How online counselling can benefit the whole family.

Eve Ashley

Eve Ashley

Couple Psychotherapist at Tavistock Relationships

The relationship we have with our parents plays a unique part in the development of each of us, and the continuity of our lives through the generations.  Stories about our relationship with our parents, and the relationship they had together, begin before we were born, and will continue after we have died.

Children are affected by their parents’ relationship, and if that relationship is going through difficulties, then these difficulties will have an impact on the children. They may show complex and difficult behaviours, such as not wanting to go to school, not being able to sleep, getting into fights, or just becoming withdrawn and depressed, and unable to cope with family life.

When the parental couple are in crisis themselves and seek help, something we see a lot of in our online therapy service, sometimes their difficulties and differences are focussed around parenting. Often it is not until the more subtle and complex struggles between the couple are revealed, that the children’s difficulties can be understood to be in some way linked to their parents’ problems. Online psychodynamic psychotherapy can prove to be very effective at unpacking this type of situation and allowing for life-changing understanding to unfold. 

By supporting the parents to look at their own relationship, and slowly exploring the thoughts and feelings about how their unhappiness has affected their children, the children come to feel more understood, and are given the permission they need to relate with each parent more freely and develop their own identity more creatively.

The parents’ own childhood histories can be connected to their present-day troubles, and the dynamics within their family seen as a playing out of past and current tensions. The opportunity to engage at this deeply personal level and begin to understand themselves and the lives of their children is possible within couple therapy.  Tavistock Relationship’s Online Therapy is also open to parents struggling with co-parenting whether they are living together or post-separation and is proving to be very family friendly in that children are virtually included as part of the sessions.

Loyalty to one parent or the other can be a big issue for children when a couple is facing a challenging time. In children’s minds it is difficult to think of being friendly to two opposing camps.  It is not possible at the school playground so why should it be possible at home?  When a parental couple come to appreciate how their children might be thinking, they can reassure the children that the difficulties do not rest with them, and that each child’s relationship with each of their parents is important.

With so called “skype therapy” (although different providers use other platforms) the therapist is often allowed to have a glimpse of family photos hung on the wall.  At other times,  the spontaneous appearance of a young child checking the therapist out on its way to bed have encouraged me to feel that children can come to view the online counselling work with their parents as helpful and not threatening. Children are familiar with technology being a source of friendship, playfulness and communication and therefore don’t find the thought of an online session as worrying as a parental visit to a clinic might be. 

Parents, I find, are more relaxed in their own homes using their own PC, laptop or even a well-positioned tablet.  In such a familiar setting they find it easier to contemplate the presence of their family, without necessarily making it the sole focus. This leads quite naturally to thinking about the family system as a whole alongside the vital importance of the parents’ relationship with one another.

The arrangements for parents to have an online session can be as easily managed with parents often taking the child next door to a friendly neighbour’s place, or waiting until after their bedtime, and this also enhances the ease of access to online therapy.

I have come to see online work with couples where problems tend to centre around parenting as therapy with couples placed at the heart of the family.

About Eve

After an initial degree and work experience in design, I trained as an art teacher, concentrating in specialist educational settings, working with children and young people with disabilities and severe behavioural problems. This led to my training as a child and adolescent psychotherapist at the Tavistock Clinic, which I completed in 2000. I have continued to work in the NHS since then as a therapist with families, young people and children.  In 2013 I completed training in Couple Psychotherapy at Tavistock Relationships. I am a professional member of the Association of Child Psychotherapists, and of the British Psychoanalytic Council.