Not Comfortable with Family Therapist given my instincts about my son...


Active Member
Hi Emeritus

I'm posting here because I recall reading some advice from the veterans when someone else had posted about therapist issues.

My son has gone through a residential program and is now living at home, under a home contract, and attending the associated outpatient program, which has a family therapy component. He is sober and regularly going to meetings. When he left residential, he switched therapists. I felt the one in residential was more subtle and gifted with my son's oppositional tendencies, and his approach jived with what I feel is going on with my son (and maybe with other ODD teens).

In short, my son never defied rules openly. He just lived a double life. In the past, if he was caught breaking rules and pushed on the issue, he brilliantly displayed the hallmarks of ODD. Sense of entitlement, blaming, complete lack of accountability, seeming lack of empathy, victim complex. Since entering treatment, he has accepted consequences for behaviors we have found out about, without much push back. He has still violated the contract and done some things behind our backs that he feels does not jeopardize his sobriety. But then again, he is sober and has less to be dishonest about. Overall I feel like there's progress.

But you would never know it from our family sessions with the new therapist. They feel like occasions to wake and poke the bear. She repeatedly solicits his "anger" at the rules, and of course the parents who put them in place. Sometimes it's my job to hear him. Sometimes its an occasion for her to catastrophize about the future for people who hold such narcissistic views. (as if I hadn't made the mistake of doing the same over and over after researching ODD, conduct disorder, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, difficult children ... In fact, catasrophizing and trying to control the environment to ward off more trauma, is what I've been working on for months). In reality, I don't know how sincere his anger is, or whether it's an after the fact effort to have power over the consequences that are likely to come. If he can't lessen them, at least he can say they are stupid, unhelpful, he can take it, and he doesn't give a crap about them.

I feel like she should leave the bear alone. It is full of BS and should not continuously be woken up to hear itself repeating the BS out loud. To me, things will get better with time. He's no longer living in a constant fight or flight mode hiding drug use, dragging us into screaming matches, etc. We have learned a lot about keeping the right parental tone. We don't need perfection. It's enough that we all put down the bazookas and hang out for a while to remember why we care. She keeps asking him to brandish and analyze it. I don't think that's the way to go with ODD. It feels like these kids need a face-saving out, some success and mostly patience. The first therapist most definitely called out my son's BS thinking, but sandwiched it with suggested parent improvements, genuine fondness for my son, and some wrapping up with baby steps for progress. The truth was fed to him like vegetables hidden in the spaghetti sauce. Mostly the sessions seemed designed to get us feeling better about each other again. That felt right.

I think, she thinks I need more al-anon, so I can let go of control. I think we only have 11 more months to try and get to a better place, and then I am emeritus, too.



one day at a time
Hi Sam, I just saw this post. I don't know what the right thing is. Have you spoken with her privately about her approach?

It sounds like your son is doing better. I would hesitate to change what is going on if that is the case.

Letting go of control is always a good thing, and it isn't the opposite of "trying to get to a better place".

Have you tried Al-Anon?

If your son is truly working a program and is on a path to change his life, I don't think a misstep or two or three will be the undoing of it all. Often, recovery comes in fits and starts, with relapses and with a path we can't imagine or understand. It's not a pretty picture. It's not a "switch is flipped and then everything is great". It is messy and chaotic and not what we would have thought.

Again, that is about letting go of the need to control, which most of us have and struggle with.

It is a blessed relief to let go, once you finally do. I'm a Type A personality and one of the most persistent people you can don't think we are that different.

Letting go was the best thing I have ever done in my life---for my son and for myself.

How are things?

Hang in there. This is hard stuff and I am so glad your son is doing better.


Well-Known Member

It is hard when we disagree with the therapist. On the other thing for sure, we do not see clearly where our Difficult Child's are involved.

I am sure these therapists see a lot of controlling parents.

I guess the question to ask yourself is....have your ways of managing him worked in the past?

If not...maybe let some one else have a swing at it their way.

But that is my very ignorant, very far away , very soft, initial opinion.

Keep talking it through. Together we can develop some sort of plan for you.



Well-Known Member
Not all therapist are created equal and from the abundance of therapy styles out there not everyone fit for every person and every situation. Most parents in these boards have met more than one therapist who has read their and their child's situation totally wrong or has in other ways been a really bad fit. I think most of those of us, who have had a pleasure to work with more than few, have met totally unsuitable ones for us and our families.

If this therapist is unsuitable for your son and family is a different thing. Sometimes change in style can help things get forward. But if the therapist in the rehab worked very differently, and did get through with your son and their work together was successful, that would be a benchmark for fitting therapist for me especially after so little time in therapy (could be different after a year or two with limited progress.) If current therapist has a very different style that doesn't get as good rapport going on with your son and doesn't seem to produce similar success than last one, I would change to the therapist whose style is closer to the therapist with whom he did work well with.


Active Member
Thanks for your responses.

I am struggling with this as yet another incarnation of the question, "what does healthy parenting look like?" I have read a bunch of books that have helped to identify the hallmarks of unhealthy parenting in myself, have been in trauma therapy to help heal some of the wounds underlying my over-reactivity, have gone to al-anon and parent support meetings and still I have this question nagging at me.

I realize rescuing is wrong, but advocating for our children is part of our imperative. If I rigorously inventory my motives, and am pretty sure I'm not bringing my personal sh%^t to the table, isn't what's left my job, or at least a healthy expression of maternal instinct? For example, a teacher or coach might be a bad fit for a child. A good mom might ask before the school year starts if there is space in another teacher's class, or if their child could avoid being placed with that particular coach (right?) But if the placement happens anyway, then the job would be to hear the child's emotions about the adult, encourage their resilience and see if the child could find a way to resolve their problems with the adult on his or her own. But if the child, replete with feelings of inadequacy caused by the teacher/coach, starts to spin out about the referee, the curriculum, the classmates or teammates, then part of the job is to tease out what is really going on, right?

It's a terrible analogy, but the old therapist seemed to understand that my son was in the misplaced blame stage and was working on teasing out the truth; the new therapist entertains the blame. The blame happens to be directed at us parents (for enforcing the stupid rules) -- thus, if I'm questioning the therapeutic approach, the easy explanation for the therapist is that we can't let go of control or we're sensitive to blame. Which is not it. He blamed us and the rules with the old therapist, too. The old therapist was just able to hold the mirror up to my son's face, while addressing any legitimate aspects of my son's complaints, and thereby retaining his trust.

If this were a bad coach or bad teacher, I think I wouldn't feel this implicated. But these therapists are acting in loco parentis. They are using their professional tools to establish personal relationships. The only other analogy I could think of is the good nanny v bad nanny. A good nanny would be like a good grandma. Loving the kid like her own family, but in a way that's shared with the working mom -- and a good grandma would never want to foment bad feelings between mother and child. A bad nanny would be like a bad spouse in a messy custody case -- loving the child on his own, but having no interest in preserving the child's relationship with the other parent.

It isn't nearly that obvious or dramatic, but I feel like the new therapist would be satisfied with filling rather than bridging or closing the gap between family and child, left after my son went to dangerous far away places, and his family stopped chasing after him. Since therapists are dealing with our children's hearts and minds, it seems infinitely more important that they not screw up.


Active Member
and during a bout of insomnia (when I'm the most vulnerable to thinking suspiciously), I could not help but let creep into my thinking that therapists have their own personal stuff that could possibly leak into the process. The first therapist, a former addict, came from a loving in-tact family, while the new therapist, also a former addict, had significant mommy issues growing up.


Well-Known Member
Therapist'd job is to guide the client to find solutions for their issues and towards their goals; not to tell them what to do or tell them how wrong they are. It sounds like your therapist is not letting your family to be on driver's seat. That is not a good sign.


one day at a time
Oh Sam, are you overthinking this? (I used to overthink EVERYTHING). Give it some time, see what happens, and if it isn't working, change.

If I rigorously inventory my motives

This is key and so glad to see you write this. This was a big learning for me in AlAnon. Good for you.

But if the child, replete with feelings of inadequacy caused by the teacher/coach, starts to spin out about the referee, the curriculum, the classmates or teammates, then part of the job is to tease out what is really going on, right?

Yes, I think that our job is to advocate for our kids, of course. Especially our minor kids. I see it as a continuum...Sam...Enabling at one end...providing necessary assistance for a minor child at the other end.

Most of us at somewhere on that continuum.

RE says this: If you resent your "help" to your Difficult Child, then that's enabling. That is a simple way to look at it.

I always stop and think...often for a few days...before I get involved...still...with Difficult Child, and he is 26 and has been doing so much better for the past 16 months consistently. I think we have to be very careful with ourselves and with them.

Your son is under 18 I believe (right?). My son is 26. It's different. My son sometimes acts and thinks like a much younger person and he doesn't know things I think he should know but his development has been delayed by his drug and alcohol use. I try to remember that when I'm talking to him.

It's hard. Hang in there. You clearly are a very caring and thoughtful parent and are focused on doing what is best, and also to healing yourself. That goes such a long way, Sam. aren't going to do this perfectly...and that is just fine.