For those who work relationally, that is, for those who employ in therapy sessions, their experience of the client and the ‘work’ together, sharing personal details or stories is something you do from time to time, whether it is elicited or not. Modeled early on during the first number of sessions, as part of how they ‘sit’ and are present with clients, the therapist’s disclosures may be said to help create the safe and collaborative ‘third space’ of therapy. But, what about when the client is an adolescent? What about when three sessions into the work, the young client exhibits great pride for the kinds of manipulations they successfully ‘use’ with their parents, making you wonder briefly if they might employ this art with you. When the subject matter turns to illicit drugs and the adolescent’s use of them and they enquire as to whether you (who for them at the moment is an adult, a therapist, and someone he/she is considering trusting) use them, the therapist’s disclosure in this instance speaks to issues of the therapist’s trust of the client, interest in authenticity and ultimately an unspoken equality in honesty in portraying personal experience.
Answering truthfully to a question that comes out of the natural flow of the exchange can mean a ‘powering down’ before the youth can make the therapist-client relationship more human. Feelings of being exposed to someone younger might arise making you feel uncomfortable. Knowing yourself and what is the source of this discomfort seems important. Telling a lie, even when the likelihood of the youth ever knowing different might undermine the authenticity of the emerging connection from the therapist’s perspective. If this tricky moment were later in the work with the client, it’d be a question of maintenance of the connection.
Parents are frequently the reason why many adolescents ‘present’ for therapy. Parents can’t support their adolescent at the particular moment or maybe it is a case that the real issue is more a family one, but, for different reasons, family therapy is not going to happen. Regardless, the parents want very much that you help their son or daughter with ‘X’, perhaps with expressing on ‘Y’, and maybe to support them with decision ’Z’. This is often how adolescents come to therapy. Epistemologically speaking, the therapist determines his/her own sense of what is ‘up’ with the youth (and family). Relationally, this means full engagement and so, what if the answer is ‘yes’ I have smoked marijuana, how does this help us/you right now?
Though parents are the responsible and curious ‘extension’ of the client, eventually the adolescent needs to get the chance to be the client. Not always – probably not in situations outside western cultural domains. Indeed much comes out of the ‘thick description’ of our client’s everyday life that we seek to understand. Wanting young people to trust in us and in the processes of therapy, means being authentic, as a ‘means’ to bond, to know, and eventually, to help according to what is a collaborative and supportive client-therapist effort. How, when and what we disclose on a personal level to an adolescent when working relationally requires in-the moment responses. Knowing our comfort zones and how we might handle the personal questions that put us on the spot are important practical considerations of relational work with adolescents.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA