It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

From “Have to” to “Want to”

A big challenge for counselors and therapists is the switch a youngster hopefully makes from feeling like they have to go to counseling or therapy to a decision that to want to go, and for it to continue.

To a great extent, this shift has a lot to do with the patience and skill of the counselor or therapist. Can they “invest” the child or teen into the value of what they can provide and, more importantly, help them achieve a measure of healing the youngster can experience? This is as much a critical skill to a counselor or therapist as anything else.

It matters; a lot.

Years ago, I was a consulting psychologist to a number of school districts, working mostly with the departments of Special Education. One fairly large district not far from Houston had a problem in the high school. There were a number of students who cut classes, stopped attending school and, in general, created disturbance in the community when they were not in school. Authorities in the community were getting pretty tired of it.

A prominent psychologist in Houston offered to come out the school one day a week and work with these students in a group. The school took her up on the offer, and left no stone unturned in getting these kids to school for the psychologist’s first meeting with them. Their difficulties with the school were not held against them if they came to the Tuesday sessions. They meetings continued for the remainder of the school year. Every Tuesday they were there.

Something interesting was discovered. As sporadic as these students’ school attendance was, not a single one of them ever cut school the day the psychologist was there to meet with them.

Did the psychologist’s group sessions create improved school attendance? Some perhaps, but nothing really that significant. Did those sessions show up in better grades and stronger academic achievement in those students? Not enough to be noticed.

So what was the point? The point was that these youngsters saw great value in something that was going on at school, valuable enough to them to be there for it every week. Kids who felt displaced found a sense of purpose, albeit limited: Every Tuesday they felt like they mattered to others to others and themselves; they wanted to keep going to the groups.

Because of the encouragement these kids sensed (not to mention the fact that the juvenile crime rate dropped on Tuesdays) the groups were a success. Even if every one of them dropped out of school when they became old enough to do so, what value could we put on crimes that were not committed or suicides that never happened? And, a generation later, when those students were going to school to visit with the teachers of their own children, might they be a bit more comfortable walking into a building where a few good things happened with them? What would be the value of that?

What did the psychologist say to them? I don’t know; I’ll never know. Those youngster knew, and that’s what mattered. In like fashion, my job would be to create so much value to a child or teen that they would see it as hope and the first baby steps to powerful, positive change.

James D. Sutton, EdD, CSP

Consulting Psychologist/Certified Speaking Professional
PO Box 672, Pleasanton, TX 78064
(800) 659-6628 Email:


January 4, 2011 - Posted by | Counselors, Inspirational, Uncategorized

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