A lot of parents are unsure what counselling for children can look like, and what to expect – if that’s you, keep reading!
I am a counsellor that focuses on mainly working with children. I believe it’s important when working with children to uphold a person-centred foundation approach, which allows the counsellor to tailor the therapy to the needs of the child. I am also guided by the following three principles: unconditional positive regard, non-judgement, and genuineness.
Connection between client and counsellor is important for an effective therapeutic process. As a counsellor, I realise that not every child will connect with me and that’s okay. If this occurs, I will recommend to the parent that the child may connect with and therefore benefit more from seeing another counsellor or psychologist.
I believe therapy is a collaborative process that is on the client’s timeline, not the counsellor’s or even the parents’.
I often have parents ask me, “How many sessions will it take?”.
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is unknown. Each child is unique in their own beautiful way; for some children, the counselling journey may take 15 sessions, for others it may be shorter or longer. The therapeutic journey is on the child’s timeline; they are in the driver’s seat and I am in the passenger’s. As a passenger, I am there to navigate and guide them in helpful directions, as well as give them helpful tools for the journey, so they soon can drive on their own.
The First Session
In the first session I like to meet with the parents and do a nice thorough intake. During the intake, we will talk about confidentiality, your child’s history of concerns, family mental health history, family events and dynamics, education, social life, health, medications, emotions, behaviours, presenting concerns, and therapeutic goals to name just a few.
The first 1-2 sessions with the child are mainly about building rapport and connection, as well as a safe and trusting environment. I like to use some fun ‘get to know each other’ questions while playing a game of uno, janga, cards, drawing or another activity that they would like to do.
During follow up sessions, I invite the child to choose what they would like to do in the therapy room. Most often children show their story and what they may be struggling with through play, expressive activities or communication.
I may use different therapies depending on what child’s needs are. These may include; strengths based, narrative therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, child-centred play therapy, mindfulness therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy.
Heading towards the end of the therapeutic journey, I think it’s important that the child is aware that the therapy is ending soon. This is important because through coming to therapy they build a connection to the therapist and if it abruptly ended, it can be really upsetting for the child. I would suggest if there are three sessions left, the child is made aware and able to count down how many sessions there is to go, to avoid any shock.
What does confidentiality look like with children?
During intake sessions with parents, I explain what confidentiality looks like when working with children.
At the start of the first session with the child, I will tell them something like this: “In here, what we talk about stays between you and me. I might ask you throughout the sessions if you would like to share this with mum or dad and you have the opportunity to say yes or no, and get to pick what parts are shared too. Where I have to tell mum and dad something is; if I think that you’re in any harm, if someone else is in harm or if you have caused harm to someone else. Is that okay?”
Parents as Partners
A lot of parents are unsure what their involvement looks like in the therapeutic journey.
When I provide counselling for children, I often work with the child one-on-one for about 35 minutes of the session; for the remainder of the session I will often invite the parent/s to come in, and invite the child to show what we have done in the session.
Having parents work collaboratively when possible helps make therapy more effective. This is because it can transition the work in the therapy room to also being at home.
What can Children Gain from Counselling?
Children can gain a lot from attending therapy! Your child may be attending therapy to help in a specific area in their life, for example: anxiety; grief; trauma; or depression. Throughout the therapeutic journey, your child may experience benefits such as:
- Developing respect for themselves;
- Learning that feelings are acceptable;
- Learning how to express feelings responsibly;
- Assuming responsibility for themselves;
- Encouraging creativity;
- Resourcefulness in confronting problems;
- Learning self-control and self-direction;
- Learning to make choices and be responsible for those choices;
- Processing the emotions that they may be experiencing;
- Build self-confidence, self-esteem and resilience;
- Developing emotional regulation;
- Learning new ways of coping with stresses;
- Having a safe, trusting non-judgmental space to process emotions
The Counselling Room
What a therapy room looks like varies; in a child therapy room you may find two couches, a doll house, baby dolls, dress ups, handcuffs and gun, sand tray, play dough, kinetic sand, balls, drawing, arts and craft, puppets, uno, janga, cards, bear cards, pretend food and more.
If you are interested in finding out more about my approach to counselling for children, and whether therapy may benefit your child, please don’t hesitate to make an appointment with me.
Author: Larissa Watter, BA Counselling.
Larissa Watter is a Brisbane counsellor, passionate about working with children. She is currently furthering her studies by undertaking a Certificate in Child Centred Play Therapy.
To make an appointment with Larissa Watter try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422.