Completing the Counselling with Children and Adolescents
module has been beneficial to raising my awareness of counselling as a
therapeutic process and the benefits it has on a client. As a Psychology
undergraduate, I had minimal knowledge of what psychodynamic therapy was as we
are typically taught about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I discovered a significant
difference between them; CBT helps an individual combat their problems by
actively assisting them in adjusting the way they think and behave. Examples of
this include systematic desensitization and exposure therapy. Psychodynamic
therapy, on the other hand, encourages the client to express his or her
feelings whilst the therapist attempts to understand the underlying unconscious
issues behind the symptoms, a process which is termed as ‘interpretation’.
These therapists use various techniques including free association and projective
identification. This course has provided a greater understanding of the way in
which psychodynamic counselling techniques are used within a practical setting
and how a therapist can maximize the effectiveness of counselling sessions. We
learnt about and discussed various concepts that I was previously unaware of,
including how to become a psychodynamic observer and listener, as well as the use
of play and art within therapy. The other concepts discussed within the class,
alongside the workshops and reflective group sessions have all contributed to
my current view of the structure of a typical psychodynamic therapy session, depending
on the capabilities and needs of the present client. This essay discusses the
ways a few of the concepts, the workshops and the reflective group sessions
have influenced my understanding. It will also discuss how I currently respond
to children facing challenges, in comparison to how I may have responded in
previous instances. Children may face difficulties and challenges while growing
up. Completing this module has helped me understand them and their needs from
another point of view, an aspect which will also be mentioned in this essay.

 

Becoming a psychodynamic observer and listener

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Before completing this module, it was rather
difficult for me to accept and appreciate the power of silence and the fact
that sometimes silence can be more powerful than words. I sometimes get anxious
and nervous when I am in the presence of an unfamiliar person. During these
moments, I feel obligated to speak and these feelings are heightened because
prior, I was convinced that talking was mandatory during sessions. As the
person who is supposed to facilitate the session, if the individual isn’t
talking, I would have thought I was not doing my role correctly. Filling the
silence helped me feel comfortable in 1-on-1 situations with other people, however
this module made me realize the importance of listening and letting the silence
run its course. This is necessary within a therapeutic environment as the
therapist must show that they are interested and engaged in the matters of
their client. When working alongside adolescents who may feel uncomfortable or
shy when expressing their emotions, the therapist must be an understanding and
engaging figure to allow the unconscious thoughts of the client to successfully
emerge.

 

Psychodynamic listening, especially during
silences, allows the client to feel comfortable going at their own pace and
helps them see that the therapist is genuinely interested by the way they feel.
Silently observing the client will allow the therapist to identify vital
details which may provide explanations for the clients’ unconscious feelings. I
learnt that effective therapy will assist the client in recognizing their
subconscious thoughts and identifying how their behaviour is affected.

 

The listening workshop session also consisted of a
reflective therapy whereby we discussed our expectations of the course and what
we hoped to gain by the end of it. It was interesting to hear various
viewpoints on what was expected of the course, based on the module outline, and
to be given the opportunity to refer to my own expectations and reasons for
choosing it. Besides initially expecting this course to provide a deeper
understanding of skills used within therapy, I was hoping to enhance my
confidence and become better equipped as an aspiring counsellor with the
information learnt. Listening to a client who is a child is equally as
important because they may have struggles that an adolescent will not have,
such as difficulty expressing their emotions in a way that they can be
interpreted. The thought of such circumstances occurring made me nervous
because I was unsure about how I would deal with it, but as the course
developed I was put at ease and learnt that if this happens, a therapist must
be very patient and observe other details that emerge. Paying attention to
every detail, regardless of how minor or major they are, will contribute to
both the therapists’ and the clients’ understanding of the situation being
expressed.

I have become more of a listener in my social
relationships and I now make an active effort to focus more on what is being
said to me by my nieces and nephews. Before this module I would observe and
listen to them, however, small details I noticed were only lightly taken into
consideration. I am now more likely to be intrigued by the conversations they
have to discover how their childhood experiences and subconscious are
influencing what they say and do around me. I view their stories from a
psychodynamic perspective now as it allows me to develop a closer bond with them.
To show that I care I listen and repeat back to them what they have said to me
for clarification.

 

Play therapy

The intention of play therapy is to alleviate
stressors beyond pain or difficulty to allow healthy development to resume from
where it was disrupted by internal conflicts or external issues and trauma (Bromfield, 2003). Children develop social
roles and practice life experiences through the concept of playing with toys,
whether it is alone or when interacting with others. It creates an
understanding of who they are within their society (Newman and Newman, 2017). Roleplay contributes to their knowledge of gender
experiences relating to traditional roles, stereotypes and socio-cultural norms
(Luongo-Orlando, 2010). An example of how play therapy may be useful is if
a child has difficulty identifying their role within society, I can use it to
help them express their feelings towards societal roles and discover if subconsciously,
they have already made an internal identification yet are just struggling to communicate
it.

 

Not all children or adolescents enjoy engaging in activities of play and
in the past, I would have attributed the behavior or lack of
engagement of play to a characteristic or the
individual simply not enjoying play. Psychodynamic therapy has taught me that
when faced with such a client during therapy, it is important not to dismiss
this and to raise questions that will create an understanding of what the
underlying reasons for their attitude towards play are. I am now aware that as
a therapist, I must attempt to help the child view play as a beneficial form of
non-verbal communication that will help them verbalise any conflicting,
underlying thoughts they may have and to create a meaning behind it (Yanof, 2013).  As therapy sessions progress, the therapist
will develop a greater understanding of where this issue stems from, which will
allow them to analyse the client’s non-verbal communication further and discover
the child’s relationship to the objects available in the session. The therapist
establishes an atmosphere whereby they have a therapeutic hold on the child,
psychologically. This means that the therapist acts as a sponge, absorbing any
excitement and distress that the child cannot contain on their own (Winnicott, 1975). If a
child is upset, I can use play therapy as a calming measure to help them
release pressures they are withholding.

 

This module has taught me that the psychodynamic
theory views these interactions as deeper subconscious means of expressing
hidden thoughts and feelings (PhD,
2010). I have learnt
the importance of play therapy as it provides a safe space away from physical
and psychological harm for children and adolescents to comfortably learn about
themselves whilst the therapist learns about them too. During the play workshop,
we used our imagination and creativity to play with various items, including
play-doh, dolls and teddies. I used it to create model furniture inside a model
house which initially felt rather unusual as I had not engaged in such play
within years. I quickly became at ease, enabling me to have a relaxed, fun experience
being reconnected to my inner child again. It is important for therapists to
have this experience with play as this will allow them to somewhat relate to
their client during play sessions.

 

Art therapy

The art therapy workshop was one of the most
effective ones for me, as I enjoyed the practical aspect where we worked in pairs,
took turns drawing on a paper and analysing what that drawing may mean for the
other person. This workshop helped me view art as an unconscious process of
communication and discover the language of art, to an extent. I had never
thought of art as a way for an individual to externalise their internal state
of mind, however, the realisation of this has made me appreciate the importance
of art as an expression. Through this workshop, I learnt that repetitive or
similar themes during the drawing exercise may highlight issues within a
clients’ internal world and subconscious. If a child is showing difficulty
expressing their feelings, I would use this exercise as an ice-breaker to
encourage them to feel relaxed and comfortable in my sessions.

 

Drawing activities are a great way to build rapport
with children who are impulsive, shy or perhaps from a different culture to the
therapist (Klepsch & Logie, 1982), and it is important that as a therapist,
counter-transference does not have an impact on the interpretation of the
artwork presented. This could be a potential challenge for me as I may
unintentionally attach personal emotions to the pieces, despite these emotions
not existing within the client. To prevent this from happening and to
successfully deal with a child who is facing difficulty, I will only make
comments on the individual’s artwork rather than my perception of their state
of mind. I will also allow them to create their own interpretations of their
artwork and help them discover the reason why they have created such
interpretations for themselves. Art therapy is a physical and emotional process
between the client, the art and the therapist (Callaghan
and Gamble, 2015); I have
tried using this therapy with my young niece as a way for her to alleviate any
stressors or anxieties she may have after school and I have found it to be
useful. She is generally quiet and discussing her artwork with her has revealed
some of her inner feelings and passions that were never spoken about. This can
be used similarly within a therapy session to help a child reveal aspects of their
life that they may want to improve.

 

Conclusion

One of the greatest learning outcomes for me on
this course, which was discovered through doing role play on several occasions,
is that every therapist has their own psychodynamic counselling style and that
is fine. There is never a right or wrong answer when responding to a client, as
individual differences exist with all individuals. It is important for a
therapist to use discretion during sessions and interact accordingly, without
transferring their ‘stuff’ onto that client. Furthermore, I realized that it is
important for the therapist to remember that they are human too and must have
stable mental health in order to be able to successfully assist someone else. I
enjoyed doing role play as it gave me the opportunity to imagine what a
real-life counselling session would consist of if I was the therapy. It forced
me to put the theories learnt in class into practice and see the outcome for
myself. When I was asked to do a role play with a classmate in front of
everyone, we analysed and discussed the content of the pretend therapy session.
Receiving feedback from my peers gave me an insight into how I applied theories
we learnt in class. For example, when I played the role of a client talking to
a therapist during roleplay my peers said they noticed signs of
counter-transference from me however I would not have identified this if it was
not brought to my attention.

 

The role of a counsellor can be rewarding, however
there can be moments that it emits pressure on a therapist and if this is not
taken care of, the result can be detrimental on both individuals. This course
has highlighted the struggles that a counsellor may face, whether it is being
aware of how to deal with sensitive topics or having a client be attracted to
the therapist and vice versa. These are only two issues that could potentially
arise and this module has made me reconsider if this occupation is truly
suitable for me. A positive aspect is that it has further encouraged me to get
practical work experience within the field before forming a final decision, as
the role plays were useful but are not equivalent to the real-life experience.