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Psychological knowledge, including prescriptions for emotional health and growth, has been widely popularized during the last twenty-five years. This paper explores the resulting impact on parent-child relationships and the nature of the problems people bring to psychotherapy.

Many educated, middle-class parents have adopted these prescriptions as a basis for their child-rearing approach. Often, however, the prescriptions do not perform the desired Junction of counteracting disturbed attitudes and feelings held by the parents toward their children. Instead, the guidelines become subtly distorted so that they become extensions of, or provide new labels for, neurotic patterns of interaction.

This is a particularly insidious distortion, since it wears the mask of health and helpfulness. The child (or observer) is set a difficult problem of discrimination in dealing with a special kind of double-bind situation: the behavior is simultaneously growth-promoting and growth-inhibiting. The paper describes a number of parent-child “games,” each stemming from the distortion of a particular growth prescription. These include, for example, “Actualize yourself–for my sake,” “The self-esteem fix,” and “The emotional hypochondriac.”

A special problem is posed for the therapist who works with the products of such “games,” since many therapeutic approaches will remind the client of parental maneuvers and generate immediate distrust. Genuineness and consistent follow-through from the therapist are important in order to counteract this. Also, since many of the “games” stem from prescriptions based on Rogerian or Freudian therapy, with their emphasis on understanding and (sometimes too-intellectual) insight, it is often helpful to stress the choice-making and behavioral aspects of psychotherapy which have come into play more strongly in the last decade.

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