Parents Deserve Therapy, Too
Prioritizing your child’s needs is a natural part of being a parent. When you see your child struggling, reaching out for support – for them – is the first choice for many parents and caregivers. While seeking therapy for your children is a wonderful and practical step to take, scheduling therapy for yourself may be just as important and impactful. A recent study, looking at parental and caregiver mental health, supported previous research showing that parents who promote their own mental health have happier, healthier children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), children experience more physical and mental health challenges, along with other adverse childhood events, when they have parents with poor mental health. When you’re struggling with symptoms of chronic stress such as burnout, disengagement, fatigue, anxiety, and depression, showing up for others – even your own children – can feel like a monumental task. Finding time to talk with a therapist, even if it’s once a month, can lead to marked improvements in how you feel, with effects that reverberate down to your children.
Further, for parents and caregivers of neurodivergent children, seeking support is often more important due to the unique challenges faced by these parents. Often, parental demands far exceed the resources available to parents, which can lead to feeling overwhelmed and under-supported. Scheduling an hour-long appointment with the goal of being heard and validated can help in easing these feelings, making parenting more manageable overall. In therapy, you can work on incorporating self-care exercises into your week, in addition to learning about mindfulness, which have both been shown to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm.
Parents who notice symptoms of depression, such as feeling sad or hopeless, struggling to concentrate, and losing interest in activities, are also encouraged to seek support in the form of individual therapy. A 2017 study showed that depressed mothers who participated in individual therapy had children with healthier attachment characteristics, were able to more effectively navigate children’s tantrums and discomfort, and had overall improved parental outcomes. Developmentally, their children improved across a number of standard measures compared to a control group. These caregivers reached out for support, felt better themselves, and were able to be more present and connected to their children.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) offers a range of tools shown to improve parenting outcomes, parent/caregiver well-being, and consequently, children’s mental health. Working with a provider proficient in ACT can strengthen your ability to be psychologically flexible, which helps individuals to recognize and adapt to situational demands, be open to the present moment, and recognize and shift behavior strategies. ACT therapists can also help clients prioritize self-care, incorporate mindfulness strategies into weekly routines, and more effectively deal with stress and uncertainty.
Ultimately, seeking support in the form of individual therapy is a crucial step in supporting your child’s mental health because of the positive impact it has not only on your mental health, but your entire family’s mental health. Participating in your own individual therapy models the importance of this practice, while decreasing unhealthy behaviors and cognitions, and increasing the modeling of healthy behaviors. Further, engaging in therapy decreases symptoms associated with parental burnout, such as exhaustion, distancing, distress, guilt, and shame. Whether you’re experiencing burnout or generally getting by okay, seeking individual support is something that all parents deserve. Therapy leads not only to feeling better personally, but also has ensuing, positive effects for children and other family members. If you’re thinking about therapy for your child, you might also consider therapy for yourself.
If you are considering therapy, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 703-942-9745. Or if you are ready to schedule an appointment complete this form.
By Dannica L. Conley, M.Ed.