Parenting Trauma. Not always a fairy tale.

Tuesday July 5, 2022

Did anyone hear of a therapeutic parent before?

Well, let me explain. The term Therapeutic Parenting was first used by Dr Daniel. A. Hughes, a Clinical Psychologist from the US. About 30 years ago he began to develop a therapeutic approach called Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP). He wanted to help children who have been hurt and/or neglected within their families in their early years. Children can be traumatized by these experiences and find it difficult to feel safe and secure within their new families. This is sometimes called developmental trauma. These children were now being parented by adopters, foster carers, special guardians and kinship carers.

The approach is used widely in England. Many Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services offer this type of therapy that requires the parents to be part of the therapeutic process and be in the therapy room during the work and to continue the work in between sessions.

The approach is required because often the children involved can be challenging and rejecting of the new family because being parented in the present reminds children of the way they were parented in the past. Even though they are no longer being hurt or neglected the children feel as though they are or think that they might be in the future.

Children can have difficulties with relationships

The children can have difficulties in the attachment; they find it hard to feel safe and secure with their parents. They can also have difficulties in intersubjectivity and find it hard to give and take in relationships.

It can be difficult for the parents to connect to the child emotionally and manage their behaviour. Some parents are subjected to Child to Parent Violence on a daily basis and parenting can be exhausting and it can be difficult to develop keep a sense of confidence and self-esteem.

Many parents give up jobs or work fewer hours in an effort to support their child. It can be difficult to get childcare or any respite due to the challenging behaviour of the children, or the child’s anxiety is so high that they cannot let you out of their sight. The children are often not understood at School or Nursery and can often be excluded or punished for acting out and being behaviourally challenging. The children are often thought to be ok now because they are now in a safe place and they will not remember what happened to them.

Why we don’t punish our naughty children

As a therapeutic parent, I have often reached out for support over the years from Counsellors and Psychotherapists. They are often unaware of the challenges we face and the shame we feel from the bruises on our arms from the child we are just trying to love. The difficulties of spending time with family and friends because they don’t understand why we don’t punish our naughty children. The children’s parties we have to leave because our child just can’t cope.

Please let me be clear, none of this is the fault of the child, they are traumatised and lost and trying to make sense of the world. They are angry and scared they can be shut down and spend much of their time living in their brain stem, with only the option to run fight or freeze.

I was prompted to write this piece as I contemplate what I might choose as a research topic for my Masters’s Degree. I became interested because when we had a lecture about DDP earlier in the year, out of the 50+ students in the lecture hall that day no one knew what a therapeutic parent was and the struggles that they can face.

Therapeutic parents are just trying their best

Government statistics show that there are currently approximately 400,000 children in care and around 3,000 children adopted each year and just under this figure in the care of Special Guardians or Kinship Carers. There is a fair chance that you might come across a therapeutic parent or one who is parenting a traumatised child.

So, if you come across someone who is parenting a traumatised child, please remember that they may feel quite isolated and alone. They are trying their best every day whilst much of the wider community believes that they living ‘happily ever after’.

Written by Catherine Smith – Clinical Placement with UK Counselling Network CIC

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