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Talking to Young People about Counselling

More and more young people are reaching out to their adults and asking to “talk to someone”. The stigma of having a therapist is lessening. In fact, many youth feel pride in their counselling process and swap stories of their clinicians with each other.

However, for some young people, the idea of having a counsellor hasn’t come from them. Someone has suggested, encouraged, or downright demanded that they attend supportive services. When this is the case it often leaves young people feeling that there is “something wrong with them” or validates their experience of themselves as “odd or different”. In some cases, where their behaviour has been problematic or troubling, the suggestion to attend counselling may increase their burden of shame and guilt. These are not ideal conditions for starting a vulnerable process with a complete stranger.

At Ripple Effect Services we like to position our work as more than therapy and counselling. We share with young people that our services are about building and developing life skills. Not just skills for the here and now, but skills that you can rely on for the rest of your life. The better you understand and know how your brain and body communicate, the more able you will be to set yourself up for success in whatever it is you are striving towards in life. Developing awareness about how our bodies and brains are working at cross purposes and are therefore, creating difficult situations is a life skill. As is being able to better align our brains and bodies on the same path for success. The earlier we learn these skills in life the better off we will be.

Normalizing the different paths our brains and bodies can take and the impact can help to reduce the shame many young people feel. For example, my brain has an amazing argument for why I should go to bed at a reasonable time but when my body is wide awake then I am not in brain/body alignment. Similarly, if I just ate a huge piece of that delicious chocolate cake on the table, my brain is likely saying “no more!”. That doesn’t change the fact that every time I pass that cake my body smells chocolate, my mouth drools and I reach out for another piece. We get ambushed by energy, desire, or overpowering emotions and our thinking brains go off line. We are eating that second (or third) piece of cake before we realize what we have done.

In situations where we experience social anxiety, bursts of anger, or avoidance behaviours our brains and bodies are often in extreme states of misalignment. We get ambushed by emotions and act out of the ambush. We don’t want these things to happen but in the midst of an ambush we hide, yell, lie, etc. Bringing extreme curiosity and compassion to a young person’s unique experience of their brain and their body can pique a young person’s interest in exploring through the counselling process what might be happening for them in these situations.

When we approach them with these goals in mind, then the suggestion of going to see someone doesn’t feel so bad. Instilling hope and the expectation that the counselling process will be one of collaboration and exploration not just for the young person but for the whole family will help to start the process off on the right foot.

We recommend the following approaches to talking about taking part in sessions with Ripple:

  • This is a “Family Project” – everyone can benefit from understanding recent advancements in neuroscience and how we can all benefit from increasing our life skills towards greater social engagement. Adults can take part in our Free Monthly Parent Workshop and/or make use of Parent Support Sessions.
  • Talk about the process as one where the child will have fun and be able to direct their experience in the ways that suit them best. At Ripple, we communicate through movement, dance, art, play, music, poetry, stories, and the good old talking cure. The young person will be respected in the style of communication that suits them best.
  • Young people rarely get to hear that they are “the boss” in any situation in life. We go to great lengths to communicate that they are in charge of their session. We experience daily how when given the space to explore and create the relationship that they need, people will take you to their health.
  • Encouraging our young clients to take what they are learning and teach their families, friends, teachers, coaches, etc. puts them in a position of being an expert. An expert on themselves and an expert on some very recent neuroscience. We love hearing about how young people are sharing vital information to make the world a better place! And how they are using their new life skill of self advocacy to create ideal life circumstances for themselves.
  • A “no shame, no blame” attitude invites an incredible amount of curiosity and self compassion into the conversation. Regardless of the situation, we explore and wonder how and why things happened the way they did. We hold the whole of the child’s self as we explore life’s challenges. We are always communicating that we see the whole of them, not just the part of them that reacted or made a less than ideal decision.
  • Finally, communicating to young people that the process will be fun and playful is essential. We focus on building a relationship where young people feel seen for their strengths, capacities and celebrated for their unique communication style. No matter your age, we can only grow and face hard things when we feel connected to people and valued in our relationships.

We all do our best when we can and when we have the right supports. Accessing clinical services is adding another member to the team to support young people to their best selves.

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