What is Therapeutic Parenting?

Someone asked me this week to describe what Therapeutic Parenting is and I thought long and hard about the answer.

My mind went blank how to capture therapeutic parenting in words? Searching in the English Dictionary I found that to be therapeutic means “that you cause someone to feel happier and more relaxed or to be more healthy”.

On a search on the Internet there was a good description of the qualities of a good therapeutic relationship in therapy:

· Mutual trust, respect, and caring.

· General agreement on the goals and tasks of the therapy.

· Shared decision-making.

· Mutual engagement in “the work” of the treatment.

· The ability to talk about the “here-and-now” aspects of the relationship with each other.

Beacon House says that being a Therapeutic Parent means: “having to feel like a terrible parent hand in hand of helping your child deal with the weight of their trauma”

None of these definitions generated anything meaningful in me and left me unable to encapsulate what the words Therapeutic Parenting touched in me.

I thought then of our SMILE model and how the model itself offers a description of the qualities in therapeutic parenting; to be warm, empathic, to be aware of your own expectations of relationships and emotional snags, to be reflective, compassionate, committed, provide structure and firm boundaries.

But even this explanation could not convey the feeling I get when I listen to our Foster parents and observe the lived experience of Therapeutic Parenting.

A little boy just bathed and in fresh pyjamas, playing football in the garden and then coming in grabbing a blanket and a cushion to get into the dog bed and deciding he would sleep there. The Foster parents were curious as to whether he would be comfortable there all night and got him another cushion. As he talked whether the dog bed could go in other precarious positions, they were relaxed alongside him in exploring options and there was genuine interest in his suggestions.

A girl unable to describe any negativity being violently sick and the foster mum with no fuss, bathing her and taking the opportunity to offer nurture and fill in a developmental gap.

A Foster Mum proudly showing a certificate her little boy had received at school, a school that had previously struggled with understanding him.

A foster mum sharing resources with another school so that they were able to look at her little boy through a trauma informed lens, rather than the manipulative lens they were using.

A foster family who had been shell shocked all weekend, still prioritising their little boys needs and meeting them. Alongside the heartfelt cry of “he is not going anywhere”.

Foster Mums who have been bombarded with sharp words and stinging insults, still firmly standing in their teenager’s corner.

A little boy who had difficulties in sensory processing, which had seemed to affect every aspect of his functioning – from his posture, his balance to catching or kicking a ball. I observed him knowing where his feet are, kicking a ball, run and jump etc. This tells me that after three months with his foster family new brain pathways are being created as activities are being repeated through play and nurture.

A teenager after two years of no school attending college, while her foster mum sits outside in case she is needed to regulate the teenagers big emotions.

Seeing a young teenager dancing and laughing in the kitchen early morning with his Foster Parents.

These are just a few of my experiences in observing the children and young people in Mosaic, there are so many more, what they have in common is accepting the child in the moment and being curious, interested and alongside them.

These experiences convey more than words, so maybe just as words are not enough to allow our children and young people to communicate the depth or sheer weight of the emotional burden they feel. There is a parallel process going on, it may simply be the case for me of being unable to articulate the complexity of the experience of Therapeutic Parenting.

Aly Thompson

Therapeutic Lead – Mosaic Foster Care