*Note that this article refers to psychotherapeutic reparenting, not any ‘alternative’ treatment involving a client being coddled and asked to act like an infant.
What is reparenting?
Reparenting (also called ‘limited reparenting’) refers to your psychotherapist taking the role of a concerned and trustworthy parent so that you can learn what a trusting relationship is like.
It is based on the belief that many psychological issues stem from a child growing up without his or her needs being met. The child is not helped to feel secure and unconditionally loved and develops an insecure ‘attachment’. So they grow up to be an adult who can’t navigate relationships and life as well as they should.
Reparenting is of course done within the boundaries of professionalism and the therapy room. It’s not as if your therapist is going to be checking up on you, or as if you are to act like a child outside of your therapy sessions!
The benefits of reparenting
Reparenting creates a safe experience for you to:
learn about your hidden needs and how to get them met
How is a therapist who uses reparenting different than other therapists?
Traditionally, a psychotherapist remains neutral in his or her relationship with you. They do not encourage you to depend on them or become emotionally attached. They encourage you to learn to take responsibility for and manage your thoughts and feelings yourself.
Note that you do not have to have had an obviously traumatic childhood to benefit from reparenting. Things like having an aloof parent, extremely stressed parent, a controlling parent, a parent who disciplines harshly, or a parent with mental illness can all lead to a child not feeling secure.
But you might also at some point developempathy for your parents. The more you understand yourself, the more you understand other people, including your mother and father. You might, for example, begin to realise that they themselves were not parented well and have simply passed on what they learned.
Going back to the client with abandonment issues. How might your therapist ‘reparent’ someone who felt abandoned?
Your therapist would first of all be reliable, stable, and not disappear. You would discuss this commitment between you.
When things like the therapist going on vacation come up, you will be encouraged to confront the therapist with your feelings of abandonment instead of pretend things are fine or overreact like you are used to. Together you would look at ways you can handle what you feel without overreacting, and your therapist can give you guidance, like a good parent.
If you resorted to being mean towards your therapist, he or she would be very firm with you.
Your therapist will, however, make it clear that they will not judge you or pull away from you for acting out, much like a good parent doesn’t judge or abandon a child for being upset.
Your therapist would let you depend on their support as you experience trusting someone to be there. The idea is, like a child who starts venturing out more and more into the world when they know the parent is there, you become more independent, and start to create relationships in the world with others you can trust. With time you need the therapist less and less.
But doesn’t the therapist then have power over me?
While it might sound odd to be ‘reparented’, it can help to see it as a relationship role over someone having any sort of power over you.
We all have the ability to act as a ‘parent’. One model of approach is that each individual has an inner child, an adult, and a parent side. So really, with reparenting, you are taking a role too.
You are being the child and the therapist is being the parent so that you can learn to get your needs met. When you leave the therapy room, you both go back to adult ‘mode’.
What sorts of therapy use reparenting?
Schema therapy is the type of therapy most known for limited reparenting. You are taught to reach what is called your ‘Vulnerable Child Mode’, with your therapist firmly stopping you from going into your patterns of avoiding being vulnerable. You also work with your Angry Child Mode, learning how to manage your anger in ways that are constructive over destructive.