I was sitting with a teenage client of mine supporting him through a tough situation at home that will likely not change in the near future.
I find one of the most frustrating things about having teens and children for clients is that as much work we do in the therapy room, their life situation usually doesn’t change much without significant parental involvement. And that doesn’t happen often.
So, I see my job with my teen clients as teaching them skills that they can use to handle their situations now in a way that supports them in healing and growing into caring and self-reflective adults.
In most cases the teen wants his outer situation to change – it won’t. He wants to move out – he can’t right now. He wants things to be different than they are – not going to happen any time soon.
Knowing this, my only leverage is with him. The leverage always exists inside of my client.
I used to ask my clients, “What’s the lesson for you here.” This sometimes leads teens to say things like, “Not to trust anyone” or “That my parents suck.” Not really the direction I’m wanting to guide them in.
So instead, I recently asked one of my teen clients, “How can you use this situation to make you a better person?”
(I use the phrase “better person” here intentionally. Some people reading this won’t like the word “better” because it may imply that this teen is not fine the way he is now. I believe we all seek to improve ourselves in some way, and I want him to see clearly that he has choices to lead a life full of positive possibilities if he wants. He has a choice. I want him to know that he can take this really crappy situation and learn something useful from it.
He stared at me and didn’t know what to say. There was no room for him to be dismissive about what I’ve asked, and my question prevents us from going into a negative spiral that isn’t supportive to healing.
I know how I’d answer this question for him. I see all kinds of ways that he can use what he’s going through to learn, grow, and heal himself. But I stay quiet.
He responds after thinking about this for a long while, and we proceed to have a very rich and meaningful conversation about his responsibility for his life and his feelings.
How can you use this situation to make you a better person?
A variation on this question is “What can you learn from this situation to make you a better person?”
Going forward, whatever happens in my life, I’m going to ask this question of myself and move ahead with healing.
This is my challenge for you as well.