Ron Unger: on how parents can help

Ron Unger has written an insightful post at the Mad in America site. Please read it in its entirety here. I have extracted what he has to say about how parents can interact with their child to effect a positive outcome.

Mystery and nonlinearity applies to our responsibility for interactions with others as well as interactions with aspects of ourselves. Parents for example should be prepared for unpredictable kinds of interactions. There is this expectation in our culture that if one follows some defined set of instructions, a “good” child should be guaranteed, unless of course the child has a biological illness like ADHD or bipolar! This belief system creates incompetent parents, parents who feel they have to make a choice between believing that they themselves are “bad” as in they failed to follow the linear instructions that every “good” parent should know, or believing that their child is “ill” and that care should be turned over to the psychiatrist for diagnosis and chemical repair.

In contrast, a parent who is aware that his or her child is a mystery, and is a complex and inherently unpredictable non-linear system, will instead approach signs of trouble with curiosity and an open mind. Such a parent will be open to feedback about what works with this particular child, and will always consider the possibility that if the parent and others communicated differently to the child, any problems might be resolved. This does not guarantee a positive outcome, because in non-linear interactions nothing can be guaranteed, but the chances of success are much greater. The child now lives in a world of human beings who respond to him or her in a way that models both self respect and humility, and out of such interactions, the child can learn to also have both self respect and humility, firmness and flexibility, etc. Problems do not entirely disappear, but become manageable.

Competent therapists are able to help people restore this sense of mystery, this willingness to engage. But therapists are often instead like parents who believe there should be some set of defined instructions that should always work, and if the problem doesn’t resolve by using such tactics, then the problem must be a biological illness, and the therapist isn’t responsible at all. Instead, what the person really needs is a medication check.

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