able to intervene, de-escalate, and implement fair and consistent responses and/or strategies to address the child’s behavior (Blaustein & Kinniburgh, 2010; Kinniburgh & Blaustein, 2005).
Additionally, engagement in therapy provides an opportunity for psychoeducation about child development and the mental health concerns, which in turn should shift the parents attitudes, expectations, and interactions with the youth. Having a platform such as this can be reassuring and destigmatizing. Furthermore, having the parent and child in therapy together presents a unique opportunity to directly observe parent-child interactions with opportunities to provide live feedback and coaching through challenging moments (Jennifer W. Kaminski & Angelika H. Claussen, 2017).
In any therapeutic relationship, our goal is never to be with the family forever. Instead, the focus it to educate the family and engage in an exchange of information so that the caregiver then becomes the expert! Once the caregiver is fluent in the language and skills that are needed support their child’s unique needs they will be better equipped to coach the child through challenging moments in the future. Hence, strengthening the family from the top down.
Jennifer W. Kaminski & Angelika H. Claussen (2017) Evidence Base Update for Psychosocial Treatments for Disruptive Behaviors in Children, Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 46:4, 477-499, DOI: 10.1080/15374416.2017.1310044