What Do Therapists And Parents Have In Common?

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 197 · Duration: 00:15:18

What Do Therapists And Parents Have In Common?

Therapists come at their craft from two different directions.  No one’s talking about it, but parents do too.  We’ll talk about this and a whole lot more on this week’s podcast, What Do Therapists And Parents Have In Common?

In my current issue of the Psychotherapy Networker, a wonderful professional journal, there is an article by William Doherty titled, “The Fox and the Hedgehog.”  Now Bill Doherty, a professor at the University of Minnesota, is an amazingly prolific contributor to the field of psychotherapy.  He’s written many books, done research, written articles for the Networker and he’s just a terrific human being; always understated and humble, yet brilliantly insightful and always thinking about how to make a difference, how to help a situation.  Never flashy, always inspiring. 

In his current article, he uses the comparison of the hedgehog and the fox based on a famous essay by the English philosopher, Isaiah Berlin. Doherty uses the comparison of the hedgehog and the fox to describe how therapists develop their craft.  The Hedgehog Therapist is one who finds a theory of psychotherapy or a modality of therapy and believes it is the best way if not the only true way to create healing and real change for their clients.  A devoted Cognitive Behavioral Therapy therapist or a psychoanalytic psychotherapist could be examples. 

Now the Fox Therapist on the other hand, studies many modalities and may not devote themselves to any one theory. They practice from a variety of methods.  Which is a better choice?

Is it better to be a hedgehog therapist or a fox therapist?

Parents are very similar; some parents with a strong philosophical orientation or parenting school of thought, and others collect different ideas from many orientations.

Is it better to be a hedgehog parent, or a fox parent?

Now to the hedgehog and the fox:

Let’s start with therapists because each of these styles has their risks or downsides.

The Hedgehog Therapist runs the risk of being more devoted to their modality or theory, than the client.Click To Tweet  They run the risk of trying to apply a certain theory or technique when clearly, something else is needed. For instance, wanting to talk about a client’s childhood experiences when what they need are some communication skills. 

The Fox Therapist on the other hand may be so eclectic, that they don’t stick with any approach that will be helpful.Click To Tweet They can offer a little of this and a little of that without the conviction and focus of an approach that will be helpful.  On the positive side, the Hedgehog Therapist can have a lot of expertise with their approach and be able to offer a lot.  The Fox Therapist could be better prepared to select the best approach for a client. 

But Bill Doherty makes another important point in his article, and that is that consistently, the best outcomes in therapy come from therapists who listen and empathize, they connect well with their clients.  As long as the therapist has a plan that they are confident can help, then whatever approach the therapist takes, they are going forward knowing and caring about how the client is doing and the client feels that, knows that, and is open to it.   

Personally, there is no doubt that I began my career as a hedgehog, completely devoted to family therapy as the cure for everything including the common cold.  I now realize that there are many contributing causes for problems and effective treatments for clients, and I use many of them in my work.  Yet understanding the family context is critical to every case I see.  And, listening carefully and connecting are of course core to not only good outcomes, but to personal fulfillment in my work.

In his article, Bill Doherty reports that, like myself, he was a Family Therapy devotee but now has become more of a Fox Therapist and even seems to imply that being a Fox Therapist is preferable.

Personally, I would advise any developing therapist to grow knowledge and expertise in a specific client area with only a few theoretical approaches.Click To Tweet  That way, they will have learned something in enough depth to understand and experience professional success; the ability to help clients get from point “A to point B”.  Then, when they branch out to other client populations and learn to use different treatment modalities, they will be able to apply the same focused approach with success as well.  

How can parents use this information for themselves?  Let’s start with this; are you a Hedgehog Parent, or a Fox Parent?  In other words, do you have a strong parenting philosophy that you adhere to, no matter what?  Or do you deal with things with a “whatever works” approach, borrowing from this method and from that?  

You could be a Hedgehog Parent who believes that being strict is the best and only way to raise kids or you could be a Hedgehog Parent who believes kids need to make their own choices and learn from their mistakes.  There are lots of books promoting lots of theories and methods: Natural Consequences, Love and Logic, Non-Violent Communication, Mindful Parenting, and plenty more.  

You could be a Fox Parent who borrows from many of these philosophies and reads parent magazines for new ideas.

Regardless of which way you approach your parenting; we know that our children, teens and young adults are going to need varying amounts of the four primary parental functions, nurturance, limits, support and guidance.  It varies by age and stage of development as well as the personality and temperament of each kid. Some kids will challenge every limit, others simply need to know what the limits are, and they’ll work within them.  But I see that the same truth about successful therapists applies to successful parents as well.  Parents do need to set and enforce limits, and there is a built-in risk for friction at those points. If parents listen and empathize with their kids and are consistent and clear about their standards and expectations, those points of potential conflict can be eased, and Control Battles avoided.

I certainly don’t want to make this parenting business sound easy. After all, when to hold the line, when to be flexible, knowing what limits are age-appropriate, does my youth have special needs, are all challenging questions. And our kids are always in a state of change and growth so what worked or was appropriate yesterday, may not be today.

At the end of the day, the quality of the connection, your empathy, your caring and interest in them as unique individuals, is going to be a critical element in whether or not your parenting approach is successful.Click To Tweet 

Thanks for tuning in today listeners. If you are a therapist or someone who is very interested in the art and practice of psychotherapy, you should definitely subscribe to the Psychotherapy Networker professional journal. They publish six issues a year and each issue is packed with great articles including case studies, social issues and their impact on our clients and our work.  Every issue can stimulate your thinking and can make you a better therapist.

Before we end today, let’s try this; take a slow deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, and slowly exhale. Let’s try this now; inhale through your nose………hold…….slowly exhale from your mouth.  Try it again, Inhale through your nose………hold……. slowly exhale from your mouth.  Excellent!  Isn’t it amazing how such a small thing can make such a big difference?  As I’ve said many times and I’ll say it again, this parenting business ain’t easy so self-care is essential; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it.  Bye for now.

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