Building resources around the child and young person; Involving fathers

Since the child/young person/parent interactive approach is so central to time-limited psychotherapy, it is vital that we commence with the right people. In all therapeutic engagement concerning the child and young person, our main aim is to build up resources around the child and this must include the people who have full legal and moral responsibility for the child and young person. These will usually be the biological parents, but may also include foster parents, and the people who have responsibility for the care of the child and young person in the absence of the parents. The absence of fathers in the therapeutic endeavour is a particular problem that needs to be addressed in the first instance. This is often due at least as much to the decision of the therapist, as it is due to the particular family circumstances. Legions of psychotherapists have willingly accepted the singular presence of the mother as the main carer and arbiter of the world of the child, and in doing so have unwittingly entered into collusion with the status quo. This may be due to the fact that the majority of psychotherapists are women who may feel more comfortable with a member of the same sex, and find all manner of rationalisations to justify why it is too hard to involve the father. However, since both parents represent the main resource for the child and young person, it follows that working solely with only one parent significantly limits this resource.

Research into couple relationships carried out by Philip and Carolyn Cowan (2014) and Christopher Clulow (1997, 2001) remind us of the complexities of couple interactions, which have a profound impact on parenting. We may for example, go along with the mother’s insistence that her husband refuses to attend the consultation and only later discover that he was never asked. We need to recognise that couples as parents may have their own specific reasons to want to exclude each other, and we would not want to take their justifications for this at face value. In this respect it is helpful to keep in mind as mentioned from the outset, that our role as therapists is intrinsically connected with that of advocacy for the child and young person. Sharing this with parents and stating what constitutes their and our duty of care in relation to the child and young person can offer much needed clarification and cut through potentially unhelpful rivalry and posturing.

By involving fathers we also free ourselves from colluding with some of the current stereotypes regarding men as fathers. This often includes reference to men as preferring to be entirely action-oriented and not having the capacity to listen to the emotional side of a problem, whether it is their own or that of their child.

By taking an unquestioning attitude to such a rigid demarcation between the sexes of who ‘owns’ or is responsible for the emotional life in the family, we contribute to misrepresenting the enormous contribution men can make to their fathering role, and this undermines the therapeutic task. We may, if we take the time to do so, discover in working with parents that men are just as sensitive to the needs of their children and in some cases more so than their female partners.

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