It can be hard to engage younger clients. But according to psychologist Janet Edgette, author of Adolescent Therapy That Really Works, we already know some of the things kids don’t respond well to in therapy, like excessive questioning and standardized treatment protocols. Too often, she says, "adults quickly refashion conversations into know-it-all lectures, boring monologues, or annoying reprimands."
So what does work? It takes authenticity, perspective, and knowing how to make kids feel like they’re being listened to and respected, Edgette explains.
In this brief video clip, she shares how therapists can get to the root of their young clients' feelings without framing questions in a way that comes off as mechanical or patronizing.
Janet Sasson Edgette, PsyD, is the author of Adolescent Therapy That Really Works and Stop Negotiating with Your Teen. Her latest book is The Last Boys Picked: Helping Boys Who Don’t Play Sports Survive Bullies and Boyhood.
As Edgette writes in her Networker article, many interactions between therapists and their young clients are absent of "the reciprocity and mutual curiosity you normally see when two people engage authentically."
However, she adds, therapists can take steps to create a more authentic experience. Step one, she says, is not to rush into "problem-solving mode." When clients trust us to hold the space without rushing to solutions, she explains, "they’re likelier to relax their vigilance and ease into more therapeutically productive conversations."
We already know some of the things teens don't respond well to in therapy. "So let's stop using them," Edgette says. "Once we become compelling enough that our clients actually want to talk with us, everything about being with and helping these teenagers starts to feel a whole lot better and more promising."
Did you enjoy this video? Check out more material from Edgette. In her article "Why Teens Hate Therapy," she discusses how to balance compassion with accountability. And in "Getting Real," she explains the importance of candor, sharing a personal experience. You might also like our Case Study, "Supporting the Overwhelmed Child," in which social worker Howard Honigsfeld shares best practices for working with struggling, underprivileged youth.