Working with children and adolescents is a fascinating blend of different approaches.
How do I work with my child clients, I hear you ask? Well, the answer is that since every client I ever see is a thoroughly different person, no one therapeutic experience is the same. No therapeutic session I’ve delivered in Oxford, Reading or elsewhere has been the same, for no child or teenager can ever be. Counselling and psychotherapy needs to be flexible in its approach or else it is nothing.
I have been trained to use a wide variety of approaches with my clients. This page can only hope to explore the superficialities of some of them. All of the examples below have been posted with the permission of those parents concerned.
Be patient if you’re the parent of an adolescent / teenager. I talk about therapy with people of that age towards the bottom of this page. Scroll down!
The sand tray
I was sceptical about this at first. How could playing in sand possibly help a client to resolve their goals? During my training, however, I was encouraged to explore the medium as a client and soon discovered how profound a route to the unconscious mind it can be.
Playing by any means helps a child to process their innermost thoughts, emotions, fears and so on. The sand is an excellent way of helping a child to create and work within their own inner world.
Look at the photograph to the left. I’d asked the client to pick objects and figures and to arrange her family (we call it a ‘constellation’ in the trade). How does the blonde haired girl (the client|) feel being so closely surrounded by all those people? Who are they? How do they feel? Why is that one man so far away and how does the client feel about that?
Is there any reason she chose that particular figure to represent that particular person? What does it show of how she relates to them?
There is so much going on in here and it’s my job to help the client to explore and process their feelings about their place in this constellation. Conflicts, fears, anger and upset can thus be resolved through a careful and sensitive exploration of the material presented.
Look at the picture to the left. Who are the faces? What (or whom) does the flower represent, why is it dividing the two main characters and what about all the other bits and pieces at the top of the frame? The client may well be consciously unaware of the significance of these things and whilst it isn’t for a therapist to impose their own interpretations, this provided some very useful information for further exploration.
Clients have been helped to lose their fear of spiders simply by painting spider characters to whom they can relate with. Angry parts of the mind, anxious parts, have been painted as people to whom my clients could talk. Art has long since been a means of self-expression. It has also been a means of self-healing and a useful way of relating to parts of the self which talking therapies alone can fail to facilitate.
Painting, drawing, bunchems, playdoh and a great many other materials can help young children to explore their feelings, process them and establish better, healthier ways of relating to them.
Relating to feelings with acceptance is the first step to being able to sit with and regulate them. Art is a great way of doing so.
I love working with my clients in this way. If I didn’t need to do it for a living then I’d gladly do it for the pleasure of seeing my clients leave their problems behind them.
As with art, craft can be a way of exploring feelings. However, since craft is usually a little more directive (there’s a certain way to do much of it, whereas art is more free) it’s slightly less expressive or exploratory. Still, it can be a fantastic method of exploring and dealing with feelings.
On the right you can introduce yourself to Stephen the Unicorn. He’s made out of socks, thread and five or six hours of effort, frustration, tears and even rage.
In dealing with the problems this task created, we were able to begin the development of emotional regulation, coping mechanisms and healthier ways of relating to perfection, frustration and delay.
Broken needles, thread becoming detached from needles, mistakes and the fact that this unicorn looks a little less perfect than the one on the box it came in, they all tested my little client to his limits and helped him to realise that perfection isn’t necessary for a sense of achievement and pride.
It was a rollercoaster of emotions and it was a great feeling to finally finish. My little client felt so too. We’d both learned a lot from the experience.
I wonder what your child could learn from these techniques? If you live in or around Reading or Oxford and would like to find some counselling and psychotherapy for your client them please just get in touch to find out.
I use all kinds of approaches with my younger clients. Lego, plasticine, drama, jenga, kerplunk! and a whole load of other tools can be used in building the relationship, whilst exploring, accepting and resolving those feelings and problems which I have brought to me every single day.
Adolescents and teenagers won’t put up with those approaches, will they?
Haha! No, generally not, although sometimes some of them will enjoy a little regression to a younger way of being. My older clients will generally respond best to more adult forms of therapy which have been adjusted to their still tender ages.
I was a secondary school teacher for twenty years. During this time I learned how to relate and communicate with even the most truculent and difficult of teenagers. I began seeing adolescents and teenagers as soon as I qualified as a psychotherapist (given this prior experience) and so quickly learned to adjust my therapeutic approaches to their needs.
Adolescents and teenagers respond well to the mix of therapies I employ with them. Talking therapies, when carefully adjusted to the age of the client, are a perfectly valid means of working with younger clients. This can be particularly effective when mixing the experience with games such as jenga or connect 4, in order to reduce the intensity of the experience.
My approach is broadly based on gestalt psychotherapy, peppered with person centred, psychodynamic, solution-focused and a dash of CBT approaches. Teaching clients to accept and so regulate their feelings through mindful approaches has also proven an enormously beneficial methodology. Helping clients to structure and plan their own recovery from whatever it is which bothers them is also helpful.
It’s my view that talking things through can be cathartic, helpful and liberating. People also, however, require action. Solutions require practical changes and I help my clients to move towards their goals with practical steps in mind – carefully negotiated and graded according to their ability to face their fears one step at a time.
Lastly, and I did consider giving this the alternative name of “visualisation” or suchlike, hypnotherapy has also proven to be a very effective means of accelerating progress. After all, there is usually a great deal of imagination in a child or a teenager’s problems. They perhaps imagine fearful things happening if mum isn’t there, if they talk to that group of potential friends, if a spider is present, if they go to school, if they eat that food, if they sit next to that person with a sniffle and suchlike.
My clients’ imaginations work against them, creating fear where there is no need for fear, creating self-criticism where none is valid and so forth. I have found that helping my clients to harness their imagination, through hypnosis, is a valid and wonderful means of helping therapeutic change to happen faster.
Hypnotherapy, when allied to other approaches and adequate training, enlists the child’s conscious and unconscious mind in the service of their goals. It’s how the child afraid of spiders lost that fear in two sessions, despite only being six. It’s how the nine year old girl stopped sucking her thumb and being anxious in three sessions. It’s how the eleven year old lost a lifetime’s terror of medical procedures and blood in six sessions. It’s how the thirteen year old lost her fear of somersaults in her pursuit of a place in the national team for her sport.
It’s how your child will be far more likely to achieve their goals more quickly than is simply the case through the other means listed above. PLenty of children in It isn’t voodoo, it isn’t magic. It’s simply enlisting the imagination and changing an established emotional response to a stimulus to something more constructive.
Get in touch and I’ll explain more.
I’m happy to talk with anybody about the work I do with children. You could call me on 07786123736 / 01183280284 / 01865600970. You could email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the contact form at the footer of this page. However you choose to get in touch, I look forward to hearing from you.