Therapeutic Parenting

Today we bring you a piece from @ivavnuk who shares some thoughts on therapeutic parenting.

I’m going to write to try and figure out what it is that makes me so deeply uncomfortable with the phrase ‘therapeutic parenting’.

What I like about it is the idea that we can help our children through the way we interact with them.

In fact helping someone through skilful means is a potential that I would extend to all of our relationships – even the transient relationship that is a momentary encounter with a stranger.

So the idea of having a therapeutic affect on someone is something I rather like. In fact I love helping people. So nothing against ‘therapeutic’.

But when the word is put together with ‘parenting’ – ‘therapeutic parenting’……. Oooo it makes me squirm. 

It makes me think of all those lovely people on Twitter who say they are ‘trying to do it therapeutically’ and berate themselves when they don’t meet or maintain that standard. It makes me think of those who clearly give so much and then ask the groups permission to be a person who has their own dignity, or feelings, or limits.

You see – I think there is a world of difference between therapeutic parenting and a parent who employs some skilful means that helps their child.

I think therapeutic parenting speaks of a standard, a type, a style of parenting…. Are you therapeutic or not? I feel it builds self expectation and a measure. It seems to turn being a parent into being a parent and a therapist.

My problems with that include:

A therapist gets to go home, their professional obligations are balanced by the space they can retreat into.

As a messed up child – I wanted an authentic parent, not a therapist. If I got therapy through their authenticity, happy days 🙂 but not the other way around.

We are whole people – parenting is a subset of our total identity, just as ‘therapeutic’ is a subset of our parenting.

All of this may be seen as semantics I guess – but when I see great parents, great people, struggle with their parenting – judging themselves poorly against that therapeutic standard – well it troubles me deeply.

10 thoughts on “Therapeutic Parenting

  1. michelle

    Couldn’t agree more. My daughter no longer lives with us. However we are building up a positive relationship slowly. Obviously I failed miserably doing this therapeutic parenting thing. There are 2 types of parents. Good enough and not good enough. Get rid of the guilt. We are not therapists. We do our best. Thanks for this post x

  2. ahopefuldad

    A really interesting read. We’ve heard so much about therapeutic parenting on our prep days, in books, and on twitter. I’m already wondering how I’ll ‘be therapeutic’ and we’re not even through Stage Two yet. It’s great to get a balanced view – thank you.

  3. s

    I am with you on this one and find myself nodding vigorously in agreement after last night. therapeutic parenting went out the window as I explained we live in a real family where all members have needs and feelings!! Oh to withdraw after an hours therapeutic input and come back recharged.

  4. plumstickle

    Thank you for starting this interesting debate, and for pre=sharing this post with me as one of those who says they are trying to do it therapeutically on Twitter! But actually you shouldn’t feel you need to pre share this with anyone, it is fine, good and an important topic to discuss.

    For me, I am not trying to reach any standard (fat chance!) but I do notice that my children respond extremely well to our therapist so I do try and ‘channel’ her when things get tricky (which, at the moment, is a lot!). I know Elmo (my man) struggles with the interface between TP and the normal boundaries of daily life because hopefully that is what we are preparing our children for. If your child cannot learn to hear no, for example, without you going into PACE mode, they are likely to come a cropper later on.

    I completely agree that it’s all v well for therapists who go home to their normal families to tell us how we should behave but I don’t judge my life by theirs.

    Nor do I think that therapeutic parenting means we are not ‘authentic’ parents. I am as real as the next parent but I do face a lot more challenges than many and I need all the help I can get!

    I try not to feel guilty when my actions compound difficult situations with the children but sometimes i do feel that I’ve made things worse. Hopefluly that is healthy and analytical and helps improve things the next time around. Slowly slowly catchy monkey.

    It’s made me think anyway. Thanks for sharing.

    1. @ivavnuk

      Thanks for the kind words.

      Sounds like you are in an enviable state of self assurance and relaxation with your parenting – although the chink of guilt you describe paints you as human too 😀

      I don’t feel that being authentic and therapeutic are mutually exclusive – in case it read that way.

      More that anyone who doubts themselves or their parenting, particularly against the ways and skills of a therapist, should feel free to be themselves – and know that that is enough.


      1. plumstickle

        I agree with you. And I am much more an authentic mum than a therapeutic one, even on a good day. On a similar theme, I do often wonder how therapists assimilate all our crap and unburden themselves of it to get some sort of a normal home life. I know ours are very available to us whenever we need them. We are very lucky that way.

  5. Carrie

    I totally agree with the ‘not putting so much pressure on ourselves’ part. But at the same time I think it’s hard not to. It seems that part of our role as adoptive parents is to try to be part of the healing process (whether we understood this prior to our children being with us is another discussion) and for me that’s where the ‘therapeutic’ part comes in.
    My eldest in particular needs help to navigate her thoughts & feelings in everyday life because they are so scary for her. If I wasn’t to address these in a ‘therapeutic’ way I don’t think we’d have made even a glimmer of a way forward.
    Our parenting has to reflect my children’s past hurt for them to begin to be able to find a way forward. (I believe.)
    I do agree that there is pressure to do things ‘right’ all the time and I’m the world’s worst for this but I also feel that by using ‘therapeutic parenting’ I am helping my children.
    Thank you for making me think.

    1. @ivavnuk

      Thank you for reading and commenting Carrie 🙂

      In case I wasn’t clear – I really value the therapeutic skill set and absolutely agree it has its place. It was the pressure and role I was calling out rather than the value of the skills.


  6. Miranda

    Thank you for starting this VERY important discussion! “Therapeutic Parenting” is a topic dear to my heart so please excuse this wordy response.

    The pressure we put on ourselves is troubling! I am a therapist and I had done my homework. We adopted our daughter 4 years ago, she was 2 and I was for sure intending to do this ‘therapeutic parenting’ thing to help her heal her early hurts. Like you say, a style of parenting and like it says on the label, a style that combines “being a parent and a therapist” – a parent/child relationship that enables healing whilst loving and nurturing at the same time. And hey! I already had the therapist part for my day job! A shoe in surely! 🙂

    What I hadn’t counted on was how stirred up I would be by my daughters raw emotional outpouring from the moment I set eyes on her and how this would re-stimulate my own unconscious and unresolved childhood traumas. How I would fail miserably in my attempts to parent as I had intended!!

    It is one thing to be with a client in a 50minute session that has a beginning and an end. A therapist does go home. A therapist also receives regular supervision (emotional support) and likely undertakes their own therapy in order to be emotionally available to their clients. Where is THAT support for adoptive parents who are with their “clients” per se 24/7 and have had little training in this field!! Learning on the job!

    All parents need and deserve support for the hard and complex work they do. It is imperative for adoptive parents – for anyone who becomes a parent to a child from care!! As you say there is something about the pressure this phrasing places on us parents – miracle workers!? As if we need any more pressure than the expectations we have already placed on ourselves.

    Outside of semantics – we need more than ‘therapeutic parenting’ training for those of us who are attempting to parent in this way… we too need ongoing and regular emotional support! As if we are doing the work of a therapist and more! In my experience that does ease some of the pressure and judgements we place on ourselves. I reckon that’s what us parents need; a safe place to offload the tensions of parenting and make peace with the times we stuff it up – which of course we do! And that’s ok!

    1. @ivavnuk


      Thank you so much for replying ! You have helped draw out so many of the points I wanted to make, added so much supporting context, and from that context highlighted how vital support is.

      I would think anyone who resonated with my blog should take great support and validation from what you have said.

      Thank you again. If you have time come and say hello on Twitter 🙂



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