Tough Kids, Cool Counseling
Tough Kids, Cool Counseling
Adventures in Child and Adolescent Counseling
On Tuesday morning at eight o'clock a stranger walked into the Grass Valley office of the Overland Stagecoach Company. "When does the next stage leave for La Grande?" he asked. "I have to catch the five o'clock train."
Pete Parker, the ticket agent, laughed in his face. "You're outta luck Mister. There ain't NO next stage to La Grande. There ain't no next stage nowhere. Not today, not tomorrow. Might not be one for another week. Ain't you heard? There's avalanches in the pass, road agents on the road. . . . On top of that the river's rising and the bridge is most likely out. If you wanna go to La Grande, you're gonna hafta fly. Ain't that right, boys?"
-from Charlie Drives the Stage, Kimmel, 1989, p. 2
Adventures in Counseling Young Clients
When working with children or adolescents, counselors should prepare for a journey filled with the unexpected. Connecting with young clients can be like dodging avalanches, avoiding road agents, and crossing rickety bridges. Counseling young clients is an adventure; depending on your perspective, it is fraught with peril or filled with excitement.
In many important ways, counseling with children and adolescents is multicultural counseling. For the most part, adults and youth live in different cultural worlds. Most adults we know don't regard MTV as a main source of guidance for acceptable behaviors, and they don't get up at 3:00 A.M. to stand in line for concert tickets. Most adults don't watch Saturday morning cartoons, collect and trade "Yu-Gi-Oh!" cards, engage in burping contests, cruise the drag, get chased on the playground by leering boys, or get harassed at the bus stop by neighborhood bullies. In the adult world, we balance our checkbooks, pay our mortgages, sip lattes, answer voice mails, and attend marriage enhancement seminars. There is little doubt that most social workers, counselors, and psychotherapists have daily experiences very different from our young clients who are busy bumming cigarettes, skipping classes, text messaging, and playing X-Box long into the night.
Given that adults and young people are simultaneously living in different subcultures and facing completely different developmental tasks, it is not surprising that counseling children is very different from counseling adults. Unusual things happen when children hang around your office. Children are sometimes not conscious or careful about where they put their hands and fingers. Although neither of us have had adult clients accidentally poke us in the eye, scratch themselves carelessly in private places, or suddenly begin picking their nose, our child clients regularly do so. Similarly, our adult clients rarely lose control of bodily functions during the therapy hour, but we've had children lose control of their bowels, dash from the room for imminent bathroom breaks, and launch their "lunch" onto the carpet in the midst of group therapy sessions.
Adolescent clients provide their own, developmentally unique adventures. For example, whereas adults rarely refuse to talk during therapy, it is not unusual for teenagers to give their counselor the silent treatment. Many teenagers have very different views on interpersonal boundaries as well. They may spontaneously begin asking about your intimate sexual experiences, comment on the size of your rear end, suddenly start rummaging through your desk drawers, lie down on your office floor, or impulsively ask if you might be available to drive them on a 500-mile trip over the weekend.
It is an understatement to say that counseling with children and adolescents often requires a departure from traditional talk therapy or contemporary behavior modification. For many young clients, adult approaches to counseling just don't fit. This is particularly true with the population of young clients on whom we fo