Jenny* and Stefan are parents having difficulty with their 7 year-old son, Nicholas. They have come into therapy to create change in their family system. This is their second therapy session.
Lorna (Therapist), to Jenny and Stefan: Last session you told me about problems you’re having with your son, Nicholas. I encouraged you to pay attention to the patterns of interaction between the three of you to see what you could learn about when, where, and how each of you are reacting to one another. What did you discover?
Jenny: I learned a lot about what I’m doing that probably isn’t helping the situation.
Lorna: Such as?
Jenny: Well, for example, at bedtime I’ll tell Nicholas I’ll read him two books before lights out. When I finish the second book and get up to leave, he starts whining for ‘just one more story’. I tell him no, he starts whining louder, and I end up giving in.
Lorna: Do you recognize any thoughts or feelings you’re having in those moments?
Jenny: Well, I’m frustrated because I really want to go downstairs and relax, but I know that if I don’t do what Nicholas wants he’ll just work himself up into a fit. I also feel sorry for him-he looks so small and sad sitting alone in the bed like that.
Stefan, interjecting: Yeah, Jenny always acts like she’s abandoning him or something when she leaves him. It’s always, ‘don’t worry, Mommy will be right back, you’ll be o.k., give me one more hug,’ and on and on and on.
Lorna: Jenny, it sounds like Stefan thinks you kind of over-do it with Nicholas sometimes. What do you think about that?
Jenny: I’m starting to think he’s right-not that he doesn’t over-do it himself!
Lorna: When you think about your family growing up, does that give you any clues into your parenting behavior?
Jenny: My mom was always depressed. She spent a lot of time in her room and kind of checked out. Dad was always working. I think I felt small and sad a lot of the time….maybe I’m kind of putting that on Nicholas.
Lorna: Like you’re responding to an idea about yourself that you projected onto him?
Jenny: I guess so. He really has no reason to feel sad and alone; we’re very involved parents.
Lorna: Funny, if you treat someone like they’re sad and lonely long enough, maybe they’ll start to believe it! Stefan, what have you learned about yourself since our last meeting?
Stefan: Something kind of big, I guess. That I really don’t like all the attention Jenny pays to Nicholas. I realize Ido a lot of what I think she wants me to do so that she’ll know Nicholas will be o.k. and she can loosen up and pay more attention to me! Crazy, huh?
Lorna: Looking back at your family, where might you have learned to seek approval by doing what you thought someone else wanted you to do?
Stefan: I don’t even have to think about that one! My dad. I was always trying to get his approval and never did. Still, to this day.
Lorna: It’s very interesting to me how unresolved issues with our parents can show up in our adult lives. It sounds like that’s true for both of you.
Stefan: Yeah, we’re parenting Nicholas like he was our parent instead of our kid!
Lorna: I guess that’s the point of therapy-to bring unconscious patterns into consciousness and decide what you want to do about them. Let’s talk more about these patterns next time.
*No one in this article represents a real person-except me. The case is a compilation of many families I have coached in therapy.
To Read Session 1 go to : http://www.lornahecht.com/parents-create-change-in-the-family-system/
To Read Session 3 go to : http://www.lornahecht.com/session-3-parents-create-change-in-the-family-system/