Therapy and Children
This was written as part of my paper "The good enough Teacher", for the Dutch Institute of Gestalt. It is a paper on implementing Gestalt therapy principles when working with children as an educator.
A child will never ‘listen’ to you, if they don’t have a relationship with you. Therefore, assuming authority and setting boundaries becomes impossible; that is when many educators and parents resort to guilt and shaming as a means to make a child “behave”, with disastrous effects on the relationship.
In Gestalt therapy, building on the relationship is directly related to making contact. In reality, making contact is constant.
Therein lies the equality- the adult can preserve authority thus providing safety, but organizes the ground for true growth by not assuming a position of power. What is fascinating when working with children is that they are much more open to a dialogical relationship than most adults. They have less introjections than adults (simply because they have had less time), so they react to the environment in a more intuitive way. They will let you know what they need, what they like and what they don’t; they are less retroflective and more reactive.
Adults need to be in control in order to alleviate the weight of feeling powerless in the face of being responsible for a human being. In its essence this is no different than a therapist hiding behind his all-knowing mask, for fear of failing; A Gestalt therapist has the tools to accept the powerlessness through awareness and trust in the relationship and in the process.
“I am as authentic as I know how to be-I am myself. I do not use a teacher voice or a patronizing voice. I will not manipulate or judge. Although I am perpetually optimistic regarding the healthy potential of the child I meet in my office, I will not place expectations on her. I will accept her as she is. I will respect her rhythm and will attempt to join her in that rhythm; I will be present and contactful. In this way our relationship flourishes.” (Oaklander, 1997)
Children provide us with infinite possibilities; playing, drawing, hugging, holding hands, singing… Really an infinite number of things that one can do with a child to truly connect. “Far more than just the frivolous, light-hearted, pleasurable activity that adults usually make of it, play also serves as a language for children - a symbolism that substitutes for words. Children experience much in life they find difficult to express in language, and so they use play to formulate and assimilate what they experience.” (Oaklander, 2001)