The parentified child in a child psychotherapist: a systematic literature review of the parentified child, exploring its effects on the countertransference process in child psychotherapy
Tam, Oi Kuen Wong
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This dissertation explores the countertransference of a child psychotherapist with a history of parentification. Parentified children are those who attempt to fulfill the parental role at the expense of their own developmentally appropriate needs and pursuits. Parentification implies that the process of becoming a parentified child involves subjective distortion of the parent-child relationship, which comprises the parameters of overt role assignment, internalized expectations and commitment characteristics. A modified systematic literature review has been adopted as a research method for this study to explore the internal and interpersonal world of a parentified child. Literature was gathered from a range of theories, such as family system theories, developmental theories, psychoanalytic theories combined with many studies of the parentified child in order to understand the impact of a parentification history on the countertransference of a child psychotherapist. The synthesis of the findings through the reviewing process is represented in three themes, which are: 1. Hiding the true-self or false-self adaptation, 2. Drowning in the emotional sea or putting up the firewall, and 3. The resilience of a parentified therapist. The findings of this study concluded that the parentification process denotes a relationship between a child and a parent, which involves multi-layers of impact on the child’s development. This relationship may easily be revived in the therapeutic process when a parentified therapist is working with a child. The caretaker role seems to be a mechanism of coping with the emotional pain that arises in parentification. While in a therapeutic process with children, a parentified therapist’s emotional pain may easily be triggered in countertransference and the therapist may unknowingly change from a therapist’s role to a caretaker role to defend off the over-identification of the child’s suffering. On the other hand, she may unconsciously dissociate from feeling the pain and focus by intellectually re-parenting the child in the therapeutic process. It is important that a parentified therapist gets enough holding and containment to understand her history of parentification and attune to her own wounds, thus she is able to use this ‘inner ‘parentified child’ wisely to benefit the therapy with children.