Using DBT to Help Parents

As many of us know, parenting is no joke. In teaching about dialectics, I often speak about parenting as the biggest dialectical challenge in my life; I have never been so fulfilled and so frustrated at the same time. Like most parents, I love my children more than I could possibly imagine and love being with them, and yet there are times when all I wish for is a few moments of quiet to myself. This business of parenting is hard work for anyone, and can be made even infinitely more challenging when your child is struggling with emotional dysregulation. This is why we view parent consultation as an essential component to our adolescent DBT program.

When I am meeting with a new adolescent client and their family for the first time, I spend time going over the information about our DBT program and the different treatment interventions that are part of it. Almost without fail, when I begin to talk about parent consultation, I notice that parents tend to balk slightly. I get it- often by the time they get to DBT, parents have been through the ringer trying treatment after treatment for their child. They are exhausted and overwhelmed, and the thought of adding on one more thing can feel like more than they can handle. I think parents are also sometimes a bit fearful that parent consultation is really code for a therapist telling them everything that they’re doing wrong as parents, and it triggers an immediate sense of shame. Parenting is deeply personal, and I know that I wouldn’t feel good about going into a session if I felt it was going to be an inventory of all the ways I’m failing my child. I can’t stress enough that this is NOT what parent consultation is about.

In DBT, we look at parent consultation as essential not because we want to blame parents, but because we want to support them. It is an opportunity for parents to be heard and validated, and most importantly to be given strategies that will make parenting an emotionally dysregulated child easier. Given that our practice uses a team approach, parents will be meeting with a therapist who is already familiar with the challenges that their child is facing and can therefore help to create an individualized approach unique to their own needs. Ultimately, it ensures that the treatment plan for your adolescent is most effective, and especially so when that adolescent is struggling to engage fully in their own DBT sessions.

It is hard to think about adding more sessions and devoting even more resources to treatment, particularly when parents are at the point where they are starting to feel like nothing will work. Even though it feels like more in the short term, parent consultation helps ensure that the gains their adolescent can make through DBT will be for the long term, and that parents have the tools and support they need in this journey.