Counseling Stigma Costs Parents as Well as Children

counseling broken picture frameThe thought of discussing our son’s temper tantrums with a professional filled me with hope. Some of our friends had a different reaction.

Several well-meaning chums offered other solutions over counseling. Read this book. Check out that web site. Stay the course.

That’s a sign that even with an educated peer group fear and mistrust still exist about the counseling process. And we’re not talking about serious emotional issues such as depression, addiction or anxiety. Our child occasionally drives us crazy, and we’d like a second opinion on the matter.

And why not? Our insurance covered the cost of the counseling session. Mommylibrium and I successfully juggled our work schedules without pulling a muscle. And wouldn’t it be smart to have a neutral party assess the problem?

Counseling 101

Our counselor cautioned us that what we were about to discuss wouldn’t leave the room. Naturally, I piped up and said, “but I can blog about it, right?”

I wasn’t simply hungry for content. I thought whatever we learned in the next hour might be helpful to others in our shoes. Plus, being open about the process, frankly, could be a service unto itself.

We then proceeded to explain the situation. Our little Benj can be … tough. We endured a three-week span which felt like a Greatest Hits sampler of his worst behaviors. Were we doing all we could for him? Was he just a stubborn little guy … or was something else at play? Does he need medical attention?

I didn’t think so. But my training is in journalism and art, so I’m pretty sure I’m not qualified.

Our counselor talked us through a number of issues. Some seemed obvious, but others caught us off guard. Are we quietly favoring our older son while Ben goes through this difficult period? And could that be making things worse?

A key issue for us is what to do when Ben is melting down. He often asks for something repeatedly during the height of his tantrums – “I want my green cup! I want my green cuuuuup!” When we get him the cup he suddenly doesn’t want it.

That’s when I want to ignore his illogical demands and let him soothe himself. Mommylibrium has a hard time with that. Our counselor said it’s important for the child to process those emotions, and that fulfilling his irrational demands only made matters worse.

My wife later admitted, “I needed a professional to tell me I had to let him cry.”

Family Inspection

The counselor also looked at our family system, the moving parts as well as the state of our marriage. I cracked a joke about an impending divorce, feeling uncomfortable as our relationship zoomed into focus.

We also talked at length about Eli, the kid who rarely gives us problems. Huh? What if Eli resents the situation with Ben? It’s trouble, the counselor noted, if Eli takes on a parental role or tries to fix problems that come from Ben’s behavior.

I didn’t realize that.

Finally, if we decided to seek more help for Ben it would tell him there was something “wrong” with him that needed attention. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something to consider. Especially if we start the process and then drop it midway through.

We left the counselor’s office with more tools at our disposal and a greater sense of parental purpose. Should we run into future parenting problems we’ll call that counselor again. Heck, the couch in her office was pretty comfortable.


  1. Maureen Toto says

    very interesting. Bravo to you both for trying everything. Even if one thing works, its better than nothing.

  2. chase says

    Very interesting observations, some of that never would’ve occurred to me. But remember we grew up in the “If you don’t knock that off, I’ll GIVE you something to cry about” era … Yeah, I never though how oldest might feel about it.

  3. lynda says

    Bravo for seeking help. It never hurts to get a unbiased out side opinion of your situation and family dynamics. I am all for talk therapy. It has helped me and my kids and I think they all turned out great considering some very difficult issues that they had to deal with growing up. Love you guys!

    • says

      unbiased opinions are so critical in so many parts of our lives. We all need our parent’s ‘atta boy’ when we start a new venture, but getting feedback from a third party can be the most helpful.

  4. Rebecca says

    Fabulous work. You obviously are using all resources for the kiddos you love. Your boys at lucky to have you as parents!
    As a mega fan of counseling, I can attest that it ALWAYS feel good to bounce things off an outside party. And a good exercise in humility too-no one has all the answers!

  5. says

    Hat’s off to you for taking that step. Sometimes, a person with no emotional involvement can see our situations far more clearly than we can, but it’s hard to admit and open yourself up to hearing things you might not want to hear. Thanks for sharing and I’m glad you found a place where the couch is comfy.

    • Christian says

      i suspect seeking out counseling for marital issues, though, would be a far more complex process for me.

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