Building a collaborative relationship with a young person is in a sense the purpose of engaging. To do so it is essential to work from where the young person is at and understand that they often come to services with preconceptions that influence their willingness to engage. These preconceptions are shaped by their previous experience with services (including your own), other practitioners and their beliefs about what it means to be a client.
Most clients of youth AOD services, particularly those who are younger tend to be strongly invested in the notion that for them, using substances is an active choice over which they are able to maintain control (Guttierrez & Palacios, 2004). This has proven to be the case even when AOD use is closely connected with highly problematic life experiences (Rosenthal et al, 2008). This means that for some young people, needing help from a youth AOD service is experienced as a “...humiliating evidence of failure in self-management” (Room, 2005 p151). It is unsurprising then that young people who most often become clients of youth AOD services tend prioritise being listened to and understood as well as the feeling that they have some control over the therapeutic process.
As such, the therapeutic practice elements below all suggest an approach that is egalitarian, where practitioners position themselves as helpers rather than experts.
Harsh exclusion policies for disruptive behaviour (Busen & Engebretson, 2008), and focusing too much on the past and assigning blame (Arnold &Rotherham-Borus, 2009) work against the formation of collaborative relationships. The consequences set for clients who transgress boundaries or break rules should be designed to build their capacity to better understand and learn to live within those boundaries and others they may encounter in the future.
Joining is the term used in solutions focused therapy (SFT) to describe the process by which practitioners and clients form respectful, cooperative working relationships. Practitioners adopt an egalitarian stance and position themselves as helpers rather than experts. Joining involves matching the language and interviewing style to suit the client.
B2. Collaborating with the client
A collaborative approach underscores all SFT and is particularly client focused. Young people are likely to appreciate practitioners putting aside expert knowledge and professional views to focus on eliciting information, ideas and suggestions from clients and always being prepared to learn from what has been said or not been said. Practitioners constantly ‘check in’ to ensure that the agreed work is aligned to the expectations and goals of clients.
E2. Hearing the client’s story
Young people are particularly sensitive to being misinterpreted and unfairly judged. This element from narrative therapy, if applied by practitioners will to demonstrate to clients a genuine commitment to understanding their point of view.
Some young people engage in substance use and other behaviours that are considered harmful and self destructive as a way of dealing with distress and overwhelming emotions. These young people often meet social disapproval and at times feel shame and guilt. Ironically, this tends to reduce the motivation of such young people to find more constructive ways to manage painful underlying issues. Practitioners using this element communicate their acceptance of the client but not necessarily what they are doing. Validation promotes the possibility of engaging, providing reinforcement and modelling self validation for clients.