My Approach to Helping
Through my years of practicing therapy I have come to believe both teens and adults respond best to therapy that is collaborative and strengths-based. What do these two forms of therapy imply?
Therapy that is collaborative means a few things. First, I make it clear to my clients—especially teens— that my number one job is to support them, to be on their team. It is so important for the client to feel like the therapist is working with them, not simply telling a client what to do. Also, collaborative therapy means that we define what we are working on together, that the client or teen has an active role in the therapy process. It is important that clients take ownership of their part in therapy because ultimately I want them to leave feeling empowered. Lastly, this might mean that part of therapy is that me, the therapist, doesn’t have all the answers! Rather through discussing your life and perspectives with me, being curious, and learning to tolerate not knowing, the possibility of new insights and ideas may arise within you! This is the goal. Yes, sometimes I will suggest ideas, provide assignments andor offer my interpretation or opinion about a topic. Ultimately though, I want to be supporting the teen in developing their own inner guidance by learning to understand and relate to their thoughts and feelings in new ways. The hope is that this learning will be something they can take with them for the rest of their lives!
Let me talk a little bit about strengths-based therapy. In therapy there often are challenges that lead us to want to seek help. I think it is important that we acknowledge these and discuss these in therapy. However, I also think it’s important that we understand our unique strengths and learn how we might allow these strengths be our allies in our journey. Our strengths are parts of ourselves that can support us in our growth. Often I will try to reflect to my clients their strengths. Sometimes they are not aware of them! However, when we become more aware of our strengths, we can actually call them in to aid when we are having difficulties. Often I build my therapy approach around the individual strengths of each of my clients. Additionally, especially with teens and kids, by the time they get to therapy they have probably heard a lot about what is “wrong” with them… maybe this can relate to problem behaviors, or comparing themselves to peers. Sometimes their strengths can get lost in the mix. It is really important for their emotional development that they are able to see their strengths, as well as have a balanced understanding of their limits. Seeing their strengths and knowing their limits also helps them to develop a healthy sense of self-esteem. This happens over time. Unfortunately, by the time they get to me, many have learned to focus on the “what’s missing,” but not the “what’s good.” Sometimes parents can reinforce this pattern as well by focusing very much on what the child does or says that doesn’t match with an ideal. Yet, when we reflect people’s strengths to them, whether it is an adult, a teen, or a child, they are more likely to be able to tolerate some of their own challenges, and limitations, and find creative ways to address these issues. That is what we are going for!