I heard a quote from Garry Landreth recently that spoke volumes to me: “Children are not free to change until they are safe enough not to change.” A vital part of the therapeutic relationship is accepting children exactly as they are. This feels counterintuitive sometimes: children are referred to us specifically because someone thinks they need to change. But the more I’m able to approach children with understanding, empathy and a non-judgmental attitude, the more that will benefit the child and our relationship. And I know I don’t do this perfectly by any means - I can get frustrated at times when I see a kid who was progressing take a giant step back. But I continue to put my trust in the therapeutic process and relationship.
A lot of times we feel pressure to “fix” kids and to do so quickly, whether this comes from our own internal pressure or other adults in the child’s life. And I know I have definitely been in situations where I’ve become frustrated by the lack of progress that a child is making. But there are a few truths that I like to remind myself of when I am feeling this way:
- The problem/concern that the child is struggling with probably didn’t occur overnight and it’s not likely to go away that quickly either.
- Many of the children we work with have been betrayed/hurt by adults in their lives who they have trusted.Why should I assume that this child will quickly trust me, especially with sharing their innermost fears and experiences?
- Change happens in different ways and looks very different in every client.A lot of times if I stand back and look at a client’s situation more objectively I am able to see more clearly where progress is happening.
The therapeutic relationship and the trust clients put in us is truly a gift. Sometimes the relationship is moving right along in a few sessions. Other times it has taken months for me to get to the point with a client where they can be vulnerable, real and open to change. All of these clients I treasure.
If you want to dig more into this topic, I suggest reading Garry Landreth’s Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship. I also highly recommend having a good clinical supervisor so you can process your own therapeutic relationships.