Bringing the Young Person’s voice into Therapy

Whilst a significant proportion of research has been done about the relationship between therapist and client, most of this has focussed on adults. Considerably less is known about the relationship between therapist and child (Baylis, Collins and Coleman, 2011). Establishing a rapport between a young person and therapist is as critical to positive outcomes as it is with adults, especially as children are often involuntary participants in the process. Lund, Zimmerman and Haddock (2002) note that the voice of the young person is often lost in the therapeutic process, despite the fact that they may take the role of symptom bearer, desperately calling attention to the families needs.

Willis, Haslam and Bermudez (2016) reflect that when all family members are asked for their opinion, the presenting problem comes to be viewed more as a family problem, requiring the input of everyone to find a solution. They note that it is common for parents and sometimes siblings to view the troubled child as ‘bad’ or ‘crazy’, and that including children in therapy can result in a more positive message about the worth of that child within the family, and lower distress for the ‘problem’ child. So why is it so hard to include young children in the process?

Many practitioners have little or no training in working with children in the therapeutic process, resulting in a lack of confidence in their capacity to effectively engage.  Appropriate non-verbal techniques may involve use of materials that seem too elaborate for most settings. The question of presenting problems best suited to the inclusion of young people is often a dilemma, as is the skill required to conduct therapy with all members of the family. Finding experienced therapists to directly train others in the inclusion of young people in therapy is also problematic as these practitioners are often in high demand with heavy caseloads involving families with complex needs.

Catherine Sanders and Michelle Banks are two senior practitioners who offer their expertise in a full day workshop in November at Bower Place, entitled ‘Bringing the Young Person’s Voice into Therapy’. This workshop will enable those attending to explore ways in which the voice of children and young people can be engaged in the therapeutic process. Participants will gain an understanding of the process of including children in therapy and ways to engage meaningfully with younger members of the family.


Baylis, P., Collins, D., and Coleman, H. (2011). Child Alliance Process Theory: A Qualitative Study of a Child Centred Therapeutic Alliance. Journal of Child Adolescent Social Work 28: 79-95.

Lund, L.K., Zimmerman, T.S., and Haddock, S.A (2002). The Theory, Structure and Techniques for the Inclusion of Children in Family Therapy: A Literature review. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy: 28, 4, 445-454.

Willis, A., Haslam, D. and Bermudez, J.M. (2016). Harnessing the Power of Play in Emotionally Focused Family Therapy with Preschool Children. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 42 (4), 673-687.