March 19, 2024

Special Guest Jamilah Lemieux: Deciding to Take your Kid to Therapy

Today’s bonus episode is with special guest Jamilah Lemieux, and it’s all about therapy.

Leslie and Jamilah discuss things like figuring out when to take your child to therapy, how to find therapists for all needs, how to talk to your kids about taking them to therapy, and more  If you’re curious about therapy, for yourself or your kids or both, be sure to check out our resources. With some help, anyone can begin the journey to a better self.

About the guests: Jamilah Lemieux is an American writer, cultural critic, and editor. She rose to prominence for her blog, The Beautiful Struggler. She has worked for Ebony, Cassius Magazine, and Interactive One, part of Radio One, Inc. Lemieux currently writes a parenting column for Slate co-hosts an accompanying podcast, Care and Feeding formerly known as Mom & Dad Are Fighting.

Credits: Is My Child a Monster is produced by Alletta Cooper, Dale Rubury, and Leslie Cohen-Rubury. Theme music is by L-Ray Music. Public relations is handled by Tink Media. Graphics and Website Design by Brien O’Reilly. by Eric Rubury. A special thanks to everyone who contributes their wisdom and support to make this possible.

Resources: 

Leslie-ism: Take the time to learn about therapy so you can recognize a good fit.

Listen to Leslie’s guest appearances on Slate’s Mom and Dad are Fighting Podcast

TRANSCRIPT OF SHOW:

[Music: The Wilds Beyond by L-Ray Music]

0:03  Jamilah:  I think everyone should be in therapy. I think the government should issue you a therapist from the age of, like, six. It’s something I knew I would have to do eventually, it was just kind of a matter of waiting for the right time.

0:22  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury, and this Is My Child A Monster?, a parenting therapy podcast, where you get to listen in as real parents and caregivers share their trials and tribulations in therapy sessions recorded live. I’m a parent and a therapist with 38 years of experience helping families navigate this question. And no, your child is not a monster. 

Today, we’re not doing therapy. We’re talking about therapy, why you might seek it for yourself or your child, how to find a therapist, and some of the questions you might have along the way. I’ve invited parenting columnist and podcaster, Jamilah Lemieux, to join me today to talk it through. We first met last year when I was on Slate’s Care And Feeding podcast, then called Mom And Dad Are Fighting, which she co-hosts. Jamilah is a writer, a cultural critic, and an editor. She has worked for Ebony, Cassius Magazine, and Radio One. And she is a big advocate for therapy, and often talks about her own experience, and about her decision to send her 10-year-old daughter, Naima, to therapy as well. I’m so excited that she’s with me. So let’s get started. 

Leslie:  Hi, how are you today?

1:46  Jamilah:  Hey, I’m good. How are you?

1:48  Leslie:  I’m good, thanks. We meet up again. And I’m excited to meet up again.

1:52  Jamilah:  Me too.

1:53  Leslie:  So, on your podcast, I heard you often recommend therapy to some of the listeners, and even talked about therapy with your own daughter. So, was there a moment that made you realize that you wanted therapy for your daughter, or your daughter needed therapy?

2:11  Jamilah:  Yes, it was around 2021. She was eight. The pandemic was going on. And we’d also moved in 2019, from New York to California. So, this big moment of transition, and then the world shuts down not very long after. So she was just getting adjusted to being here, you know, her first birthday party out here was canceled because of the pandemic. 

So, we were having some challenges, we were having some moments where she wasn’t quite listening. And I felt like she needed to talk to someone. I think everyone should be in therapy, I think the government should issue you a therapist from the age of, like, six. But it’s something I knew I would have to do eventually. It was just kind of a matter of waiting for the right time.

3:06  Leslie:  Oh my goodness. So, what your daughter was going through are big changes. And we are so relational, meaning, we just like to be connected to people. And it’s just a wonderful idea to have someone to talk to. So what was some of the behaviors that she was showing?

3:25  Jamilah:  Well, you know, she was being defiant, which is a little bit different than just not listening. She was just straight up, like, “No, not going to happen, not going to do what you’re saying,” and talking back. And I thought that was unlike her.

3:40  Leslie:  Okay, so bingo, right there. When we see something that’s unlike our children, it should put up our radar, right, like it should go on our radar of, “Wait a minute. This is not typical.” So she was a bit defiant. And even if it is typical doesn’t mean we don’t go to therapy for those reasons. But she was a bit defiant. And you were concerned—talking back, saying “no,” a lot. So how did you find a therapist? How did that go?

4:05  Jamilah:  I used a website called therapyforblackgirls.com that lists therapists for black girls and women. And it’s a really expansive database for therapists—there are a lot of them. The other place that I would have checked was Psychology Today‘s website, they’ve got such a great resource there. And this woman had been written about in the LA Times for doing therapy with dolls with little black girls and my daughter is a big doll person, and so I thought she would just be a wonderful fit. 

4:42  Leslie:  I love the way you looked for something that was really a good fit, because the fit is so important in therapy. What was that conversation like, when you tried to tell her it’s time to go to therapy? 

4:56  Jamilah:  Well, she knew what a therapist was, she knew that I saw one And that her father has seen one. So there’d been some talk with her about therapy anyway, so she knew what it was and that she was going to be talking to somebody; and, “She was a really nice lady, and just a good person for you to talk about some of the things that maybe you don’t feel comfortable talking to Mommy and Daddy about some of your feelings, some of the moments we have, where we’re not getting along…somebody who can listen to you about those things.” 

5:29  Leslie:  Yes, I often hear parents say that, “My child doesn’t talk to me.” So they want to offer the child to have a therapist. I do love the idea that there are many, many people out there who can hear us without actually even putting us down. Does she talk to you as well? 

Jamilah:  She does. 

Leslie:  So she talks to you. And she can have a therapist who is there for her as well. So, was it hard to find a therapist? 

6:00  Jamilah:  No, just compared with the experience I had with finding my fit. Well, actually, to be fair, I didn’t have a hard time finding my therapist. I looked and looked. And then my psychiatrist recommended somebody and she was…I gave him a few criteria…and he found the perfect person. I was very, very blessed this time around; because my other experiences with therapy were not so great. But no, it really didn’t take me very long to find Naima’s therapist. I was super-surprised and she responded right away, she was available. They started meeting on Zoom at first.

6:38  Leslie:  That’s a blessing, like you said, that you were able to find a good fit for yourself, and also a good fit for Naima. Now, the thing is: that is not what I am hearing a lot. So I get calls constantly for helping people find a therapist. So many people struggle. My heart broke just recently when someone said, “I’ve called 17 therapists.” I don’t think that’s always so unusual that you ended up calling right and trying a lot of people. So, you did not have the experience where you felt discouraged along the way, did you? 

7:16  Jamilah:  No, I didn’t. I did make a bunch of calls. I probably called about 10 offices before I was like, “Well, I may ask my psychiatrist.” But I know that feeling. And I’ve had that experience with trying to find other providers and try to help other people find therapists. So I totally get it. 

 7:35  Leslie:  I mean, word of mouth is a great way, also, of trying to find a therapist. So, in terms of that discouraging feeling, what do you tell people?

7:47  Jamilah:  You just got to keep looking. The right therapist is out there. You just have to find them, especially now that you can access therapy online, so you don’t have to be in the same place with your provider. There are so many excellent providers out there. You just have to keep looking.

8:03  Leslie:  Yes, yes, yes. I want to talk about finding that right fit. You said—it was so interesting—you said that when you spoke to your psychiatrist, you had a few questions, and you had some criteria. 

Jamilah:  Mm hmm. 

Leslie:  And I know one thing that attracted you to Naima’s therapist was that she played with dolls. Let’s come up with some ideas for some of the listeners to actually help us find the right fit for the child. Because I think that’s very confusing, since there is a broad range, a very broad range, of the therapies that are out there, the modalities that are out there, and the kinds of therapists.

8:43  Jamilah:  Absolutely. I think one thing to think about is gender. I think that’s really important. Some children are just not going to feel as comfortable opening up. A lot of little girls don’t feel comfortable opening up to men. My daughter has told me herself; at one point, she told me the men made her uncomfortable…which was something we had to work through. But I think gender is really important. I think age is important. Some people would feel more comfortable talking to an older provider, whereas some folks may do better with somebody who’s a bit younger. 

9:18  Leslie:  Those are two great criteria. And we also want to maybe understand someone’s orientation. So that, do you get the sense that someone may be LGBTQ-affirming, neurodiversity-affirming—we want to understand a person’s orientation and their ability to respect differences in many, many ways. 

Jamilah:  Yeah. 

Leslie:  So once you started going to her therapist, did you check in with her about the fit? So, at what point did you get the sense “Okay, this is a good fit.” Because one is just looking for someone, but then she’s actually got to get in there and see how it feels? 

10:01  Jamilah:  Well, after every session, I would ask her, “Did you have a good time? Did you enjoy yourself? Do you like her? Do you want to do this again?”

10:10  Leslie:  So did you ever get, “No, I don’t want to do it again,” or “No, I don’t like it.” 

10:14  Jamilah:  No, she really hit it off so well from the very beginning. And that’s not to say there haven’t been times where she didn’t want to go; there may be a day where she’s emotional about something, and she just doesn’t feel like talking about her feelings. But aside from that, she looks forward to seeing her, she wants to play games with her…

10:34  Leslie:  Okay, so you just brought up two really good points: that she may be enjoying herself, but not every session is about enjoyment. Sometimes, we’re going, it can feel a little uncomfortable. I’ve had many children in therapy, there are certain children that when they…let’s say they’re talking about something that doesn’t feel good, like a situation that was upsetting to them. And they go there, and they’re trying to talk about it. It could be that that’s very uncomfortable, because it feels, for some children, they’re reliving it. But it can be very, very uncomfortable for some children to go to therapy and talk about it. That’s the therapist problem.

So I’m going to put that on the therapist, that therapist needs to work with the child. We know research is just across the board, every study—and I am going to say every study, because I don’t think there’s been very much disagreement—every study shows that the most important part of therapy, in order to make it work, is the relationship, first and foremost. I think you’ve expressed that, that the therapist and the relationship is so important. And with children, wer’e asking them to be uncomfortable and talk about things and open up and be vulnerable, then we certainly want to create that foundation. And so you were talking about that she did some play therapy. I used games all the time—I find playing games or reading books or doing things like that, I get to learn a lot about a child. Let me ask you, if you have any questions from the parent’s perspective to the therapist, since I’m sitting here as the therapist, do you have any questions for me about sending your child to therapy? Or what you’re looking for?

12:25  Jamilah:  Yeah, as the parent, what sort of information do you need from us going into therapy to get started, aside from just kind of like commenting on what’s happening that made you want to get a therapist?

12:37  Leslie:  Okay. So yes, I want to make sure when I have an intake with someone that I’m finding out, what are the behaviors, what is the parent seeking, is the child on board or not. I’d like to know if the child has expressed interest in wanting to go to therapy. That’s a separate question. But I also want to let the parent know who I am. So that I make it very clear that it’s very important that it’s a good fit—I do think that that’s important. 

And I’m going to want to understand what is the therapy that’s going to fit the child’s behavior. So if we’re talking about a child, who, let’s say, has an autistic brain and ADHD presentation, or the defiance, I want to find therapy, that is evidence-based therapy for that child. I want to know from the parent, if my expertise is going to match the child. And so I’m going to ask questions about what is the presenting problem? And what is the child’s learning style and other questions like that, so that I get the feel for who this child is and will the therapy work. 

So I really want to listen to the parent and hear what they’re asking for. Sometimes, which is very much my orientation. I’m also a family therapist— see working with the whole system—sometimes, after working with the child or right in the beginning, I might say, “Hey, it’s my recommendation that we go with some family therapy,” or that I’d like to work with the parents, depending on the age of the child. Have you ever worked with a therapist who helps you understand your child? 

14:24  Jamilah:  Yeah. I feel Naima’s therapist does a good job at communicating with me about things they talk about and what I need to know from their conversations. And we also have a family therapist who we see with her father, who’s been helpful in that regard as well. 

14:43  Leslie:  So, the three of you meet together. 

Jamilah:  Yeah. 

Leslie:  Okay. So, as you’re describing, there’s so many…there’s individual therapy for you, for your daughter. There’s a family systems approach. There’s a parenting approach or a parent consultation model or parent coaching model, where we’re really trying to help parents in whatever modality is going to feel like it works for them. So in terms of what information is helpful for me, when you come asking for therapy, it is about the behaviors. The child, I’m going to ask about interactions, I’m going to ask about things—her sleep patterns, or eating—just some things in general so I can get a whole picture of who your child is; we don’t want to just understand what are the problems. We want to work with seeing the child as a whole person, and many therapists want to come with a strength-based perspective—what are the strengths of the child? So how long has Naima been in therapy?

15:54  Jamilah:  This will be her third year.

15:55  Leslie:  Do you have goals? Does your therapist set goals in therapy?

16:00   Jamilah:  She doesn’t, no. Well, yes. I want her to be more communicative with you. I want her to come up with some better coping mechanisms for when she’s upset. We do have some goals. 

16:16  Leslie:  It sounds like your daughter feels connected and feels like she’s getting something out of it—is that true? Because I don’t think she’d keep going if she did. 

Jamilah:  Yes.

Leslie:  And have you seen the changes that you were hoping for, the changes in the defiant behavior, in a little bit more communication, as you said, or regulating some of the behaviors? Have you seen some of those things as well? 

Jamilah:  I have. 

Leslie:  That’s so cool. I’d love to know what you would say to a parent who’s considering taking their child to a therapist. Maybe they’re nervous, or think it means something they’ve done wrong. How do we pitch that to parents? Oftentimes, kids say, “Have I done something wrong?” The parents, maybe they feel like a failure. So how do we put a different perspective to that? 

17:07  Jamilah:  I think just letting them know that therapy is very common, all types of people go to therapy, a lot of people you know and respect go to therapy. I mean, if there’s anyone in the public eye you can admire, they go to therapy.

17:24  Leslie:  And you are certainly setting that example. Sounds like her dad is setting that example of making therapy to be a strength, not to be a weakness.

17:33  Jamilah:  Absolutely.

17:34  Leslie:  Let’s think if there’s any other ideas that we can have for what parents would say, when their child is scared; for helping the parent get the child to therapy, even though they may not be interested, or they think they don’t want it. We’ve got kids who say no, “I don’t want to go to therapy. I’m not broken. There’s nothing wrong with me. It’s your problem, Mom.” 

17:59  Jamilah:  Therapy doesn’t mean that there’s a problem with you, or that you’ve done something. just good to have someone to talk to about your feelings and experiences. And it’s good to have somebody outside of your parents to talk about those things at times, too. 

18:15  Leslie:  I think that idea that talking to someone else, for some people, sounds great. And some people, it sounds scary, sometimes for children who really are saying, “No, no, no, no, no.” I might say, “Okay, you need to give it a try. You need to do three sessions. And if at the end of three sessions, you say, ‘No,’ we’ll stop therapy.” I might also say, sometimes you’re saying no, because you’ve had a bad experience. So I would want to find out from that child, “What has not worked for you in the past? What has worked for you in the past, when you want to talk to someone, what works for you? When you have a problem what works for you?” 

So I think the idea of tuning into the child of what kind of person would they like to talk to…and this sort of brings us back to the beginning: what’s going to work for the child? I’ve had kids say to me, “Therapists always tell me what to do, but they don’t help me understand, or they tell me what I’m doing wrong, but they don’t give me any strategies that work.” So when I hear a child say that, I’m like, “Okay, if you do therapy with me, we’re going to see what we can do, so we don’t go down that same road.” 

I don’t want to be that therapist who you said didn’t work. I want you to come in and tell me. And that’s one more point that I want to make: children and adults should have a voice in therapy. If it’s not working, if your therapist doesn’t want feedback, run. If your therapist gets defensive, “Oh no, I make sure your child…”—run. A therapist’s job is to get feedback of what’s working and what’s not working. So for the parent to be able to give feedback, for the child to be able to give feedback, I think that’s also really important. 

All right, do you have any questions that you might want to share or ask me about being a therapist and go into therapy?

20:26  Jamilah:  What’s your greatest challenge with getting through to kids?

20:30   Leslie:  I do want kids to see that our weaknesses are not a problem. They’re not a fault. I want children to see that the places that we struggle are opportunities for our growth. And so I really want to make sure I’m getting through to kids that they can learn to grow, and that they get to feel accomplished; that that’s an accomplishment. So I want kids to look at themselves…yeah, it’s really not broken. Which is so funny, because of course, the name of my podcast is, Is My Child A Monster? I’m not labeling kids as monsters, because no, you’re not a monster; you may not be understood. 

So I think the hard thing is having patience as a therapist, while we’re helping children make changes. And that’s the same message I want to give to kids. It’s going to take time. they want either changes to happen right away, or they get impatient. So when they say a skill doesn’t work, I train my the kids that I work with, and I say, “I’m going to have you try this.” I give a lot of homework to kids. And I would say,”You’re going to try it. And it’s not going to work. But you’re going to come back next week and tell me if you did it.” If you did it, that success. 

So I get kids to use the skill and to define using a skill as success. And then after three months of using a skill, then we can expect it to start helping. Some with skills work immediately. And some skills take time. So, really getting through to kids about therapy takes time,therapy takes work. And stay committed, but make sure it’s working for you. Don’t stay in therapy if it’s not working—make sure you’re learning something and you’re getting something out of it. Really want people to understand that that relationship is important. And that you can see that working for you, for your daughter, for your family. 

And one more thing I want to ask: where can people find you?

22:47  Jamilah:  I’m on every social platform at Jamilah Lemieux and you can listen to the Care And Feeding podcast via Slate anywhere you stream podcasts, and read the Care And Feeding parenting column at slate.com.

23:00  Leslie:  Great. And thank you so much for joining me today.

23:03  Jamilah:  Thank you for having me.

[Music: The Wilds Beyond by L-Ray Music]

23:13  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  So, as you know, I’m a therapist. I’ve been a therapist for nearly 40 years. And as strange as it sounds, I don’t think all kids need therapy. I do think all parents need to understand their children, because that’s your job as a parent: to raise your children so they know themselves. And my goal as a podcaster and a therapist is to help parents to do just that. 

Changing what you do as parents may be enough to address the problem behaviors you’re experiencing. And if it’s not, therapy is here to help. 

I want to thank Jamilah Lemieux for sharing her insights with me. You can find links to her work and everything we talked about in the show notes. I also added other resources about different kinds of therapy modalities, what good therapy looks like, and places to start looking for a therapist who might be a good match for you or your child. 

Join us next week for our first session with Molly and Alastair. They have two young children who are dealing with some tough sibling dynamics. 

Subscribe to Is My Child A Monster? wherever you get your podcasts, so you don’t miss an episode. And if you like what you hear, please rate and review it. You can find a full transcript of this episode, and you can sign up for my newsletter at ismychildamonster.com

The Is My Child A Monster? team is Alletta Cooper, AJ Moultrié, Camila Salazar, and me. Special thanks to Eric Rubury. Our theme music is by L-Ray Music. I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury. Thanks so much for listening. And this week, take the time to learn about therapy, so you can recognize a good fit.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai edited by Eric Rubury

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