My Counseling Services for Children Under 12
Many parents ask me how they should describe counseling to children and what they might say, especially if the child has never seen a counselor before. I suggest something like the following:
"A counselor is a person, kind of like a teacher, who is trained to help you express your feelings, talk out your thoughts, or solve problems that might need solving. We think that a counselor will be helpful to you because you have mentioned that you are ... ______ (unhappy at school, ... struggling with scary thoughts... having a hard time living in two-households... struggling to stay on task...etc.) We want the best for you and this will give you new ways to approach problems. We have found Laura Doerflinger. She has worked with lots of kids with similar problems. She has three kids of her own. She likes to play games and do fun projects that help teach kids new skills. Do you have any questions?"
Suggested Counseling Process
Although I tailor counseling to meet the needs of each family and child, I tend to propose a pattern of sessions much like the one below.
Intake session with parents only (75 minutes): This first session gives me the opportunity to better understand the issues that your child is facing, your child's and family's history, and your parenting style. We will discuss problematic family dynamics and may explore some beginning strategies for you to use at home as the counseling process begins. Also, read about Parent Coaching for more extensive parenting support.
Session with child (50 minutes): For the first session with the child, the goal is to allow the child to get to know me, the counseling environment, and to explore the goals of counseling. I might meet with the parent/s alone for the first 10 minutes to verify what explanation and goals have been shared with the child. Then your child and I will ask you to leave so that we can establish our own time. I have several icebreaker games to help us get to know each other. Children have different learning styles and so I observe which of my games and projects might reach your child best. During the 10-minute finale of each session, we invite the parent/s in to join us, and the child teaches his or her new skill to you!
Session with child (50 minutes): The third session offers early skill-building. I usually focus on emotion or energy management because all children benefit from these skills. As I get to know the child and the family, the skills become more personalized. We tend to work on a project like an energy stick, a worry box, or a storyboard for a video game or movie. We conclude with the 10-minute finale.
Session with child (50 minutes): The fourth session is more personalized depending on issues and age. For a young or anxious child, we explore strategies to conquer fear. We may go on a fact-finding adventure to uncover the truth or build armor to protect against the Anxiety Monger who feeds off fear! As always, we conclude with the 10-minute finale.
Parent session (50-minutes): This session gives us the opportunity to update skills and assess progress. It allows us to redirect our energy, work on parenting skills, and evaluate the need for referrals (i.e. doctors, naturopaths, psychiatrists, tutors, groups, specialists, etc.) If we have achieved the intended goals, we change your appointment schedule to every two weeks for two to three more sessions to ensure the change persists, or we might agree upon another goal and continue once a week. It is rare for three sessions with a child to achieve goals, although it does happen. Most likely we will continue for another three sessions.
Sessions with child (50 minutes): The next three sessions will focus on specific goals. For example, with a hyper child we focus on controlling one's energy through mindful breathing and relaxation. Of course, for most hyperactive children it's difficult to take a straightforward approach to teach these skills, so I use the balloon game, dance party, and time-warp role-play. For children who worry excessively, we focus on identifying and changing distressing thoughts. We work on the No Big Deal Scale, moments in time, and go on fact-finding adventures. For children who struggle to express emotions, we work on a mask project, storyboards, and create how-to books. For a child who has social struggles, we play board games, do problem-solving exercises including options art, which helps kids consider alternatives to behavior and consequences in a creative way and role-play skills that are important. These children, more than any others, will have homework because unless they are also in our social skills group they need to practice their skills with other children. Again, we do the 10-minute finale at the end of each session.
Parent session (50-minutes): This session reviews progress. If therapeutically helpful, this session may include the child. Again, this allows us to redirect our energy, working on parenting skills, and evaluate the need for referrals (i.e. doctors, naturopaths, psychiatrists, tutors, groups or specialists). If we have achieved the intended goals, we might move appointments to every two-weeks for two to three more sessions to ensure change. Or, we might agree upon another goal and continue once a week. If we have not yet achieved our goals then we might determine to continue for another three sessions.