Working with Children and Young People
Adults are not always the best reporters of children’s stories, and often when we try and correct or make something alright we can end up losing touch with something important. In adapting my approach to working with young people I believe it is important to consider the developmental consequences. On the whole, adults tend to reflect before acting but children often behave and respond differently. Children naturally construct their own narratives distinct from those of adults and tend to assume blame and responsibility when trouble prevails. Whether it is the death of a parent or a sibling, abuse or a trauma, children are actively seeking a reason for something that has happened. Children often feel powerless and out of control in their lives – I see my work here as responding to that which is vulnerable and seeks to be listened to and understood. I believe it is important to help and support a young person discover their own influence and power but also to help them see that some things are difficult to know.
In my work with children between the ages of 9 and 16 I require the consent of a parent or caregiver as well as the child. Once initial contact has been made an initial assessment is arranged for both parents and child to attend. In this way, everyone present can reflect upon whether counselling is appropriate at this time in the child’s life and whether I am the right therapist for them. During this session I introduce the limits of confidentiality and explain that my primary role is in keeping the child safe – what is said remains in the room unless I feel the child is at harm. Safety is crucial, and my role is not only to provide an emotionally containing space but also a place of physical safety. During the assessment process I think it is important to acknowledge that managing boundaries can be difficult.
Ultimately, confidentiality requires careful attention when working with children and I ensure that I consult with a young person as to what, if anything, they wish of me to communicate to another. Children invariably lack power and autonomy in their lives and generally find themselves sent to therapy. My work is to ensure that the young person is aware of the freedom that they have to continue or end therapy whenever they choose and to instil in them a sense of their own potency and influence.