Young people and counselling
Young people tend to do well in counselling and often respond quickly to the work; they are open, receptive and grateful for the time and attention offered. They are also less set in their ways than adults, and therefore there is great scope for change.
We now know from developments in neuroscience that the limbic part of the brain which controls emotions develops during adolescence, leaving the neo-cortex, the thinking brain, behind whilst it undergoes an overhaul. Teenagers may find that they are responding to the world in new and unfamiliar ways, often through their emotions which can feel very strong at times. This can be frightening and leave a young person with no sense of control in their lives. An opportunity to talk through their reactions, normalise and contextualise them can be very containing for a young person.
Talking to someone outside friendship groups and direct family can help to build emotional resilience in young people, especially at a time when they are trying to be more independent of family, and may be re-assessing friendships. Challenges that can be understood, framed and tolerated by a counsellor can equip the young person to re-enter their world with confidence.
The prevalence of social media has added a new dimension to teenage relating. It is now possible to see what other people in groups are doing, with all the attendant feelings of being left out or not being part of a clique or ‘select’ group. Friendship lines can appear to be drawn without the opportunity of face-to-face interaction, and the possibilities for laundering dirty linen in public and shaming are ever-present. Again, offering a confidential and containing space for young people to talk these things over can be very beneficial.
Parents can sometimes be so anxious that their children are happy, they can end up making many ‘suggestions’ for what a young person should be doing, which can be experienced as undermining, or even critical. Siblings, especially older ones, can also represent a dominant force whose standards a young person may feel the need to live up to or be compared to. The impartiality and openness of a counsellor can be a breath of fresh air for a young person, and being addressed in an adult way can be a powerful experience in having their views and opinions validated. From the point of view of a parent, there might be some relief that a teenager who refuses to communicate with them, is at least talking to another adult in the therapeutic space, thereby taking some pressure off the home environment.
The pressure to look good and be successful at school for this generation of young people is immense. Simply having this acknowledged, and perhaps providing a space in which the young person themselves can sort through what is important to them, what they value, as well as vital support and encouragement can be very helpful.
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About Julia Franks
Julia has worked with young people over the last 18 years, first as a counsellor for Brook, and subsequently in an NHS Sexual Health Department. She works in schools delivering lessons on health and relationship education and sees teenagers and young people for counselling in her private practice in North London. Julia is BACP accredited.