Adolescence is a complicated time in young person’s life where many changes are taking place and where social relationships are very influential.
As mentioned in the previous post, the relationship between the counsellor and client is the foundation of the counselling process, and creating a strong connection is as important, if not more important, when working with adolescents (ages 13-17).
In the work that I have done with youth as a frontline worker and as a counsellor, the relationship value that comes into play most often is trust.
Adults understand that speaking to a counsellor provides them with an opportunity to voice their thoughts in a safe space and receive nonjudgmental and insightful feedback. The same space is created for youth, but if often involves less direct conversation and more playful, creative, and artistic interactions to help the youth feel comfortable.
Youth are often uncertain about how safe the counselling session really is and what personal information they share might be passed on to their parents, caregivers, or even school professionals.
Anytime it may be in the best interest of the youth to share information with others, the youth is actively engaged in the conversation and their opinion is taken into consideration. The only time the youth’s opinion is not taken into consideration is when confidentiality needs to be breached to ensure safety, and this is explained clearly to the youth in the first session.
Trust needs to be in place in the relationship in order to encourage the youth to open up about their real thoughts and feelings. Building trust also requires honesty from the counsellor as it is better to say that you do not know or cannot do something rather than to give the incorrect information or break a promise.
Once trust is lost with the youth, it is very difficult and sometimes impossible to get back.
From my experience, youth often appreciate when a counsellor is open and accepting of their own weaknesses. It shows the youth that they can embrace who they are and that they do not need to have everything figured out right at that moment.
The relationship may become the central intervention when working with youth as it provides an opportunity for the youth to share their thoughts and feelings and be listened and responded to in a calm and nonjudgmental way. This interaction with the counsellor may be the only time the youth is able to experience a conversation that is completely focused on their needs.
While talking with the youth, the counsellor is also modelling respectful communication and social skills that will be useful for the youth to have in the future.
The relationship can seem like such a small part of counselling, but in creating a strong connection, there is also comes opportunities to build trust, model acceptance of self, teach social skills, and experience a positive relationship with an adult.
Blog post by Sarah Nixon, Volunteer
For more on individual adolescent counselling, click here.