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Please See My Adult Child

February 21, 2018

A parent phones on behalf of their adult child. The parent wants to set up a counseling appointment. I ask to speak with the adult child.

In speaking with the adult child, the adult child advises he doesn’t know why he needs counseling. He advises he doesn’t think he has any particular problems.

I speak with the parent again. The parent explains acts of violence, drug and/or alcohol abuse, anxiety and depression, lack of motivation. There may have been a recommendation from the family doctor or even psychiatrist for counseling. There is likely some past attempt at counseling that was unfruitful.

My heart goes out to the parents in these circumstances. They are often at odds with each other in terms of how to manage their adult child.

In circumstances such as these, counseling the adult child gives the appearance of providing something helpful. However, it is not uncommon for counseling in these situations to be unproductive. The adult child may attend. Money is spent. Nothing changes.

If the recipient of service cannot identify their own need for the service, the likelihood of any change in the behavior of the person is limited. What may transpire is just another failed counseling attempt.

I typically decline to see the adult child in these circumstances. I do however offer to meet with both parents.

Parents are in distress. Parents do want a solutions. Parents are often at odds with each other about how to proceed and whether a tough love or understanding approach might be best suited to their child.

I can only tell you that if the adult child has no skin in the game counseling is a dubious endeavor.

To create the skin in the game, some impetus for change, it may be necessary for the parents to take some concerted action together and meaningfully. What that action is really depends upon the situation and doesn’t necessarily mean kicking the adult child from the home as some parents’ fear.

So, if you are concerned about an adult child who declines to seek help and make the call on their own, rather than calling on their behalf, call to speak with the counselor yourself. Explore your situation more fully and see if there are strategies you as parents can implement that may facilitate some motivation on the part of your child to consider change.

As social workers we would be delighted to be helpful. It’s always best to start with whoever is most in distress. This may be the parents.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship, divorce or separation issue or even help growing your practice. I am available in person and by Skype.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW for counseling and support – to build your successful practice


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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America. He consults to mental health professionals as well as to mediators and collaborative law professionals about good practice as well as building their practice.

  1. Very True, Gary.
    People with substance use issues often have blind spots about the effect of their behaviour on other people. It is difficult for them to see that they are a problem. It is other people who have a problem with them.
    Am currently working with male drinkers in a group intervention project. I have to keep dinning into my group facilitators to explore how limited the response of the group members are in terms of what they contribute to their relationships with family members. It is generally a rant of how badly people treat me. It is really uphill to get male drinkers to recognise how their drinking affects and disturbs family life.
    BTW – your Prime Minister and his family are visiting my country right now and are on the front page of the newspaper every day. 🙂

  2. Thanks, Gary, the articles you post are always so thought-provoking and helpful. I have been in this situation many times and this is a fantastic reminder of how to get started with some effective treatment.

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