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Inside “The Parent Collective”: The Psycho-Educational Group That’s Transformed Family Involvement at The Dorm

Est. reading time: 5 mins
Posted Under: Interviews, Treatment Insights

Clinically Reviewed by: Amanda Fialk, PhD, LCSW, LICSW

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Research shows that family engagement in treatment is associated with greater improvement in youth functioning and treatment outcomes, which is why we offer a robust variety of family resources at The Dorm. One newer highlight of our offerings is The Parent Collective – a biweekly virtual support group that stands apart from our family services including family therapy, parent coaching, and multi-family group therapy.  

Born out of the pandemic, this virtual, biweekly group has evolved into a cornerstone of treatment at The Dorm, offering an added layer of education and community care our NYC and DC families. 

 

“I am grateful beyond words for what The Dorm has provided us. My husband and I have the support we need, too; I appreciate the biweekly check-ins. The Dorm also provides very helpful Zoom classes for parents to participate in. I feel like I am part of a community, not an isolated parent, desperate to find connection and resources for my child.” – Parent Testimonial

 

With the holiday season approaching, often a time of increased stress and family pressures, we spoke with the co-hosts of The Parent Collective, Lead Senior Therapist Amie DiTomasso, LGSW, and Assistant Director Chris Davis, LPC, to learn more about how this service has enhanced and transformed family involvement in our community. 

Can you tell us about The Parent Collective and the value you see it bringing?

Amie DiTomasso, LGSW: The Parent Collective stands apart from family therapy, parent coaching, or multi-family therapy groups. It meets every other week and each session focuses on a single focus, or topic [relating to young adult treatment.] 

In essence it’s a psycho-education group, but I really think it’s more than that because it’s combined with process space and time to socialize. The first half of the group involves a presentation by Chris or myself, and the presentation portion can include therapeutic definitions, going deeper into the history of a theory or modality, or bringing the latest research to light. 

After we present on the topic, we lead a guided discussion and time for processing. Parents can choose to participate or not participate, but oftentimes we see people responding to one another. And that’s where there’s that opportunity to really connect with other parents. We often see families sharing stories and offer each other advice. 

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Chris Davis, LPC:  The Parent collective is more of an educational, class-like, didactic interaction with discussion, compared to family therapy, where parents are expected to really share their past experiences. It’s about sharing, delivering, offering a skill to the parents in our community. 

One big difference is that it’s an optional service that parents can be more passive with if they choose. They can take notes and just sit back, or really engage. They can also choose which topics to jump in and out of based on their child. With the other services like parent coaching or family therapy it’s a full, more personalized ongoing commitment. 

What topics are parents particularly interested in? 

AD: One of the cool things about the parent collective is that part of the structure is that we invite parents to ask for specific issues that they’re struggling with. So while there are some core topics that we keep in the rotation on an annual basis, there is also always new material. 

Recently one huge area of interest has been money – the cost of the young adult living life, how they’re spending money and how parents are working with boundaries around budgeting and access to funds. It is a relief for parents to have a space to ask: What’s appropriate? How do we make that transition into independence? The clinician is there to remind them that it’s not often a one-day, all-or-nothing type of jump. 

CD: Yes, financial boundaries – that one seemed to be popular. It struck a chord because one of the biggest challenges of clients in this age group is that a lot of parents struggle with financial limits – parents are fearful to alter their financial support, because of a fear that their child will engage in risky behavior, and also because that boundary hasn’t been set before.They’re scared. When we give them permission and group support, they’re all in the same boat – it gives them confidence in their choices. 

AD: Another topic that we’ve had a great response with is “Responding vs. Reacting” – understanding the difference between and how to take a step back before responding. We’re always focused on giving parents tools and resources to help their child enact change, and we know that a person is only in control of their own behavior, not others’. It’s a skill that needs to be practiced. 

From a clinician’s or coach’s standpoint, how does The Parent Collective help the treatment process?

AD: It’s SO helpful. It adds another layer of care. As we’re working with the young adult who is overcoming a challenge, navigating distress and emotional regulation, we need to always think about their family system or parent too – not only managing their child in treatment and doing one-on-one services, but getting them set up with their own therapy, doing parent coaching, and joining these parent groups like The Parent Collective.

They can take what they’re learning in the Parent Collective and implement it into action with the support of family therapy and their coach. It’s also a space to talk about things that didn’t work. During our discussion time, parents can be in a safe space to say ‘I tried something and it was an epic fail. Having the support of both the community and clinicians to respond and brainstorm in turn. Perfection is not what we’re working towards, we’re working towards change and growth. 

In general, why is the family’s or parent’s involvement critical to recovery, growth and wellbeing for young adults?

AD: Our young adult clients don’t exist in a vacuum. Their families’ experiences with mental health challenges and general wellbeing impact them in return. So if you have a person with maladaptive coping behaviors and you treat just that person, without addressing issues within their environment and the family system, then when they try their new skills in that old environment, it’s super easy for them to slip back into unhelpful and unhealthy patterns, thus resulting in little to no change.

It’s important for the family members to learn about how their behaviors contribute to the overall family system and functioning within their environment. By bringing family into the process, we are empowering families to ask their own questions and reflect patterns of reactivity or other vicious cycles. We’re improving the health and wellness of the individual AND the family system. 

Many people might assume that working with young adults means families are less involved in care, but that’s not the case at The Dorm. Why is family involvement in the therapeutic process still so important for this specific age group?

AD: Young adults are at a point in their lives with a lot of change and transition: they are looking to take on more responsibility and independence. And with this growth comes dynamic shifts within the entire family. Parents may have a hard time recognizing their child’s independence and not stepping in to help, for example, If you think about a mom who is tired of repetitive behavior from the child, ultimately because of that narrative she might also be quicker to react. Through therapy or coaching, she might now be able to pause, reflect on her response, and break a negative cycle by responding more skillfully.

Thank you Chris and Amie! Any parting words on the Parent Collective you’d like to add?

CD: The parents that come to The Parent Collective have a lot of gratitude so it’s a nice space to step into. It’s also nice that since it’s a virtual group we are able to get to know the New York families and the larger community. It gives us even more insight into the parent experience. 

AD: Offering the opportunities for parents to be heard is really rewarding. They’re the ones that are caring about everyone else all the time, and in our program we value that. We remind them to practice their own self care and wellness. When a parent is able to make behavioral changes, being there to hold them accountable and give them support is really rewarding. 

 

 Learn more about The Dorm’s Family Services here.

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