You may be struggling with the idea of calling a psychotherapist. What did people do before therapists, you ask? How do I know it will help? Maybe my struggles are normal! You may be trying to power your way through a problem, just as you always have.
Perhaps the next question you could ask yourself is, why not talk about my questions with a therapist, so that I can see if therapy might address the issues I face? What if therapy could make your life less of a struggle? What if therapy could help you and your child feel less frustration with each other? What if you enjoyed the people around you more? What if you finally felt like you were moving forward?
Please e-mail me with your questions, or call me to set up a consultation. You don’t need to know if therapy is right for you before we communicate. The first step was reading this page, and the next is telling me a little about you
Many parents worry about bringing their child to therapy. They feel that it might harm the child in some way, so they delay, losing precious time when the child’s difficulties could have been alleviated quickly. Worse, the child’s development lags even further behind. The sooner the better is the best decision. As soon as you have a question. As soon as you feel that your child is behaving in a way that you don’t understand, that is the time to get some help. Even if your pediatrician says to wait. I would much rather see a two year old for ten sessions than a ten year old for two hundred sessions.
But how do children perceive therapy? Prior to five years old, they love it! I’ve had two and three year olds tell their parents, “call Kim!” They really enjoy meeting a grown-up who speaks their language.
Sometimes, children pick up on their parents’ dread of therapy and they cry for the first few sessions. I find that if we pay close attention to addressing the child’s concerns, they soon settle down to work. The rewards are then enormous for the child. It’s a powerful lesson in seeing that things that are feared at first can be mastered, and that many fears are irrational. That’s a lesson that they can carry with them for the rest of their life.
Older children may have initial worries about psychotherapy. Addressing the fears they may have directly is actually the initial stage of therapy, all part of the process. For elementary school children, I eventually make a game of “looking for the fun!” With teens I talk with them about coping with situations they don’t like, and how to “not make things worse.”
Perhaps you could think a bit more about what your concerns might be as a parent. Do you think that if you bring your child to therapy it means that you failed? Whatever it does mean to you, avoiding the issues that drag on your family won’t resolve anything and calling to ask some questions could clarify a muddle sufficiently to move on without needing any further assistance.
Conflict. Sounds like a negative word, right? Conflict, like in the Middle East. But when it comes to our minds, conflict isn’t good or bad, and we can’t get rid of it, we have to live with it. I’m specifically going to write about personal conflict. Not conflict with your boss, or within your family. I’m going to talk about the conflict you have when you are in a room by yourself, but you are still having a conversation…with the different parts of your mind.
Sigmund Freud learned about understanding the mind by constructing (reconstructing) a model of the child’s mind. I find it helpful to refer to childhood when explaining basic concepts about the mind. So let’s start with basic childhood conflict. First there is ambivalence about people. You love your sister, you hate your sister. This conflict can then produce some contradictory behavior. My favorite example:
Parents walk into their living room to see their four year old putting a sweater on her baby sister. “Why are you putting a sweater on your sister?” they ask. “Because I don’t want her to get cold when I throw her out the window.”
This is a wonderful example of the older sister feeling protective, jealous and murderous at the same time, and these contradictory feelings wove themselves together to cause the wish to protect and the wish to get rid of the sister being expressed simultaneously.
The next type of example is intra-psychic conflict. For example, you have a wish to be taken care of and you want to be independent. This is of course, what is responsible for the two year old’s famous NO! Ask a two year old if they want to go to the park, and they may say NO, even when they also do want to go to the park. They want to have their own ideas, and they like your ideas. Adults struggle with this conflict as well, and the conflict, or ambivalence around independence and closeness is often responsible for our own patterns of getting close and moving away. Most of the time we don’t even realize we are doing it.
The most important conflict to understand is that there are things we want, and then we feel guilty about it. One would think that with the wane of puritanism that we would be relatively free of guilt. Turn on the television and there are all kinds of unapologetic sex, violence and greed. Look at the tabloids and read about outlandish behavior. Seemingly guilt has been given a holiday. Trust me, it hasn’t. Guilt is just as certain as death and taxes. I know, I know, there are sociopaths, psychopaths. I know. So, I won’t go into that now, but I just want to strongly say that in everyday life, it may seem that people are unfettered by guilt, but it is most likely the case that their guilt is expressing itself in a way that may be hidden.
Let’s not worry about the people who aren’t reading this. Let’s talk about you and guilt. Let’s talk about the being late, or missing deadlines, or forgetting to return an important phone call. Those behaviors could be motivated any number of ways, but one of the most frequent causes of missing the mark in our everyday life is guilt. Who are you to think you deserve a well organized, abundant life?
We are ambivalent about many things in our life. That is why it’s hard to reach goals we set. Psychoanalysis is specifically designed to discover the conflict that stops you from moving forward in a predictable way. It’s a way to retrain the mind so that each of the conflicting desires you may have get a chance to be heard, and your conscious, cognitive, more adult mind can then be the boss of your decisions.
The next time you decide that you want to have all your friends over for a party, and hours before you have a knot in your stomach, just remind yourself that you are of two minds. You DO want the party. You DON’T want the party. It’s hard for all of us to wade through all the conflicting feelings to actually decide to have a good time, without guilt. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to try.