Usually, they don’t know HOW to change!
I don’t try to MAKE your child change … I try to help them WANT to change!
When first talking to the parent on the phone I suggest that they tell their child that I said ‘I’ve helped lots of people cope with this kind of problem and I would really love to help them do X or Y but I will only do it if they themselves want me to help them.’
I can’t promise that this will always work … I can only say that it has usually worked so far!
It’s a useful approach because nobody responds positively to being ‘forced’ to change! And it puts me on their side. I continue this approach in my therapy room saying something like … ‘I’m so glad that you decided to come and see me because I’d really love to help you, but I only want to help you if YOU really want me to’. Obviously, I vary my approach according to their age group and their individual personality.
School anxiety is a typical case
At first, I’ll ask a few questions such as these, using some of their own words where I can.
‘Let your eyes close for a minute and imagine you’re outside the school waiting to go in. What’s the first thing that you feel inside that lets you know you feel upset / frightened / afraid / uncomfortable? Where exactly do you feel it? Is it warm or cold? Is it moving or still? Here’s a funny question… if it has a colour, what colour would that feeling be?’ (Usually they will say something like black or red or purple)
They find these questions quite novel
and they are usually pretty responsive!
I continue with questions like ‘So you said the feeling would have a black colour if you were frightened … what colour would it be if you were feeling a bit calmer? So, it might be a bit of pale blue? Interesting. And if you were feeling a bit braver, would that have a colour too? Oh, so that would be a bit orange? Yes, I agree … I think orange does seem a bit of a brave colour!
By this time they are getting quite engaged
‘Let’s imagine that I can actually help you today with feeling a bit … or even a lot … more confident and comfortable at school, what would be the best thing about it? What else would be better? How would you notice that you are feeling more confident? Oh, so you’d get a feeling inside … Where exactly inside you would you first notice that feeling? Would it be warm or cold do you think? Would there be any pale blue colours inside? What about a bit of orange? Would the feelings be moving or still?
So, a rather different approach from any they’ve had so far!
Different is usually good and they become quite taken with the whole idea. There are no ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’!
There is no imposing of my ideas, no reprimands for their behaviour, plenty of engagement of their minds in a positive way and usually already a bit of internal change is starting to take place. I’m using a very calming tone of voice together with gentle hypnotic phrasing and already a bit of change is beginning to take place!
Often, they are actually beginning to find a bit of fun in what they are doing and feeling, and praise is interspersed as we go on. This is a far cry from what they were expecting and ‘different’ is very positive for change to take place!
Look out for my next blog where I will tell you what I would do next in the session to encourage them to change their behaviour.