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Playing for Trust

In my role as a marriage and family therapist (LMFT) I work with a large number of teenagers to help them with the struggles of growing up and becoming their own person. If you are a parent of a teenager, you know first-hand the difficulties of that time from your life. You want to help your teenager meet those life challenges without the distress they can bring with them. But do you understand the current challenges they face each and every day? Social media and constant availability of mobile communications have created an atmosphere of pressure that we did not have in our time.

The common denominator of most teenagers I see is that they don't want to be in therapy. That says it mildly. In most cases they fight the idea of therapy and talking with a "stranger" with all their might. Let's face it, teenagers are not the best communicators whether with their peers, their parents, or with adults in general. They aren't typically in a therapists' office because they want to be there. They are often brought (dragged) to a therapist by a parent against their will -- not to say that your intentions are not good. They absolutely are good and well meaning and your instincts are right.

My first job as a therapist is to get a teenager to open up. This requires developing a sense of trust between myself and your teenager. I won't pretend this is an easy task. It takes time. And it takes techniques that will break through their thick vaneer of self-protection. My approach is not rocket science. I usually start with the basics. I let them know they are safe. I let them know that anything they say is between the two of us. This may be hard for parents who want to know all the details of our sessions, but it's an absolutely necessary foundation to build upon.

Next, and this is the key, I get them to feel at ease by playing games. Since they have to spend the time with me, we may as well do something non-threatening. I have a lot of games for all ages. We may play Yatzee. Or, my favorite, Rummie 500. We play games they want, and I have a lot in my arsenal. It usually only takes a few sessions like this before they are the ones that ask me why I am not asking questions about their problems. Bingo! It is like a damm of thought, concerns and emotions break through. So, don't worry that we're not making faster progress. It's a work in progress. We're simply playing for trust.

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