This applies to both adults and children. Respect is really important.
Some of what this means is:
Understand that people who need therapy are going to have trouble with it sometimes:
- People who have therapy have it because some things are hard for them. This is normal and should be expected in a therapy context.
- Being in therapy doesn’t make things easy. It just means someone is getting help learning something
- Expect that it’s going to be hard for the person you’re teaching to learn the things you are teaching them
- And sometimes they will have trouble in ways you didn’t anticipate
- When they are having more trouble than you expect, don’t get angry
- And don’t make fun of them
- And don’t accuse them of being lazy or wasting your time
- And especially, don’t tell them that if they’d just *try*, they’d be able to do it
- Help them find a way to figure out how to do the thing.
- This means sometimes you might have to spend an hour or hours searching for a way to successfully explain something you think of as simple or obvious
- This is part of your job. You’re there to help people figure out how to do things, and sometimes that’s hard.
- It’s not ok to get angry at or frustrated with someone when they’re having trouble understanding something. If you’re feeling that way, it’s your problem and not theirs, and you need to find help dealing with it.
- Treat people with consistent respect. That makes a huge difference.
Respect your client’s priorities:
- Adults in therapy get to decide which things they want to work on
- If they want help with one thing, and you think something else would be more helpful, it’s their call and not yours
- It’s ok to tell them what you’d advise and why
- It’s not ok to coerce them into doing what you want
- It’s also not ok to treat them as less-than-human or unworthy of help if their priorities are different from yours
- For instance, someone might care about reducing pain but not especially care about walking
- Or someone might care about nutrition for cognitive functioning but not especially care about weight loss
- And they get to decide that
Kids in therapy also have agency
- Kids don’t get to decide everything the way adults do, but what they want still matters
- It’s important to acknowledge that they have opinions and priorities
- And it’s important to listen seriously. Sometimes they know something you don’t, and sometimes listening will change your opinion of what they should be doing in therapy
- And sometimes, their opinions and priorities should be respected even if you think they are making a mistake
- This is especially true of teenagers
- Don’t equate kids with their parents. Sometimes kids and parents disagree. Listening to the parents isn’t enough
- Do listen to the parents, though. They probably know relevant things about your child that you don’t know. Not always, but usually.