We’re all familiar with the concept of counselling. Whether it’s a talking therapy or hypnotherapy, we understand the benefits this one-on-one support can have to our general sense of wellbeing, working through a particular issue or help us cope with difficult times in our lives.
Counselling is also useful for children and adolescents, many of whom can experience trauma, grief and emotional difficulties, just like the rest of us. Support for young people can often take a different stance; although what the child is experiencing can be similar to that of an adult, the way this support is approached should be very different.
As someone who displays natural empathy, is the go-to shoulder to cry on and wants to make a difference in the lives of young people, you may be interested in pursuing a career in this area. Here’s what you should know about counselling children and adolescents.
Let’s start with the differences…
Some differences between adults and young people are obvious. When you think of supporting young people through counselling, it’s important to remember that not every psychotherapist or counsellor can work with children and adolescents.
When counselling young people, there needs to be a particular focus on the age of the child as this indicates a substantial stage of their development – significant brain development, for example, occurs during our teenage years. With this in mind, it’s important to acknowledge the differences in adults and children to provide tailored support and care.
Counsellors with specialist training, specifically aimed at young people, means they are able to support children and their unique needs in a way that adult-focussed counsellors simply cannot.
You’ll use specialist skills
Children and young people communicate distress very differently to adults, often through non-verbal communication in the form of play, becoming unusually (for the individual) reserved or uncharacteristically quiet. Counselling children and adolescents requires the therapist to understand these forms of communication and to make sense of it using specialist skills, like cognitive behavioural therapy.
To decipher a young person’s inner world, the counsellor would need to tailor their approach – for example, it wouldn’t be beneficial to sit a young child down opposite them and engage in conversation. To understand the root cause of a child’s emotional or behavioural upset, many children’s counsellors use observed play (play can be unconsciously altered depending on the child’s experience) for example.
You’ll need to build rapport
Establishing trust between the counsellor and the young person is essential: they must understand that you’re there to help and support them. With 4 in 10 teenagers experiencing depression, it’s important to build a professional rapport so they can discuss their concerns in a safe and encouraging space.
Founding this trust relies on the counsellor having highly developed therapeutic skills – this includes verbal and non-verbal communication that establishes an environment whereby the therapeutic relationship can be created, maintained and safely terminated (ie, when counselling is deemed no longer necessary).
Where cognitive function is better developed in adolescents, the carefully built relationship allows the young person to express their emotions, thoughts and feelings. This then enables the counsellor to help them reflect on their beliefs, emotional experiences and physical actions to develop positive ways of being. Without this rapport, and other integral counselling skills
, it would be very difficult to successfully counsel children and adolescents.
You’ll be working alongside parents
Often children and adolescents are encouraged to attend counselling sessions by their parents. They may be concerned about their behaviour or have been recommended by a professional from the child’s school to pursue this option. This should be considered in the context of the therapeutic relationship – teenagers in particular may present resistance to the counsellor’s support.
Having the support of parents is crucial to the success of each counselling session – together you are working towards improving that young person’s wellbeing. Building trust and rapport with the parent is thus equally as important.
You’ll continually be surprised
A crucial element you need to know about counselling children and adolescents? You’ll often be surprised at how much of an impact you’re having. That goes beyond that special feeling when you’ve done a good job.
There’s no doubt that working in a counselling environment can be hugely rewarding – you’re actively helping people to work through a variety of issues that can be holding them back from achieving and experiencing their potential.
When it comes to counselling – building a professional and trusting relationship with your client is essential. You need to be able to put yourself in a mental space that is so different to that of an adult, and it’s certainly a skill that’s reserved to counsellors who specialise in children’s and adolescent’s care.
If you’re looking to make an impact and want to transform your career in this area, learn more about the Level 4 Certificate in Counselling Children and Adolescents below:
Comprehensive Counselling skills Course