My relational approach to working with children, teens, or young adults is similar in that regardless of age I want to know their story. I do all that I can to make sure my patients feel seen, heard, and cared for. I take their ideas seriously. I create a warm, safe holding environment that communicates unconditional acceptance, nonjudgmental curiosity, and allows them the freedom to explore all aspects of themselves without criticism or shame.
I walk alongside my patients as they become more present with their inner world: what they're feeling, what they're thinking, how they're experiencing the people and events around them, and what meaning they make of those experiences. I help them become more aware of how they cope with uncomfortable feelings like sadness, anger, loneliness, disappointment, frustration, hopelessness, or guilt. We look with curiosity on the effectiveness of those coping methods, and when appropriate, I teach practical skills drawing from a range of modalities intended to help my patients increase their sense of agency in being their own problem-solver where they can be, and more accepting of things that can’t be changed.
I also take a systems approach with my patients. This means that I examine with them the symptoms that have brought them to therapy, which include thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationship patterns that are presently a source of pain, frustration, or discomfort in their lives. Together, we reflect on how those same symptoms may actually have been necessary and adaptive at some point in the patient's life, though at a cost to the him or her that is only now becoming more apparent. In a thoughtful way, I help my patients acknowledge feelings they might not expect when trying to eliminate those symptoms, such as ambivalence. And together we examine the implications of what change might mean, the upside and the downside. This is particularly important in my work with children and teenagers in that I keep regular contact with their parents to let them know how treatment is going, to gather their observations and impressions of their child at home and in the community, and also to help them learn how they can support the work their child and I are doing in therapy.
When a person is able to see and understand their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and get a better sense of what they all mean, what function they may be serving, when they become more aware of their feelings around change and the implications of changing, then, if they decide that they do want things to be different and make efforts to get there, then those changes are lasting. This process is a worthwhile journey.