Counselling Dilemma: Parenting Decisions
James is a 13 year old teenager in Grade 7 at school. His parents have recently divorced and share custody of James. His father Brett has noticed a shift in James’s behaviour over the last few weeks. During conversations, James is abrupt, curt and tries to avoid conversation. Most recently, James’s English teacher at school requested a parent-teacher interview because James has been caught lying about why his homework wasn’t completed. When his father (Brett) asks James about it, he just says: “Mum knows about it, so why should I talk to you about it?” When asked about why he has responded that way, James ignores his father and storms into his room. James’s father (Brett) has spoken James’s mother (Doreen) recommending James speak with a professional counsellor.
Doreen disagrees and believes that he’s just going through a stage and that it’s more likely due to his father’s poor parenting skills. James parents both have opposing views on the subject. James’s Dad (Brett) decides to take action without Doreen’s knowledge and books an appointment for James to see a therapist.
As the counsellor in this scenario, what would you do next? What ethical and legal issues would you consider?
Predominantly James (son) is the priority here with his Father (Brett) having observed notable changes in his son’s behaviour, particularly following their recent divorce. This is echoed by concerns raised at school also.
However being a minor, it warrants parental consent and although he has that through his father, with the joint custody arrangements & his mother’s (Doreen) reluctance for her son to have counselling, it will be helpful to explore this further with Brett as the sessions unfold. It would also depend on what conditions exist (if any) in the custody order about specific decisions affecting their son requiring joint agreement by both parents.
It will also be worth exploring this with James to unpack what is going on for him, what his views are about all this with his parents & his dad’s concern for him. Being careful to affirm, validate & support him throughout this process, building trust initially to provide a safe space for him to be heard & give him a voice. There may be some helpful strategies & skills he can also learn through the sessions to help him better deal with things.
However there is much benefit to be gained through counselling with Brett, either individually or with his son, to explore the dynamics of their father/son relationship & connection perhaps. Equipping him with strategies, information, and new skills could be empowering for Brett, James & all involved.
It could also be beneficial for James to attend some sessions however it will be necessary to assess his level of willingness & engagement with the process. Another consideration could be a referral or finding suitable support options for James that are more relevant or suited to his age to encourage & support him through the challenges he is facing.
To begin with, it would important to build rapport with James and to communicate unconditional positive regard, empathy and congruence, to enable James to feel accepted, understood and that he can trust you enough to tell his current story.
Once the therapeutic relationship had been developed, it would be important to encourage James to clarify how he feels about seeing ‘a counsellor’, his views on why he thinks his father has bought him along and what he sees as being the major stresses in his life.
Through the use of the solution focused technique of the miracle question, James could begin to focus on a more positive future and how he might be able to achieve this. The scaling questions could enable him to assess where he is currently at in terms of his feelings about his current situation. Follow up questions could enable him to consider small steps he could take, in order to reduce some of these stresses. This may allow him to feel he has some control over his life and to realise that there are solutions to his problems.
It would be important to address his issue of lying about his homework, and to discuss with him what he sees as a resolution to this, such as him and his parents meeting with his teacher to discuss why he is struggling with it and what a solution could be.
Before the session ended, it would important to encourage James to identify supports for himself and to check if he would find it helpful to include the school counsellor as a support. Based on the outcome of his solutions to his problems, if it were to have his parents communicate with each other in a more positive way, it would be important to let him know you could request they both come along to discuss this, in a future session.
Finally, you would need to provide feedback to James’ father in regards to possible further sessions, a meeting with James’ mother and his teacher and a possible meeting with yourself. You would also need to gain permission to share information with the school counsellor.
Parents have the right to seek counselling for children when they separate with their spouse. This is quiet common and a healthy thing for children experiencing parental separation.
Legal issues to consider: Is there a legally binding agreement that counselling is not to occur.
Ethical issues to consider: Section 3.8 c) of the ACA code of ethics: The counsellor has a responsibility to ensure that the client is given a free choice whether or not to participate in counselling. Reasonable steps should be taken in the course of the counselling relationship to ensure that the client is given an opportunity to review the counselling.
If no previously mentioned legal or ethical issues are identified then you would work with the unique individual and the unique set of circumstances in which they present.
A client should enter a counselling relationship on voluntary basis and as a result of having made a deliberate choice to do so. James is 13 years old and capable of Making this decision.If he is not willing to be counseled, then the counselor has no mandate to enter a counselling contract with the father on his behalf.
As a counsellor, I would primarily focus on ensuring that
1) Brett and Doreen have had enough discussions/agreements (amongst themselves and the counsellor) with regards to being able to liaise with one another regarding James emotional needs post divorce.
Obviously, he needs constant reassurance that divorce does not affect his parents affection towards him so that he can get rid of any fear or guilt arising from the same.
2) Following above, counsellor can then work with James( with his consent) to make sure has clarity as to how things have/would change with divorce and if he has any concerns with the situation or can even be something unrelated.
3) A joint counselling session with the entire family can then happen to ensure a transparent scheme of things.
In case James is not willing to enter counselling contract, its still worth considering parents counselling, focussing on James behaviour and equipping them with tools/suggestions to tackle problems on personal level. The idea is to establish sound communication amongst parents so that James does not struggle with day to day tasks. This is most vital as James might not have clarity as to whom to talk to regarding his problems.
Welcoming james. Establishing the nature of counselling what is the reason for counselling according to him and explaining james about the confidentiality and general explanation of what the counsellor will do and will not do in the counselling. Asking brief introduction about james his interest and hobbies. Discussion about his likes generally for some to make him comfortable.
Play therapy is introduced. Colours, clay, toys are given and engage the client in playing to explore the problem. Exploring his attachment with his parents . Role of his friends, role of the teacher in his life.
Identifying what he lacks in his life.(Maslow needs are to be considered). His parents are separated.(belongingness) Identifying whom he is attached to. Identifying his anger. The reason for his behaviour. Exploring What he likes to be. What he wants in his life. Challenging james to get alternative view of his life . Exploring his role in his life. planning strategies according to what he wants in his life.
Separate session for parents and teacher.
As a counselor, would suggest family therapy for them. On the other hand, it is very ethical for parents to bring their children for therapy. In this case, I will welcome them to determine the issue and whether James may yield to counseling.