Emily Sampson, LGPC, RYT, has been providing direct and clinical services to children and adolescents since 2010. After growing up in southeast Asia, she studied Clinical Psychology in Chicago and began providing therapy to survivors of domestic violence and trafficking. She has supported individuals and families who have experienced a variety of traumas, depression, anxiety, grief & loss, transitions and intersecting identities. During her career, she also facilitated psychoeducational support groups for adolescents and children in a variety of settings including psychiatric hospitals, juvenile detentions and group homes. Much of her work centered on families who experienced separations and transitions through being a part of the foster care system. As a therapist, Emily believes in an integrative approach and is a certified trauma sensitive yoga teacher and has found that mindfulness can be a helpful part of the healing process. Most of all, Emily values supporting clients to discover their own strengths and build up their self-worth and self-love through empathy, hope and curiosity.
Emily was spotlighted in C.A.S.E.’s E-newsletter. She shares her advice on encouraging teens to participate in therapy.
Q: Emily, how do you engage teens who are resistant to coming for therapy?
A: This is such an important question! It is not uncommon for adolescents to experience anxiety, mistrust and refusal in response to their parents’ attempt to bring them in for an initial session. Adolescents who have had multiple previous therapists may feel especially wary of seeing yet another therapist especially if the teen felt these experiences were either unhelpful, negative or both.
It is therefore vital that therapists work to set the frame for therapy and give the adolescent some sense of agency over the therapeutic process. I like to encourage teens to be open about why they don’t want to be in therapy and give them a chance to express what their concerns are about therapy. If they’ve been in therapy before, I invite them to share their thoughts and feelings about these previous experiences.
As therapists, it is important to convey the message to teens that it makes sense that they might not trust us right away and that we appreciate and respect their boundaries. As adoption competent clinicians, we know how difficult building safety and trust can be for some of our teenagers, especially those with histories of trauma. We can remind them that they have control over when and what they want to share in sessions.
One of the most important pieces of the process of building a therapeutic relationship with teens is showing a genuine interest in and acceptance of them, which includes all the thoughts and feelings they may share. Respecting their perspective of their strengths and challenges is key here! The therapist’s caring can often cut right through defiance and hostility. Overall, I attempt to build a mutual relationship of support and provide teens with a sense of hope that things can change for the better.
Resistance can occur at any point in therapy as teens confront painful memories, thoughts and feelings. It is important that the teens know that is acceptable as they work through their fears and worries. I always let my teens know how much I appreciate all that I have learned about them from their sessions and how I look forward to seeing them again.