Young people come to counselling for a lot of reasons, sometimes it’s their decision for the majority it’s a decision that’s been made for them by adults. In contrast, in my private practice, adult clients make their own choices. They might have looked at several counsellor profiles online and done some research about what kind modality of therapy they feel might best suit them. Some have had a few trial sessions and make a choice after meeting two or even three therapists. It may well be that seeking counselling has been suggested by a partner, friends or family members, but it is still their choice to seek counselling.
Parents often ask me after telling me their child needs support “How do I get my child to come willingly to counselling?” If we think about the processes briefly outlined above, we might ask how we can reframe that question. Better if a young person is asking “How can counselling help me?” rather than “Why are you making me go see a therapist?”
I think the key to this is to give young people as much information beforehand as possible and share decision-making. Young people often are frustrated about freedoms and the exercise of choice so don’t compound the situation. It is them who will need to sit in the room and do the work after all. Make it clear they have a choice.
Talk to the young person about how counselling works and what the benefits are. Let them know that while there is no stigma asking for help that nobody needs to know about the therapy either. Assure them counselling has helped a lot of people from all walks of life and all age groups. Most importantly tell them if after going to a session they don’t want to return to that counsellor then you will respect their decision.
Instead of just showing them a profile of the counsellor you think they ought to see, suggest they help to choose from an accredited therapist directory. Let them read the biographies and if they have questions can email or text most counsellors prior to a meeting. If you have been recommended someone you still ought to make sure the young person has read about them and feels comfortable with what they can see online.
Most therapists offer a free initial consultation – and all should in my opinion. This is a two-way street. I wouldn’t work with someone who I felt I could not help especially if they required specific skills and experience that I just don’t have. If a client tells me, after an initial consultation, they have decided they are not ready or that they want to work with someone else I don’t take it personally; they are exercising choice. Make it clear to the young person involved they have the same options.
It’s important that the young person gets to decide the agenda for therapy and knows they will be heard in confidence. Counsellors aren’t teachers or police officers, nor should we tell clients, of any age, what to do. A counsellor is there to listen and not judge and to help clients find better ways of being.
I don’t have all the answers because we are all so unique and different but the more information a young person has the less anxious they will be about seeing if counselling is right for them. If you have any questions please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Owen Morgan