“I took my child to a counselor and was told after one visit that there was nothing wrong with him. I was totally frustrated about the whole thing. Why would a counselor say this?”
First of all, most difficult and challenging youngsters are sharp enough to know when, where, and how to use their “Sunday behavior.” They can turn on the charm and make everything look like there’s no problem at all, or that it’s everyone else’s fault. They are good at it. (“Sunday behavior” is not entirely a bad skill, but it can be used in self-serving ways that can put off intervention.)
Secondly, this professional is not a component of the compliance problem; the counselor or therapist doesn’t have to raise or teach the child. To a good and experienced counselor, this “distance” from the issues can be an advantage. It provides them with a platform from which to interpret to the youngster what is happening in the parent/child or teacher/student relationships. From this platform the counselor can suggest and encourage things the youngster can do to change negative outcomes and consequences. (This is the essence of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).
Confrontation Comes Eventually
There comes a point, however, when a counselor or therapist must confront the behavior of the defiant youngster. This is best done with tangible and objective “proof,” such as report cards or discipline referrals. The point is not for the counselor to beat the youngster up with the facts, but rather to break through any attempts to minimize or deny issues and problems. After all, by the time parents search out a counselor or a therapist, things are pretty dicey anyway. Problems are there or they wouldn’t be in the counselor’s office.
It would also be helpful for a parent and counselor to agree upon three sessions or so before a decision is made about terminating counseling. By then, issues usually land on the plate.
A nationally recognized child and adolescent psychologist, author and speaker, Dr. James Sutton is in demand for his expertise on emotionally and behaviorally troubled youngsters, and his skill for sharing it. He the founder and host of The Changing Behavior Network, a popular internet radio program supporting young people and their families, and every month he publishes The Changing Behavior Digest, offering tips on managing difficult children and teens. Both resources (and others) are available at no cost through his website.