Child Focused Therapy
Children may have to adapt to many life cycle changes such as moving from primary to secondary school, family break up, illness or bereavement of a family member. They might struggle with their sense of self, their peer relationships, and how to manage anxiety, worries and anger. In particular adoptive children are likely to have missed crucial developmental stages, at physiological, neurological, emotional, psychological level, therefore they are on a ‘catch up journey’. Through developing new attachments an adoptive child can slowly develop a new sense of self as loved and worth caring for. For a child or teenager, this journey can be a painful process which requires tireless responsive, soothing, empathic parenting to repair emotional and psychological wounds from the past and develop new neural pathways in the brain.
Growth and development for adoptive children are not linear, as parents might expect, but can often feel like ‘two steps forward, three steps backwards’ as the past may unexpectedly be triggered, causing distress and outrage which are overwhelming for the child and may cause the parents difficulty in managing and empathising. Children will often experience a loss of connection with parents and the world and withdraw. Parents themselves are likely to feel blamed, hurt, and guilty for not being able to communicate their love and may feel unable to reach out to the child.
The aim of the child-focused work is to provide a space where the child can express their negative feelings in a healthy and safe way so that the parents can empathize and reach out to the child’s distress, and the child can be comforted rather than retreating into self-blame, shame and self-reliance. Through this containing approach the child can learn to trust, allowing caring adults to comfort and receive their love, which in turn will help children to develop a different self-narrative e.g. I am loved even when I am naughty, I can feel safe and I can trust the adults around me.
My approach is flexible as it could be a combination of parenting sessions and parent/child sessions, with parents becoming witnesses and active participants of the child-focused work. Sometimes I see teenagers on their own. This will be tailor-made to address more specific issues and could include the following focus:
- Self-Esteem work – child-focused intervention on developing positive relationships to validate children’s strengths and qualities.
- Identity development work – for teenagers to explore the meaning of being adopted, identify the different parts of themselves towards a more integrated sense of identity and belonging.
- The Bag of Worries – child-focused intervention helping children to feel safe in sharing their worries and receive reassurance and comfort from parents and other adults.
- Anger and Other Emotions – child-focused intervention helping children to identify feelings in their body and express them safely with parents and other adults, given that emotions are relational.
- The Suitcase Kid – child-focused intervention supporting children and parents through family breakdown, parental separation and family transitions.
If children can experience a comforting and safe adult presence this will act as a container of negative feelings and unspoken worries. This demanding process will teach the child emotional self-regulation e.g. a way of managing overwhelming feelings rather than trying to control people and the environment around them to avoid negative feelings and anxiety. This in turn will give them a sense of safety and security, not only within themselves but also within family relationships and will equip them to develop more positive peer and adult relationships.