Therapy is an art.
One of the hardest sessions is when you have a father and the so called “troubled teen” sitting in a counseling office.
Let’s just say that tension can run a bit high.
Usually, the teenager feels like the father will never listen, and the father believes the teen is just obstinate and irrational.
Now here’s where the art comes in.
If the therapist sides with the parent over against the teen, then the counselor loses the teen, and he or she will shut down.
If the therapist sides with the teen against the father, then the counselor will upset the father and the likelihood of them coming back is very slim.
So what’s a counselor to do?
You have to make sure they both feel heard and understood.
How I do it is by letting both teen and father know from the get go that I respect them both deeply and that I can’t take sides initially if this is going to work.
Then I try and “pick on” both of them throughout the session, seeking to get them to see the repetitive fighting cycle they are both stuck in, and if they want something to change, then they are going to have to do something different.
For example, the father might have to slow down a bit and acknowledge the thoughts and feeling of his teenager even if he judges them to be “irrational.”
Or, the son or daughter might need to learn that a father understanding them doesn’t necessarily mean he agrees with his or her requests.
What I have found over and over, is if I can slow the communication process down by helping the father, so love and kindness to the teen and have the teen show respect, then things typically seem to work out.
Here’s what one mother just wrote to me:
“I was pleasantly surprised! Because in the past my husband has been completely unimpressed and not supportive of therapy. But he was impressed with you. He said you are the most knowledgeable of all our therapists and he thought you did a great job.”