Last week a new client came to our practice to work individually with me. He has struggled academically and has regular fights at home. For him, and his parents, this felt like any ordinary appointment that they had become so used to after spending the last few years scanning for the perfect professional to help bring more happiness and togetherness into their home.
I introduced myself to the 14 year old and brought him back, with his parents, into my small counselling office. I told the boy that I wanted to get an idea of how he was feeling about certain things in life and gave him a short four-question survey to rate how he is feeling individually, about home and how he feels about school.
I let him know that if I was going to do anything during our time together that I just wanted to be useful. I let him know that if I did things that didn’t work, felt uncomfortable or seemed to not fit that he could tell me so that I did not do “more of the same”. I asked him to tell me what other counsellors or psychologists had done that may have been annoying or maybe just didn’t work so that I could avoid them.
After his parents left, we talked about how things were going at home. He talked about fights, getting in trouble and wishing that there would be less conflict. We talked about ideas of what to do but he felt that these conflicts were out of his control. He said he wanted to feel less anxious about social situations, more independent and less depressed.
As our initial session came to an end I gave him another short questionnaire to provide a rating for how he viewed me and our time together. When asked if he felt listened to he rated me a 7.42 out of 10. Although a rating is just a rating and may not mean much, when I reached out to his parents to schedule our second session they reported feeling more hopeful than ever. That in the car after our first session he talked about feeling safe, listened to and that there is a connection that has not been present before.
We had our second session this week. He scored me a 9 of 10 on listening. Things are improving. I asked him why he scored that and he reported that it makes him feel as though he is the centre of attention while we are together and that there is no issue that should not be discussed.
One of our biggest theories in working with people, whether its those who have never been to a helping professional or seasoned therapy veterans, is that we need to create a relationship that is open to honest feedback. If we are doing something that is not useful to the child or family then there is little point in doing it. It will not be helpful.
To be useful, we need to allow our clients to be the best judge of the experience and allow our time together to be as meaningful as possible. This is when people begin to feel confident enough to change and build a higher quality of life.
True North Expeditions, Inc. provides adventure therapy programs and services for children and teenagers in Australia. Based in Adelaide, the TNE team writes about child and adolescent psychology, family dynamics and how adventure therapy programs can connect with struggling adolescents.