Child therapist syndrome: here’s how to recognize it

Child therapist syndrome: here's how to recognize it

Parents are supposed to take care of their child, but in some families the opposite happens. The child then suffers from child therapist syndrome. What does that mean ? How does this manifest itself and how to get out of it? The answers of Dr Stéphane Clerget, child psychiatrist in Paris and author of the book “Psychic vampires” published by Editions Livre de Poche.

In a so-called “normal” family relationship, the parent is the one who takes care of the child. But this theory collapses in certain homes where the child will be a sort of crutch for his parent, who is not doing well. It is said that these children grow up being affected by child therapist syndrome.

What are the signs and how does it manifest?

“A child therapist can be one simply by his presence, without changing anything in his behavior” begins Dr Stéphane Clerget. “In this case, it does not pose a problem. Where it becomes problematic is when the child has to change his behavior to satisfy his parent, he has to be attentive to his needs, he has to expend a lot of energy to meet their needs…” explains the expert.

This relationship does not only have negative points. “This develops greater empathy in the child, as well as responsibility.” adds the child psychiatrist. “The problem lies in the role reversal. By taking care of his parent, the child no longer has anyone to take care of him, especially when there is no second parent to deal with this lack, as in the case of divorce for example. “.

This can create a state of insecurity in this child which can continue into adulthood. It is also a source of stress and anxiety, which can impact the child’s education.

How to get out of this state?

In the best case, the parent must come out of this state through the care of a person close to them, who will relieve the child, or a health professional. “The child may, for example, be removed, being looked after by the grandparents or the other parent.” underlines the expert.

But this doesn’t always work. “It is so burdensome that sometimes the parent brings their child for consultation, who shows signs of overwork. I quickly understand the situation and offer the child a ‘deal’: to continue the sessions but to get the parent to participate, for indirect therapeutic care, without their knowledge, in a way” further details Dr Clerget.

Is there a risk of repeating this as an adult?

“No,” says the doctor. “Children who have been vampired by an adult tend to be “therapist” type personalities and do not reproduce this pattern. On the other hand, their friendly or romantic relationships may be of the same type. And sometimes, these are people who don’t want children, because they don’t want to have to take care of “another child” so to speak. he concludes.