It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

Tip for Counselors: THE LIST

THE LIST: It is a challenge sometimes getting youngsters to identify issues they need to work on in counseling. It’s also possible for a counselor have the exact opposite problem: youngsters who lean too heavily on the counselor and want to “customize” every session.

I’ve had counseling and therapy clients bring a list with them! It contained all the issues and items they wanted me to cover in the sessions with them. If this were a once-in-a-while sort of thing, with a youngster writing down a few things during the week she wanted to discuss with me during the next session, it would be fine. As a habit, however, a list can send up a few red flags.

We’ll look at three concerns. (You’ll notice I keep saying “she” because my most memorable list-making, list-bringing, client was an adolescent girl.)

1. The list might be full of petty gripes and complaints that she wants me to fix or repair for her. Again, one or two occasional issues are not a problem, but I do need to make it clear that the counselor or therapist is not a handyman or a cop. (The real focus here is her empowerment to manage the smaller issues herself.)

2. The list could be a diversion. It just might be a defocus to take the discussion away from things that are difficult or uncomfortable for her to address. As long as she can make a list, and as long as I address her list items in session, she’s controlling the session and not doing much in terms of improvement.

3. The list could signal compulsive or histrionic characteristics. With adolescents, especially girls, persistence in making and bringing lists to counseling or therapy could create concern about emerging features of a personality disorder. This is not as big a concern with younger clients. One young client brought her list to almost every session. She even gave me a decorated binder for storing all her notes and lists! This girl brought me the ultimate list to one session: numbered ways to kill herself. She wanted me to circle the one I thought best for her … a “recommendation”, so to speak. Obviously, we had plenty of work to do in that session. Here’s how I handled the list thing with her and a few others. I didn’t tell her not to make or bring lists. Instead, I accepted the list, placed it on the corner of my desk, and shared that we could talk about the list during the last few minutes of the session. This approach worked well with her and, without me saying much about it, the lists got shorter and eventually disappeared. As you might guess, this young lady was not my typical counseling case. I’m happy to say, however, that she is doing quite well today. Life for her has not been easy, but she has persevered and thrived. I’m proud to say she’s happily married, has earned a college degree, owns her own successful business, is active in her church, and has five great kids.

James Sutton, Psychologist   www.docspeak.com

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December 25, 2010 - Posted by | Counselors |

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