Psychological therapy can be a challenging process for many children and young people. The expectation that they talk about their problems with a therapist they don’t know very well is understandably difficult and may lead some young people to disengage completely. As a therapist, I work to create a safe, containing space to help young people discuss the difficulties they are experiencing.
The first few sessions of therapy are focused on getting to know a younger client and helping them feel comfortable, before proceeding to treatment. Younger clients may prefer assessment techniques such as genograms and visual timelines, which involve less questioning and more curiosity whilst the youngest clients usually enjoy using crayons, glitter and glue! Most therapy techniques can be adapted in some way! Treatment plans are always be flexible and negotiated to accommodate the child’s needs, including school, exam timetables and extracurricular activities.
It is important to understand the young person’s motivation for coming to therapy and their willingness to engage. Our Younger clients may have been persuaded to attend by well-meaning parents or teachers, and whilst not unusual, it may hinder positive engagement if the client is not given the opportunity to voice their own feelings about therapy.
What do they want to achieve in therapy? What kind of support do they think they will need? And perhaps, most importantly, do they understand why they are coming to therapy? Young people appreciate the chance to give their opinions on issues directly impacting them. Whilst this may lead to some uncomfortable conversations with parents, it is a necessary part of the therapeutic process.
The extent of parental involvement depends on the individual needs of the client and should is negotiated with the family. Some clients prefer their parents to attend the first few sessions, others are happy to be seen alone. Some parents request feedback after sessions in the form of a phone call or an occasional summary letter.
Regardless of the reason for seeing a psychologist, most therapies for young people involve normalising difficulties and teaching life skills. It can be helpful for a young person to know that everyone feels stressed, worried and low in mood from time to time and that this is just part of life.
Young people benefit from skills which help them to manage their difficulties in the present and prepare for the uncertainty of the future. I find that they most valuable therapy sessions are those where young people explore their values and what is really important to them, building self-esteem and resilience so they are equipped to navigate the inevitable challenges life will throw at them as they mature.