Mark, a 15-year-old teenage boy came to see me as he suffered from a lack of confidence in many areas in his life. At his first appointment, he entered the room with his mother, Julia, following behind him. With a sense of subtle urgency, he greeted me with a small smile without looking at me much in the eyes and fell into one of the sofa seats. After a short introduction about how therapy works, we discussed about the aim of therapy. The reason Mark and Julia have come to therapy was to address Mark’s lack of confidence and his anxiety. Then it was time to speak to them separately.
Mark looked at me from the corner of his eyes, as though examining and deciding if he should tell me something. I smiled and brought out a set of mini people figurines, and told him that I would like to hear his story and that he is free to tell me anything. Mark moved quickly and purposefully towards the small table in front of him, first picking out characters and explaining the reason for picking a certain colour to represent each family member, then moving them around to depict the emotional distance they had from one another as he related his story.
At the end of that, he looked satisfied with the story he had just told me, and shortly after, downcast and worried. He told me not to tell his parents the story, because he did not want them to know and be unhappy. I wondered aloud, if anything would change for him if his parents knew his story, as told by him, and if he felt they might react differently, with understanding instead of disdain. He looked at me with sad eyes and said quietly, “they don’t listen, they aren’t interested in my story”. I thanked him for his bravery in telling his story, and invited Julia in for a quick chat to understand her side of the story – and I did not tell her what Mark had told me.
Many parents bring their children into therapy hoping for something to change, some with expectations for the therapist to work some magic with the children, or to give them strategies to deal with their misbehaviour. A therapist can help parents and children with learning strategies, but a therapist cannot take the place of a parent audience. Even for yourself, have you ever notice that you feel more motivated and tended to try harder when someone is cheering for you? What more a child who needs support? They are craving for an audience from their parents, such as yourself, and you are the ones they really need.
Your therapist can help you increase your confidence of being a parent and reconnect you with your child so that you can both enjoy being a family again. The idea is to find a better way of relating to your child, such that your child feels heard, valued and loved, and thereafter, be able to feel confident to cope with and face the challenges in life. The best way to build confidence is to have someone believe in you, cheer for you, and be an audience to your life and growth.
Joyce Ong, Clinical Psychologist Registrar