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Home / Advice / Counselling / A guide to counselling for young people

A guide to counselling for young people

By: Annalisa Nardini

Updated: 22 February 2021

A guide to counselling for young people

Introduction 

There are some differences in counselling for younger people in the range of around 14-25 years of age compared with older clients.  The differences for younger people stem from their unique family situations, experiences, psychological development and engagement in therapy.  Therapists may take different approaches based on those elements, always respecting the young person’s rights, relationship boundaries and confidentiality.  This article is intended to give you an overview of the process and also provide some advice on how to get the most out of it.

Parents’ involvement in therapy

Dealing with confidentiality can be tricky when parents want to be informed on the progress on a regular basis.  In other cases parents do not want to get involved and it is legitimate to wonder which is more helpful.  Your parents’ input is important in order to have a clear picture of the environment in which you were raised, especially if you are a minor.  It is argued that consulting the young person as well as the parents may help establish a stronger relationship. 

Minors require consent from at least one parent before starting therapy, however, at times there may be disagreement between them [1].   As a minor you need to be aware of the therapist’s obligations to report any disclosure of past or present child abuse or if you are in a situation that represents a danger to yourself.  Confidentiality might disrupt therapy as you may not want your parents or anyone concerned to know about your struggles!  Your therapist should inform you when and how the information may be disclosed to your parents [2].

Therapy style and content of therapy

Therapists may have very different approaches.  Your therapist may decide the length of therapy; however, some therapists believe that as a young person you should be given the choice to decide the length of therapy and the duration of each session yourself.  Your attention span or interest in specific activities may be limited and may differ from one person to the other depending on your age and personality. 

It may be effective for a therapist to adopt a more client-led approach at times, especially in the first few sessions, to get to know you better.  Control and guidance from the therapist might cause some resistance from your side and in the therapeutic relationship [1].  Do not be afraid of approaching your therapist with your ideas and opinions about the process!   

This may contradict the approach of some types of therapies in which guidance is an important element of the process.  Different techniques may be chosen by your therapist like the use of engaging media, toys, miniature animals, games, and colourful worksheets.  You might find these techniques silly but be aware that they are entertaining and effective.

Becoming your own therapist

It is helpful if your therapist provides you with a choice of engaging more verbally or through exercises like games or worksheets [3].  If you are happy with the approach and materials used, you may find yourself more engaged and enjoy therapy.  Therefore, the advice is always for open communication as to your preferred approach.

Engagement and communication in therapy is fundamental!  If a safe environment is created in the room and an open relationship with your therapist established, you will gain more confidence in expressing your feelings.  An open relationship and clear feedback from both parties will help the therapist in adjusting the intervention to your needs.

Are you ready to set goals for yourself?  It is fundamental that you make them achievable.  Some psycho-education may help you figure out things.  You might find it boring but it may help you to investigate certain issues in depth.  If you choose one type of approach versus others be aware that some therapies may be more solution-focused [4].  Either way, you will be given the tools to become your own therapist.

Exploring your life and shaping it for the better

You will need to demonstrate a positive attitude towards change! You may be influenced in your decisions by your peers; however, keep in mind that you are capable of making your own decisions.  Counselling will be helpful if you let your therapist empower you with the skills you need to achieve your goals.  Your therapist will promote constructive thinking and individual growth. 

Your therapist may go through an initial bio-psychological assessment with you to investigate family and school context and gather information about you.  It might feel like an interrogation but it will help you to evaluate the severity of the problem and the family support available 1.  You will learn to evaluate your own progress through personal reflection and will become comfortable in recognising specific symptoms.

Your therapist will promote active listening, positive regard and may also integrate different therapeutic approaches commenting on non-verbal behaviours that you may show in the room.  Do not be surprised if the therapist comments on some of those aspects in therapy as discussing your behaviour can tell them a lot about your struggles.  It can be an effective way to explore your life [1,5].

Self-esteem and your ability to make decisions

You may need to expose yourself to difficult situations as part of the therapeutic process.  Be ready to explore all your struggles and fears in life.  Between the ages of 12-14 you started forming your identity or sense-of-self and you internalised a set of responsibilities.  You may have acquired specific beliefs in the environment you were raised and your therapist will encourage you to reflect on these. 

Attachment with your parents and siblings growing up may result in emotional distress later on in life, perhaps resistance, and low self-esteem, lack of security or distrust.  Early in adolescence, your emotional system fully developed, however, your reasoning system continues to develop up to the age of about 25-29 years old [6].  Do not be surprised if you have mood imbalances and you struggle to regulate your emotions!

Whatever interventions are used by the therapist will be aimed at empowering you with the tools that will help you to regulate your emotional distress and perhaps change negative thoughts and behaviours.  Soon you will find ways of coping with your emotions and making rational decisions!  You will work on specific goals through your chosen tools and interventions based on your needs.  Mutual trust and open communication is paramount to the success of therapy.


REFERENCES:

[1] Carr, A. (2012). Family Therapy. Concepts, Process and Practice. 3rd Edition. UK: Wiley Blackwell.

[2] Gerald, K., Gerald, D. & Foo, R.Y. (2016). Counselling Adolescents. The Proactive Approach for Young People. (4th ed.). London: Sage.

 [3] Greenberger, D. & Padesky, C.A. (2016). Mind Over Mood. Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think. (2nd ed.). NY: The Guilford Press.

[4] Westbrook, D., Kennerly, H., & Kirk, J. (2011). An Introduction to Cognitive Behaviour              Therapy. Skills and Applications. (2nd ed.). London: Sage.

[5] Cooper, M., & Dryden, W. (2016). The Handbook of Pluralistic Counselling and Psychotherapy. (1st ed.). London: Sage.

[6] Cacioppo, J.T. & Berntson, G.G. (2005).  Social Neuroscience. Key Readings in Social Psychology. Chicago: Psychology Press. 

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