New beginnings play a really important role in therapy – both in terms of starting therapy itself and the fresh start at the beginning of each session that we have together.
In this article I am exploring the start of sessions together, why trust takes time to build and how important a fresh start is at the beginning of every session.
Starting therapy sessions
Much like starting to exercise, starting therapy can in itself be its own journey before a client has even walked in through my door. If it is your child or teen who has asked for support, they will have spent some time thinking over that decision and looking at alternatives before even asking you for help.
If it is initiated by you, the parent, carer or other key adult, there may well have been a lot of soul searching as well as internet searching before you reached out and made contact with me. I might not even be the first therapist you have approached for help. Something that I have written or something someone has said about me will have resonated enough with you for you to pick up the phone or send that first email.
Either way it can be really hard. Hard to acknowledge you need help and can’t fix it by yourself if you are the child or teen needing support. Hard to accept you are struggling to help or simply don’t have the skills if you are the adult. To both of you – thank you. Thank you for deciding I am the right person to help and thank you for trusting me to be enough to do so.
For your child or teen, that trust can take time. Depending on their experiences it can sometimes take a really long time. I don’t mean trusting me enough to chat about their world and sharing the silly thing their sibling did this morning, or the funny stunt the cat did yesterday, I mean trusting me with the really deep stuff. The messy stuff, the dark stuff, the things about you that you don’t like about yourself – the things you are ashamed or embarrassed about thinking or feeling or doing. The confusion, the fact you can’t untangle things and the overwhelm that causes.
Developing a therapeutic relationship takes time. Generally, it’s at least 8-12 sessions into therapy before a child or teen decides they trust you enough to ‘go there’ with whatever is bothering them – though they might have tried you out with some superficial ‘stuff’ first to see how you handle it. (For some children and teens, it can take much longer…)
They test you as the therapist, to see if you will do what you say you will do before they come to the deep issue. Depending on their experiences they will test your ability to keep confidences (unless it’s a safeguarding issue) and sometimes they will test you with a safeguarding issue (often around someone they know) to see if you will do what you say you will, before they reveal their deepest, darkest, scariest thoughts.
It is very scary to trust someone – to believe they are strong enough to hold or contain the things you think make you the least likeable or loveable, especially if someone has broken your trust before. If you hate this bit of you, why would you share it with someone, and risk being judged? Trust in therapy can take a long time to build and can be really fragile at times. As a therapist, I constantly have to be the ‘safe boss’ able to set the boundaries the client needs to feel safe and the ‘safe container’ big enough, bold enough and wise enough to hold their story.
Every session is a new start and ‘all of you’ is welcome
Regardless of what has gone on, every session is a new start. Sometimes coming to therapy is super hard and a child or teen may not make it through the door. Sometimes they may need to leave early because they are ‘flooded’ with emotions and need a break. Sometimes they may have said something that needed to be said but they may feel they have revealed too much of themselves, so coming and facing that can be hard. Sometimes they were hungry, tired or cranky and feel embarrassed about how they might have come across. As a therapist, it’s really important that a client knows that I welcome all of them to the sessions. All of them. The good bits, the bad bits and everything in between. When I say, ‘All of you is welcome here!’, I genuinely mean it.
Every session is a new start. Sometimes the adults need to hear that too. Sometimes they struggle with the same feelings their child or teen can have but the joy of a new session and a new start is that they can start afresh too.
Looking forward to journeying with you and yours through 2021. Elaine.