In psychodynamic therapy, the therapeutic alliance is what allows the psychologist and client get the therapeutic work done.
What is the therapeutic alliance?
Another term for it is working alliance and yet another is rapport. It’s the relationship the therapist and client have formed that enables the client to accept what the therapist has to offer and be able to enact change in their life. When it has been established, the client knows the therapist is there for them and trusts them. An alliance has been established where the goal is to help get the client to wherever they want to be in order to live their best possible life.
What does that have to do with motherhood and kids?
It may seem a little weird, but the therapeutic alliance is what makes parenting easy for me.
When I was working with children with autism, the first thing we had to establish was rapport. The child had to see us as someone they wanted to work with, much like a client in a therapist’s office must see the therapist as someone they want to work with, and establish an alliance. With kids, we did this by just playing with them at first. We issued very few demands, and only those we knew they could accomplish with success. Gradually, our demands became harder and more frequent, once the relationship was established.
As a mom, I have an alliance with my kids. Even though they’re my kids, I don’t feel entitled to their obedience. After all, they’re completely new to this world, but are their own persons. I need to teach them, but they need to be able to trust me first (see Parenting with Psychology: Erik Eriskon’s Stages of Development for more information). They need to know I’m going to be there for them.
My kids are more than willing to do as I say because they know I’m the bearer of fun. I spend a lot of time playing with them. I teach them through play and give demands during play. They know that if they want me to keep playing with them, they should listen.
I’m here to guide my kids to their best possible lives. They trust I have their best interests at heart. They don’t always like what I do and say, but they know that if they want fun mom they had better listen. We have a working alliance. We’re in this together.
What about ruptures?
Ruptures are when there is a break in the therapeutic alliance. Something has happened and the client has become upset and wonders if they can trust the therapist. There is distrust and dissatisfaction.
This happens in parenthood, too. As parents, we make mistakes, but our kids expect us to be perfect. Sometimes we say something, but mean something else. Sometimes we agree to something, and go back on our word. Sometimes we yell and punish for seemingly no reason. Sometimes we’re tired and nowhere near our best. It happens. We’re human. But, to our kids, it’s painful. They don’t know what they’ve done wrong. They don’t know if they can trust us in that moment, and later on.
Ruptures happen, but they can be repaired. With my kids, all it takes is letting them know they did nothing wrong. I need to admit I was wrong. My son is very quick to point out when I am wrong. He’s also quick to point out when he is wrong. I don’t want them to see me as superhuman. I want them to know I can and will let them down, but I still love them and will work my hardest to take care of them. When I’m wrong, I tell them. I explain it to them. If I upset them, I give them hugs and kisses and do my best to make it up to them. I admit my faults and let them know I still think they’re wonderful.
Of course, I know my kids will also let me down when they’re older. They will, after all, be teenagers one day. But I hope we’ve managed to cultivate trust and respect so they’ll be able to take steps to repairing our relationship.
I’m not the kind of mom who demands my kids listen to be simply because I’m their mother. I can’t help but see them as individuals with their own ideas and life goals. I’m here to guide, teach, and protect them, but their choices have to be their own. The best I can do is establish a trusting, respectful relationship where we can work together and have the opportunity to fix anything that goes wrong in our relationship.