PACE for Parents and Carers

In Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP), the central therapeutic attitude is PACE – Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity & Empathy – & a focus is on helping parents & carers develop it towards their child.

Parenting sessions are an important first part of DDP, & they need to be more than just time for psychoeducation. They’re the time to build understanding, trust & safety in the therapist/parent relationship. The time for therapist & parent to become a therapeutic team.

Many parents & carers of children with relational trauma, come to DDP feeling traumatised themselves. Often, they are tired, experiencing compassion fatigue & a sense of failure. Finding the energy to be PACE-ful towards their child is not easy. Yet therapists can get frustrated if they feel parents & carers aren’t understanding or empathic towards their child quickly enough. The adults then feel judged & frustrated that the focus is on them.

What’s being overlooked here by the therapist is the importance of their holding PACE-fulness not only for the child but for the adult, too. The work is to meet the parent or carer exactly where they are, with patience & kindness. To keep the faith that they can be their child’s best resource, even when it is hard for them to hold this in their own heart.

Dan Hughes suggests three assumptions to help us to stay open & engaged with a parent or carer, especially when they are struggling to connect with their child:

  1. Assume that this is a good person.
  2. That this person is doing the best they can.
  3. That this person either loves their child or really wants to love their child.

When the parent experiences PACE for themself, rather than just hearing about it, then the family healing can begin. Confidence in the transformative power of a PACE-ful, relational approach can only grow through experience – PACE needs to be ‘caught’ not ‘taught’.

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