FAQ: Counselling for young people
I see a lot of young people aged 12 and up. So, I get lots of questions from parents about how counselling works for children and young people. If you're a young person, I encourage you to read this too so you get an idea of how I work.
I will keep updating this as I notice other frequently asked questions.
How do you work with young people and their families?
My main priority is to build a good working relationship with the young person (the client). Therefore, at the first session, I give the young person a choice about whether they would like to see me alone or with a parent/caregiver for some or all of the session. This often sets the tone for future sessions and I check in with the young person as to what they want to do.
At the end of the first session, I ask the young person how they feel about continuing to work with me. If the young person decides to come back, we start talking about goals and where we should start working. If the young person would not like to come back, I work with them and their parents to figure out what to do next.
In my experience, clients get the most benefit when they feel safe and empowered, which I do by:
letting them tell me about their life in their words
being open and honest, particularly about my contact with parents and schools so they know what’s going on
being non-judgemental about how they think, feel, believe, and behave
treating people as the expert of their life and helping them find their own solutions - I don’t jump in with advice or “fix” them
giving people control over what they talk about and what they want to work on
That last point is tricky because parents sometimes see the situation differently to their child, so they might want to tell me their perspective. Getting parents' perspectives can be helpful, so I try to negotiate this carefully with your child because young people vary with how they want to involve their parents. For example, they might want to make sure I understand their side first before you speak to me; some young people don’t mind at all; some want to be in the room when you speak to me and some don’t. Please know that I want to include you where possible!
Behind the scenes, I always encourage young people to tell their loved ones important things, and I also encourage them to let me speak to their loved ones if I think there are things that are important to know (e.g., how to support the young person).
How do you handle contact with others – parents, schools, etc?
I work carefully with young people so that: 1) their privacy is respected and also 2) keeping their important adults (e.g., parents, schools) in the loop. Here are some ways that I do this...
I do not share what young person says during our sessions
I am upfront with the young person about who I’m contacting (including parents), when I plan to do so, and what I will say to them.
I will get permission from you and your child if I need to speak to outside organisations, like schools.
If people speak to me about the young person while they're not there (e.g., by phone or email), I will seek permission from the young person before continuing the conversation where possible. I then let the young person know what was discussed when I next see them.
There are limits to this privacy. As it is my job to keep my clients as safe as possible, I keep parents/caregivers informed if I am concerned that there is any risk to their child or others. I will always let the young person know if this needs to happen. Also, if your child was referred by a GP, I am required to write to them to let them know how things are going.
When will I get an update about how my child is going?
I try to update parents around the 6th session or whenever I need to write to the GP. I usually do this with your child present. This is also a good chance for us to check how counselling feels for your child/you and whether or not you need to ask the GP to authorise more sessions. I encourage you and your child to check in with each other yourselves – you may be doing this already!
In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you’re concerned about something or have any questions. The best way to do this is by email or in person when you’re at the clinic. I can then make time for you during the session. In order to keep the trust going between me, your child, and you, please give your child the heads up that you’re going to contact me and what you plan to say, and please know that I will talk to your child about what was discussed.
What should I do if my child doesn't want to start counselling?
Not everyone wants to attend counselling straight off the bat, particularly young people. It can feel scary to talk to someone they don’t know. It can be scary to open up about difficult situations and feelings. They might think what’s happening is not as big of a problem as the adults in their lives do. They could be concerned about missing out on school or fun stuff. There could be lots more valid reasons why a young person doesn’t want to come to counselling.
Please don’t make your child see me, as that makes it difficult for them to trust me (and you)! It can be counter-productive to make someone attend counselling because it leaves them less likely to give it a go and be open. I know that I, as an adult, would find it very hard to be open and honest if I knew someone was making me do counselling.
If your child doesn’t want to go to counselling, here are some steps that could help first.
See if you can understand it from your child’s point of view. For example, ask: “I can hear you don’t want to go. Will you help me understand what that’s about?” And then, do not judge, try to talk them out of it, or try to fix it! Active listening skills can come in handy here.
Depending on what your child says is the issue, you could offer to work together. For example, “So I hear that you’re feeling _______ about going to counselling because _______. That makes sense to me. I’m still really worried about you because you seem really down, and I think counselling may be one thing that could help. Could we figure out a way to make this counselling thing work?”
Give them the choice to try one or two sessions to see what counselling is like, with the option of not attending any more if they don’t like it.
Ask them about the possibility of counselling in the future (again, without judging or suggesting solutions): “How would you know if things were getting worse and you might need to talk to someone?”
Although it must be worrying for a parent to see their child struggle, this approach may at least give them a more positive experience of counselling and may make it more likely that they try it in the future.
If your child isn’t attending counselling and you’re still worried, it can be helpful for parents to get their own support. This might include looking into counselling or parenting groups; you may need to debrief with someone and learn ways to respond effectively to your family. Helping Minds has been helpful in supporting parents and families in particular. In my experience, this kind of action sends a strong helpful message to your child: I care about you so much that I will get help for myself so that I can support you and me better.
If parents have concerns that their child's difficulties are serious and life-threatening, it's best to contact your child's GP, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service's Emergency Telehealth Service, or Perth Children's Hospital/nearest emergency department.
What should I do if there is a lot of conflict between my child and the family?
If there are lots of arguments and tension between your child and yourself/the family, it can be more productive to seek family therapy/counselling instead of just your child seeing me. Family counselling allows all parties to be heard and you can collaboratively find ways to move forward.
I notice family counselling is often better received by the young person, rather than "making them" attend their own counselling and feeling like the problem.
Here are some useful places for family therapy:
Centrecare's Counselling for Adolescents and Parents Service
How can I support my child as they go through counselling?
The best thing we can do is give young people as much choice and ownership of the counselling process as possible. If people have choices about how things happen to them, this can help them feel empowered and safe, which sets a good foundation for making changes to their lives.
Some ways to give more power and choices:
Ask, “Is there anything I can do to support you?”
Ask how the counselling session went but don’t push for details unless your child wants to tell you – this hopefully sends the message that, “this is your session and you get to talk about and work on what you want.”
Keep the rest of the day relaxed if your child has a counselling session - sessions can be emotionally taxing.
Encourage your child to keep track of counselling appointments with you so they’re not taken by surprise when the appointment comes up - e.g., put a phone reminder, put it in the family calendar, ask your child how they want to keep track so that you’re not on their back about the appointments. We can help by sending both you and them SMS appointment reminders.
Encourage your child to keep a file, folder, or notebook where they can store counselling-related things.
Encourage your child to write down difficult situations that come up, because this helps them look for patterns with me.
What should I do when my child says that they don't know what to talk about in counselling?
This is really common! People say this when they think things are going well, they are unsure how to talk about the things that are bothering them, or really can't put their finger on what to talk about.
Please don't worry because I always find something relevant to talk about. I ask questions to explore what has been going well and what hasn't. I also ask people what they think the people in their life would say about how they're going, and whether they see it the same way. In essence, I want to know: Are you living the life you want to live?
A common worry that parents have is that there are issues their child isn't talking about in counselling. As I said above, please talk to your child about this first before contacting me - young people often feel betrayed and frustrated when parents raise their concerns with me without their knowledge. Some nonjudgmental ways you can bring this up...
"I wonder if we could talk about how you're going lately - how are you?" + use active listening skills to really listen without judgement or suggesting solutions
"I'm feeling worried because I've noticed [describe behaviours here as neutrally as you can]. What do you think?..... Do you think that's something you could talk to Vicky about?"
"I worry and care about you, so I'd like to mention my worries to Vicky in person/by phone/in an email. Here's what I plan to say.... Of course, how you work on it is up to you."