If you’re a parent who’s decided to arrange counselling for your child or adolescent, you want to make sure they’re going to get the best support. While a part of you may feel daunted leaving your little ones – and even your teenagers – to talk to someone about their troubles, there’s another part that feels reassured you’re doing the right thing for your family.
The Awareness Centre’s child and adolescent counsellor,Veronica McKenna, answers the six questions she gets asked by parents who call her to discuss therapy for their children:
Are we normal?
There are many reasons for seeking child and adolescent counselling, but many parents fear there might be a stigma around it. It’s far more common than you’d think, and there are some key issues that often prompt parents to seek counselling to help their children through some tough times.
The most common reason to seek child and adolescent counselling is family breakdown. Separation and divorce can bring up lots of complex and ambivalent emotions, and it can be helpful for the child to express their feelings with a trained therapist.
For adolescents, primary reasons for coming to counselling include peer pressure, bullying, transition from primary to secondary school, and the onset of puberty. As they get older, some of the issues we deal with include exam stress, body image, sexuality, self-harm, gaming obsessions, insomnia and sleep issues.
What happens when we decide to go for counselling?
We do an initial assessment, and we talk to parents and the child together to learn the background to the family and the issues you are facing, and to flag up any areas of concern. We then agree a time and place to meet with the child every week.
Do we get to sit in the counselling sessions with our children?
For the first session: yes. The more the parents are on board, the better for the child. However, as with adult counselling, we have to respect boundaries and confidentiality.
It’s important for young people to feel they have a safe place to be, without being worried that everything they say is going to be shared with someone else. We often ask the children to draw the counselling contract, so they know they’re coming to the same place and time every week. That helps to create safety for them too.
We don’t give weekly reports to parents, but we do offer a roundup of key themes that have emerged in the counselling if parents would like it – while still maintaining confidentiality. This can be done periodically through the therapy, as well as when the sessions come to an end.
How many sessions?
It depends. In primary schools, kids often have counselling for an academic year. For secondary school children, sometimes a couple of sessions are enough to get them back on track.
As with all therapy, we agree a certain number of sessions to begin with, to help decide how long you would like to commit to, and we review along the way.
Is it all about play?
For young children: yes. Counselling for little ones is non-directive. They have the freedom of a room where they engage in all sorts of stuff. They can play with sand, paint and play dough – and they can also use metaphor and play-acting. It’s helpful to re-enact their inner world through metaphor. It’s often how children communicate.
With adolescents, many of them just want to talk. But they’re often open to sand play, art and creative things like diaries, or playing with paint and getting messy. This allows them the freedom to go back to stages in their earlier development.
Do kids get to keep their drawings?
Ideally we keep it all in a box or art folder and they can take it home at the end. Going through the ending is part of the process. Some children may have experienced bad endings, and this stage of counselling is about making sure they work towards a good ending. They can look at their artwork through their time in therapy and see how they and their feelings have changed. It can be a colourful, visual and healing record of their journey.