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Young People … Our Greatest Resource

Handling “Smoke Screens” in Counseling

HANDLING THE “SMOKE SCREEN”: Smoke is used in warfare to confuse the enemy and disguise movement and intent. Some difficult and defiant youngsters are quite good at throwing up a smoke screen in order to send the counselor down another (less painful) path. They sometimes do this with flattery to get you to talk about something other than a prime issue of theirs. Or it might just be a subtle way to control a session.

Three interventions come to mind regarding smoke screens. One of them is to recognize the smoke screen and give some limited time to it:

I love football, Tom; you know that. I could talk about football and the game this coming Friday until the cows come home. But we need to visit about other issues. So here’s what we’ll do. I’ll set a timer and we can talk football for five minutes. But the conversation changes when the timer goes off. Fair enough?

Another intervention would be to address the smoke screen head on:

I notice that when I ask you anything about ____________, you change the subject quickly. Is there a reason for that?

If the youngster truly has difficulty talking about a key issue, you might try a strategy I call The One Question Limit. It would work something like this:

I guess I’m a little confused about something that’s happening here. I’d like to ask you a question, one question. You can answer it “Yes” or “No,” and I promise that, however you answer it, I’ll ask you no more questions about it today. Would that be okay? Okay. Here’s the question: “Does it make you uncomfortable whenever we talk about __________?

This approach allows you to address the issue specifically during the next session. If the youngster indicates that he is uncomfortable whenever the discussion is on a certain topic, then there’s no denial to deal with in the next session. On the other hand, if the youngster says the topic doesn’t make him uncomfortable, then he shouldn’t avoid talking about it, right?

James Sutton, Psychologist

November 21, 2009 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child | , , , | 1 Comment