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Being a good therapist and being a good parent require the same skills

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. in Compassion Matters

Being a good parent is like being a good therapist.

The qualities that are manifested by a good parent are the same as those that are characteristic of a good therapist. This is because parents and therapists are involved in a similar pursuit: supporting and encouraging the growth and development of a unique and autonomous human being. Obviously, this task is more formidable in the parenting situation as compared with the therapy session. Nonetheless, there is something to be learned by parents if they examine the traits that good therapists exhibit and the ways that they relate to their clients.

What are the traits of a good therapist?

Research into what makes psychotherapy effective has shown that the most important element that brings about therapeutic progress is a good working relationship between the therapist and client. The personal qualities of the therapist largely set the tone and the emotional impact of the therapy process. The same is true for the family in which the personal characteristics of parents are the primary influence on the emotional climate of the home. A good therapist:

A good therapist is real and authentic

Being open and nondefensive is essential. Not having a judgmental attitude and being compassionate and forthright in communication style is also important. A good therapist does not fit clients into a particular theoretical framework or model but instead, relates to them as real people. The ideal therapist refrains from placing social conformity above the personal interests of a client. Rather than attempting to remove or cover up emotional pain to fit clients into society, it is important to help them learn to cope with the realities of life and maintain their individuality. The good therapist is interested in learning from clients and feeling with them and is willing to experience the painful personal truths clients reveal over the course of treatment. This open attitude and approach to clients, together with the therapist’s ability to access and regulate his/her own emotions, permit him/her to be in attunement with the deepest levels of a client’s verbal and nonverbal communication.

In a parent/child relationship, the child needs to be related to as a real person by a real person. It is vital to children’s early development that they are able to look into the eyes of a real person and see themselves accurately reflected back to them. When parents have made sense of their own childhoods by looking into their past, feeling the pain that is aroused, and finally, by having insight and understanding about what they experienced they are no longer cut off from their child selves. They are then able to relate to their children with true empathy and understanding. Good parents are interested in knowing their children, not shaping them to be like them or to be a particular way to reflect on them. The individuality and uniqueness of the child are more important than a societal norm.

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