Therapists (psychologists, counsellors, social workers) talk about falling into the trap of seeing a client as a problem to be solved. It is really very easy to fall into this trap and many therapists fall into it for all the right reasons and with all the best intentions. But it definitely is a trap. When stuck in this trap the problems of the client loom large; the client’s strengths, values, dreams and hopes (all the unique, messy and beautiful stuff that makes this person a person) fade into the background. The therapist feels acutely responsible for solving their client’s problems, and finds him or herself doing all the work of therapy, perhaps even feeling a rising sense of panic as easy solutions aren’t immediately found. This is not to say that good therapy doesn’t include active problem-solving. It does. But the problem-solving feels very different. It is creative, flexible and genuine, a shared and collaborative process between two imperfect individuals, with the therapist maintaining full awareness of their client’s strengths, values, dreams and hopes and full understanding of their client as a unique individual. Instead of a sense of urgency to find easy solutions, there is a feeling of playfulness and experimentation, in the midst of acknowledging how difficult life can be. There is an understanding that together, therapist and client will explore and discover what works for the client. I’ve come to understand that parents can fall into exactly the same trap with their children. Just like therapists, parents fall into this trap for all the right reasons and with all the best intentions. But it is still a trap. Have you ever found that your parenting problems loom large while your child’s strengths, values, dreams and hopes (all that unique messy and beautiful stuff that makes your child a unique person) fade into the background? Have you ever felt that you are solely responsible for fixing, now, today, each and every flaw your child may have? Have you found yourself caught in a rising sense of panic as easy solutions aren’t immediately found? The next time you find yourself caught in this trap, I urge you to follow in the footsteps of therapists across the globe who step back from this trap regularly in the service of good therapy. I urge you to remember this: your child is not a problem to be solved. Your child is a person to be loved. Start there.
Apply it to your life: Have you ever found yourself caught in the trap of seeing your child as a problem to be solved? Can step back from this trap and, instead, reconnect with your child as a person to be loved? If problem-solving feels creative, flexible and playful, if there is a sense of experimenting to find what works together, then you know you are doing it right.