Effective counselling interventions

Effective counselling interventions to support parents should include:

  • education for parents/families about strategies to help them cope better
  • information for parents/families about volatile substance use (VSU)
  • encouraging parents/families to take care of themselves, rather than focusing only on the family member using volatile substances
  • encouraging parents/families to engage with other forms of support such as support groups.

Working with parents

Parents often blame themselves for the substance use and feel they have failed in their role as a parent. These feelings often result in parents losing confidence in their parenting role. Therefore, parents may be reluctant to seek help early and may wait until the problem has escalated to a point of crisis or until they feel unable to cope.

Parents experience a range of emotions such as sadness, worry, fear, grief for the loss of the relationship with their child, and isolation due to stigma and shame. They may also feel a sense of powerlessness; have a pre-occupation with why their child uses; develop a narrow focus on the problem; and may develop over-protective behaviours towards their child. They may also fail to recognise their own needs due to an overwhelming sense of exhaustion and concern. These emotions and behaviours are considered normal reactions to a very stressful situation.

Some key areas that are important to address with parents include:

  • reducing feelings of anxiety and isolation
  • providing information about VSU
  • strengthening the parenting role and the parent’s confidence
  • communication skills
  • conflict resolution skills
  • effective negotiation of boundaries.

For more information, see A counsellor's guide to working with alcohol and drug users (3rd Edition)

Although not the purpose of intervention, working with the parents may also provide an avenue for the volatile substance user to seek assistance.

It is important to keep in mind that parents often seek help believing their child is the client. Some parents will act as an advocate for the child, searching for treatment services, stating that their child has the problem, not them. Parents will often request assistance in helping their child abstain from drugs.

It is important for the counsellor to view the parent as the client and shift the focus from the child on to the parent. Self-care should be a major focus where parents are encouraged to consider their own needs as well as their child’s.

Working with parents/families as part of an individual client's treatment

Working with parents and significant others as of part an individual client’s treatment is considered family-sensitive practice. Family involvement in treatment results in better outcomes and increases the probability of users accessing help and support.

Having a supportive family relationship can contribute to an improved outcome for the volatile substance user. Research has shown that involving family in treatment can help motivate individuals to enter and stay in treatment and is more effective than treatment involving only the individual.

Where appropriate, include parents and significant others in VSU interventions relating to young people. Parents should be seen as part of the solution.

It is important to receive consent from your client before inviting family and significant others to participate in treatment. When working with parents, it is also important to ensure that clear policies and procedures are in place that deal with the confidentiality of everyone involved.

The following may be areas to discuss with parents and families:

  • reducing stress and anxiety
  • recognising and drawing on internal resources to deal with and resolve issues
  • conflict resolution skills
  • communication skills
  • developing coping strategies to minimise the negative impact of substance use
  • developing interactions that encourage and promote positive change.

Parents involved in treatment can also benefit from the professional support. Being involved in the process may then encourage parents to access support of their own, through the opportunity to provide parents with referral information for counselling and/or peer support groups.

For VSU information to provide to parents, see the Information for parents page of this website.