Counselling is generally thought to be a good solution when children of separating parents are in distress. However, this is not always the case. In order for counselling to be helpful to children of separated parents, the child must enter into the process free from any intrusion by or influence of either parent.
When tensions are high between the separating parents, and particularly in view of parental animosity and allegations of parental misbehaviour, it is not uncommon for the children to take sides, or even be influenced by one parent against the other. In such a scenario, a parent may be concerned with what the child will say about him or her, and as a result, may seek to coach the child as to what to say to bolster that parent’s position in the parental dispute. If this is happening, then counselling inadvertently contributes to the very distress for which the therapy was sought in the first place. Here, it makes life more difficult for the child, further embedding him or her in the parental conflict. So superficially, while it looks good, it is almost like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
If one accepts that the separation is creating distress for the child, the first strategy to help the child is sending the parents for help ahead of the child. Even if the child likes the counselling, if he or she continues to be subject to the parental conflict, distress continues, despite good counselling efforts. In this scenario, counselling for the child can actually contribute to greater anxiety and depression. The larger problem still exists and the child may feel like it is his or her fault.
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If you still truly want the child to go to counselling, consider these conditions;
1. Both parents must agree to counselling and to the chosen counsellor.
2. Counselling should be a private process and the counsellor should not be required to provide reports to either parent except in the condition of harm or threat of harm, in which case, a report to CAS may be indicated.
3. Counselling should be directed towards helping the child set boundaries with their parents to limit parental intrusions with regard to their conflict with each other. In other words, the child should learn strategies to free himself or herself from having to take sides, from being inducted into the conflict, or from being used as a messenger or confident.
Bottom line, if you think your kids need counselling to deal with your separation, then perhaps you should go first to limit the issues befalling your children. If you and your partner cannot reduce conflict, then the children may benefit most by learning to set boundaries.