One of the most exciting and sometimes daunting elements of participation at True North is the Parent Program. Whether a family is new to treatment or has had previous experience, this is an opportunity to explore family dynamics and patterns and to engage in a parallel process with students. As families begin their work with parent therapists at True North, there are certain terms that are bound to come up. These include communication, connection, validation, reflection and conflict management among many more. For many families, it is important to unpack what these terms mean and what it will take as a family to incorporate new or challenging concepts into daily practice.
At the beginning of the journey at TN, many families feel in crisis, but that is often compounded by not being able to effectively turn to each other for support. Feelings of helplessness, fear and hurt get in the way of understanding each other and instead lead to old patterns of interaction. About half of all parents and students entering True North report that “there are lots of bad feelings in the family.” Six months after True North, that number has decreased to about 12%. So, what actually happens? The key lies in first looking at oneself and placing energy in what is within your control while remaining open to the other’s perspective.
To effectively engage in family work, individuals must first understand themselves and where they come from. Many individuals, parents and teens alike, attempt to put “the cart before the horse.” Often there are exclamations of “if only we could communicate better, we’d get along so much easier.” In truth, better communication stems from connected individuals who better understand their own feelings and needs as well as the feelings and needs of those with whom they have relationships. The practice of self-awareness is a critical first step in the parents’ journey here at True North. It is followed by the creation of new skills to effectively express feelings, manage problems and develop new patterns of interaction. Those families that report an improvement in the overall feelings in their family had to sort those out on an individual basis first. This includes connecting with core feelings, understanding how to frame them in a healthy and productive way and connecting them with needs.
In the next stages of treatment, individuals in a family system begin learning how to “dance more effectively.” The process has asked members of the family to increase their self-awareness and ability to communicate feelings effectively. These are key tools that everyone brings into ongoing relationship work, however this is just the beginning. The practical application of these takes work and families that are willing to do so see marked improvement in their communication. This can include reflective listening, validation, identifying dreams within conflict and productive conflict management. These are all strategies designed to place and sustain relationship as the priority and value connection over being “right.” This is hard work and it often doesn’t move along a linear track. We encourage parents to keep a “wide angle lens” on the work, understanding that there will be regression and return to old patterns at times. Interruption of these takes time and developing prevention, intervention and repair strategies sets families up to feel more equipped to manage this work in the future.
At True North, more often than not, we are beginning this work for families that will carry forward into the lives and treatment of families moving forward. We understand that families can be at different places in both their individual and system needs. Our goal is to set families on the right course for them, the health of their relationships and to sustain the momentum they gained here.