This document outlines some ideas with regard to how a Guidance Counsellor may engage a reluctant teenage client. Please feel free to share this with others and to leave comments and feedback there.How a Teenager Approaches Counselling
During the teenage years there are both physical and psychological changes occurring. Physical changes occur with the onset of puberty as changes in hormone level impacts on the physical appearances of the individual. Psychological change is marked by the child moving from concrete thinking to formal operational thinking. This becomes obvious as the child thinks more abstractly and they develop the capacity to hypothesise and reason more logically. During this time, the adolescent tries to establish more autonomy from their parents as they strive for more self-definition. Their peers take on greater importance at this stage. However, they are still very conscious of monitoring the boundary between themselves and their parents. Frequently they will test this.
When a client comes for counselling for the first time, whether he self-refers or is referred by a teacher, engaging him in the counselling process may be difficult.
A client coming for counselling brings his whole world with him as he comes through your door. The client’s experience of relationships, his experience of trust, his self-esteem, his sense of boundaries and sense of fear, have already been established from his earlier relationships. His willingness to engage in the counselling process may vary from extreme unwillingness to overt hostility.
This unwillingness to be involved in the counselling process is called ‘resistance’, or an ‘impasse’. Honour this resistance, as this tells you something about the client’s ‘inner world’ or the ‘emotional world’ of a client. The inner world or emotional world refers to a client’s subconscious, where they have projected images from their earlier relationships. This will become apparent in the counselling process as it evolves.
Why might a client not want to engage in counselling:
1. He may have had a negative experience of trust in the past.
2. He may not know what counselling is.
3. He may come from a passive environment, where problems are not identified and sorted.
4. He may have a learned helplessness and believe that he cannot change anything.
5. He may have disabling self-talk e.g. it won’t work.Some general points around counselling and building a therapeutic relationship:
1. At the beginning, make the environment safe by putting a boundary in place through stating the limits of confidentiality.
2. Try to create a trusting environment by reassuring him that you are there to help him.
3. Check with him what his understanding of counselling is.
4. Clarify and explain what counselling is, that it is a process of looking at change together.
5. Enter his world by speaking his language, by knowing what his interests are, things he enjoys and activities that he is especially good at.
6. Be genuinely interested in his story and see it from his perspective.
7. Instil hope and normalise his issue.
8. Be honest about what you know about an issue.
9. Be genuine, non-judgemental and empathic.
If the client has self-referred, it has most likely taken a lot of courage for the client to take this step. In that case say to the client something like,
“I understand that you have referred yourself for counselling, I appreciate that and what is it, that brings you here? /what is it that you would like help with? How is it that you are here? How would you like me to help you? / We can work together to find solutions.
Some practical steps when a client does not want to engage in counselling and does not want to be with you:
- Acknowledge the resistance, by saying:
“I sense that you don’t want to be here and that is alright. However, someone else thinks that you have a problem, maybe I can help you deal with that.”
2. Would you like to tell me how you see the issue?
3. How do you think that Mr. X sees your behaviour?
4. What is going on as you see it?
If there is still resistance to being in counselling and he says “I have to be here, but I won’t talk.” You could try something like” That is true however, you may not have to come for as many sessions if you do start talking.”
He may hurdle abuse and be offensive to you. Try not to take the bait as he is trying to ruffle your feathers. Let him continue on his tirade until he finishes.
Try to be calm and to maintain a sense of humour. This will have the effect of highlighting to him that you are not capitulating to his demands, while at the same time you are able to keep perspective and maybe, able to highlight the issue in a different light.
To take an example, a student may give out about a teacher and tells you how it is all the teacher’s fault and how much he can’t stand him. He uses choice language in his tirade and he gives out about you also and how you are the same as the teacher, picking on him. Try staying calm and saying something like “so we are all the same, hopeless cases in your eyes”. Follow it up with “is that how you see the adults in your life, always criticising you”?
Generally, after 3 sessions he will be more amenable to counselling. If not, you may need to wait until sometime later.
Ideas on getting to know their inner and outer world in a creative way:
1. Get the client to bring in their favourite music and get him to play it while he is with you. You could ask him to tell you what the songs mean to him.
2. Get him to draw using circles, on a piece of paper who is he close to in his life.
3. As him if he were a computer game, what one would he be and why?
4. If he was a book, what book would he be, and why?
5. If he was a sport, what one would he be and why?
6. If he was an animal, what one would he be and why?
7. If he was a colour, what colour would he be and why?
8. Play card games, during when you can get him to engage in casual conversation which can reveal more of his personality to you.
9. Ask a client to bring in a picture, book or something that is important to him.
10. Ask a client to write about what is troubling him and give it to you.
11. Inner-outer me. Tell a client that we are often different on the outside to the inside.
12. Get pieces of paper and an envelope. Get the student to write something about himself on the outside of the envelope e.g. I have black hair. Then get him to write something about himself that others cannot see about himself on a piece of paper and put it into the envelope. E.g. I am a loner. His inner and outer self can be discussed together.
All the above can be used to get a greater insight into what may be going on for a client and provide a springboard for further discussion.