It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource


ASK!  One of the reasons why I featured the interview with child and adolescent psychologist, Dr. Doug Riley, in the July issue of the ODD Management Digest is because of something he said in the interview. It struck a chord with me:

When I talk to parents about how their child is thinking, they often ask me, “Well, how do you know what he’s thinking?” The answer is simple; I ask the child, “What are you thinking? And I do my best to help them from there.


Asking is worth the effort, but it’s not always a simple matter. One of the obstacles a counselor or a therapist faces with a child or adolescent is the youngster’s perception that they are in trouble, and that the counselor or therapist is a consequence of their behavior. Often, that’s exactly the case, so it’s not unusual for kids to be guarded initially.

(Guardedness is a normal response, and any efforts to entice or force youngsters to speak are only going to kick their guardedness into the next gear.)

So, if you want to know something, ask. Good counselors and therapists make their mark and their living on asking the right questions and asking them well. Here are three suggestions for asking:

Ask with acceptance: They know if you can do this or not, and they pick up on it quickly. About a year or so ago, I worked with an elderly fellow in a nursing home. While trying out his new scooter that had just arrived from the VA, he accidently ran over a lady’s foot. His “punishment” was psychotherapy … ME! 

Naturally, he resented it … and me, also. I asked him if he would let me work with him. I suggested that, so long as I was seeing him, staff would leave him alone. I also deemphasized his “crime”, and instead worked with him on issues of his health and family that caused him to lose his home and independence. We developed an excellent relationship that has lasted long past that initial therapeutic alliance. (Yes, I know this example does not involve a child or adolescent but, at some point, young folks and old folks are very similar in their behaviors and issues.)

Ask with interest: With doctors they call it “bedside manner”, that ability to connect with a patient so well that the packed waiting room seems not to matter at all. It’s that capacity to focus so intensely on a youngster and her circumstances that it augments healing directly. It’s the magic wrapped up in a question like:


You know, Sarah, I’m not sure I understand, but I WANT to understand. Can you help me understand what you mean?


Ask with empathy: No youngster goes to see a counselor or therapist because their lives are going splendidly. There is pain somewhere and it’s seen in the sort of discomfort that is almost palpable.

Sometimes the direct approach is best:

Tommy, it seems to me you don’t really want to be here right now, that you’re uncomfortable about this visit. (I usually pause for some sort of acknowledgement.) If I could do something that would help you feel better about it, what would it be?


The youngster might or might not offer anything specific, but the question is disarming and amazingly soothing. It also helps to get to issues quickly. Tommy wants to know you care, and that you will actively demonstrate that caring.


August 4, 2010 - Posted by | Counselors, family, Healthy living, Humor, Parents, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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