Why Do Some Therapists Find it Easier to Relate to Children?
Whenever I meet Counselors who are reluctant about therapy with adult clients…I get very curious. Why do some find it easier to relate to children? I recognize that the nurturing and protective instincts play a part. In fact, that is exactly why some of us do not want to work with kids. Some counselors are concerned about how to keep good boundaries with children. Some are concerned that they will want to save the kids from their foster homes, group homes, parents, grandparents and even their failing schools or unsafe communities.
I understand those counselors…the ones who know that they will have to work hard to maintain an effective boundary. To me, their eyes are wide open. They recognize the vulnerability of children and that witnessing the pain of children will tug at their heartstrings.
I know that those counselors – if they did choose to work with kids – would be fine. They may need some support with maintaining healthy boundaries…but they will be okay.
What concerns me are those who are hesitant to work with adults. After all, adults are children who survived childhood and have lived long enough to see their adult years. Do they become less valuable somehow when they cross that threshold into adulthood?
How Do You Feel About Being an Adult?
When we are children “it” is someone else’s responsibility and by “it” I mean: everything. Adults are responsible for children. They are responsible for safety, feeding, clothing, housing, education, consoling, values, character, entertainment and so on. Children are shaped by adults, by environment, by community, and by culture…most of all they are shaped by family and those caregivers that surround them.
When we become adults we are responsible for our own safety, feeding, clothing, housing, education, consolation, values, character, entertainment and so on… It is my firm belief that some of us resent the responsibility of being adults!
There are lots of jokes out there about “adulting.” About how people are tired of being an “adult.” Being an adult involves numerous responsibilities. It is natural that sometimes we want a break from it. The upside is that being an adult is very empowering. Adults get to direct their lives. Our choices are not hindered by needing approval from others. Even though some adults behave as if they are beholden to someone else’s expectations…they are not.
Being beholden to others (via relationships) is a choice we make. Part of adulthood is standing by those choices or not. Part of “adulting” is honoring and acknowledging one’s responsibilities (being a parent, for example). Responsibility is the hallmark of adulthood. This is why adolescents are told “It’s time to grow up.” When, in fact, we really mean “It’s time to be more responsible.”
Some of us cross that threshold into adulthood and look around and wonder “How did I get here?” We still feel young and as if life has just begun. We learn to take responsibility and/or take some hard knocks when we don’t. We look around at other adults and we either see ourselves in them or we see them as “doing it all wrong.”
Guess which stance is a more empathetic stance for counselors? That’s right – we must see ourselves in them. The truth is some of us don’t want to work with adults because we resent adulthood. We are working hard at “adulting” effectively and we lack empathy for those who aren’t “doing it right.”
Developing Empathy and Patience for Adult Clients
I think that we have to uncover our empathy for adult clients. I think that the way that we can uncover that empathy is by exploring our own relationship to being an adult.
- What do you wish you were taught about life when you were younger…to have made a better transition to adulthood?
- Are you fulfilled in your life as an adult? What did you think your life would be like and how is it really?
- How do you feel about nurturing an adult? Because at its core, therapy is a nurturing relationship.
- What do you need to accept about your own life and your own challenges?
- How do you feel about your ability to demonstrate wisdom and worthiness of another adult’s trust?
- Do you have relationships that nurture you and how do you benefit from that? If not, why not?
I consider these topics to be reflective questions for those struggling with empathy or interest in adult clients. They are a follow up to the fundamental question “How do you feel about being an adult?”
Empathy for Human Beings
I think as supervisors, therapists and human beings we have to maintain empathy for human beings. Increasingly, people are proud to express their love and heart connection to their pets and other animals…while proudly identifying as preferring animals to people. They will state that animals are less complicated and that dogs, for example “love unconditionally.” I have long viewed this behavior and those stances as an offshoot of the love we may have – or hope to have – received as children. Love that is unconditional…love that requires little of us in return. I am not saying that people shouldn’t love their pets or that certain pets aren’t great companions. In fact, pets can and do actually support our health and well-being.
What I am saying is that it doesn’t impress me when you can love and relate to animals but not love or relate to people. In some cases, people retreat into a world of pet hoarding…while keeping people (i.e “self”) increasingly at a distance. It does not have to be mutually exclusive. We can relate to and love animals as well as humans.
In the same manner, we can have empathy and regard for children as well as adults. Make no mistake about it: a rejection of adults is a rejection of the “self.” You are deserving of a listening ear. You deserve to be cared about and treated as if your concerns matter. This is a prerequisite of what we provide for our adult clients, whether they are parents of children or if we opt to treat adults as part of our primary treatment population.
Make peace with being an adult and unleash the potential for fulfillment in your life. If the answer to the question “How do you feel about being an adult?” yielded an answer that suggests unhappiness…remember that, as an adult, you have many choices and the empowerment to change the trajectory of your life. Do you think adults are set in stone and hard to help? Prove yourself wrong by helping yourself and/or seeking help from others.
Copyright © 2016 Ruby Blow. All rights reserved.