Dear Therapist:

Our daughter experienced a significant trauma when she was in seminary last year. It had been suggested a few times, both by her school and once she came home, that she go for treatment. For whatever reason she refused. She now approached us that she would like to speak to someone about what she experienced and saw. We read this column regularly and would like to hear your recommendation regarding what is the best type of approach for threating this kind of trauma, which was a one time event that she saw. Also, being that she is an adult and will have the right of confidentially we would appreciate if you could give us a sense as to what the process is like, how long we could expect it to take and how long until she would be seeing benefit from it? Thank you for your help. 



As a father, I can certainly empathize with your desire to understand the therapy process. As parents, you want to protect your daughter and be as involved as possible. I myself struggle with the conflict between my instinctive protective response and my obligation to raise my children to be self-sufficient.

The goal of self-sufficiency is age-based. When our children are very young, they are entirely dependent on us. At some point, we want our children to be entirely self-sufficient. The period of time in between can be confusing and disorienting. Properly distinguishing between our protective and instructive roles can be difficult, especially when we watch our children make mistakes—and perhaps even more so when they make the same mistakes that we did. It is important to remember that it is through our mistakes that we developed the experience and capability that we currently possess (if I do say so myself).

The field of psychology constantly strives to identify consistency in human behavior, emotions, and psychotherapy practice. However, this will never be accomplished within the mental health arena to anywhere near the extent that this can be done in other areas of health. The difficulty of generalizing needs, care, and treatment is compounded by the complex nature of the human mind, combined with the limitless number and types of events (physical, cognitive, and emotional) that we all experience in life—and the cumulative effect of these. Basically, no two humans could possibly be experientially and reactively the same. This means that there is no way to predict anything about the therapy process.

You are looking for specific answers to very general questions with little context. Add this to the innate unpredictability of the human mind, and the response will necessarily be: There’s no way to predict the type of process, length of time, or the efficacy.

Ostensibly an adult, your daughter’s therapeutic experience will be hers to navigate. Naturally, she should feel that she has your support, and that she can lean on her parents when necessary. However, ultimately the determination as to the therapeutic relationship, the nature of the therapy process, and whether therapy is helping will be hers to make. Though it can be annoying, anxiety-provoking, or downright hurtful to be out of the loop, the extent of your involvement will be your daughter’s decision.

If you trust your daughter’s maturity and decision-making capability, it can be helpful to let her see this. In addition to reinforcing her self-sufficiency and possibly her commitment to the therapy process, this may make her more comfortable discussing the process with you.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 516-218-4200