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How I work with young people & parents

I am passionate about family centred practice; I aim to strengthen relationships between young people and their families. I know that bringing a young person to therapy can be nerve wracking, and the below information is designed to demystify how I involve parents* in therapy. 

*when I use “parents” I am including carers and guardians

Why I involve parents in therapy

As their primary caregiver/s, you are the most important person in your young person’s life. As a therapist, I want to equip you with the understanding and strategies to support your young person and foster a strong, positive relationship. You spend more time with your young person and will be in their life much longer than any therapist, so I make it a priority to include you in therapy as much as possible.
Research in neurobiology and attachment has shown the importance of the parenting relationship for helping young people build great relationships and emotional regulation skills. Research also shows that parent involvement in therapy has long term benefits for young people, and improves therapy outcomes.

Why I involve parents


In the first session, I will explain confidentiality in therapy to you and your young person. I must keep what your young person shares with me private, and not share this information with any other people, including you (parents), unless I have your young person’s permission.  This privacy, also called confidentiality, is very important because it helps your young person feel more comfortable and have more trust in me as their therapist.


However, there are some important exceptions to this rule. If your young person is involved in a court case and a formal request (a subpoena) is made which requires me to share information then I may have to, even without your young person’s consent.  Also, if I believe that your young person is at serious risk of harming themselves or another person, or if someone else is harming your young person, then I must take steps to protect them. This means that I may have to share what your young person has told them with other people, such as you (their parent/s), or the relevant authorities (eg., police, child protection), with or without your young person’s consent. If any of these situations do come up and I must share your young person’s information, then I will first talk to the young person about who I need to share the information with, what they need to tell them, and why. 


It is common for parents to worry that confidentiality will mean that they will be excluded from their young person’s therapy, and wonder “how are we supposed to help if we don’t know what they’re talking about in therapy?”. Right from the beginning of therapy, I will work with your young person to understand the challenges/difficulties that have brought them to therapy, and explore ways to involve you as parents. While many young people are reluctant to share certain information or worries with their parents, one of my most important roles as a therapist is to encourage and support young people to express how they’re feeling and ask for what they need from you as parents. 


Attending with your young person


The first session

If your young person is under 18, I strongly recommend parent/s attend the first appointment. The set up of the session will be tailored to you and your young person to be responsive to your needs and comfort. 


When I greet you in the waiting room at the time of the session, I will offer options for how the session can be structured. For example, some young people want a parent in for the whole first session, others for the first 15 minutes, and others for the last 10-15 minutes. 


Parents are often keen to speak to me before their young person, and there are cases where I will opt to speak to your young person first if this is their preference. Rest assured I value your input and will make time to speak with you. Remember, I am working on building a relationship with them from the very first session, and the therapeutic relationship is the one of the most important factors in how beneficial therapy is. 

Throughout therapy

At the start of each session, I will check in with you and your young person to discuss who will be joining the session and for how long. Often I will recommend that parent/s join for some of the session, either at the beginning or end (or sometimes both!). This is when I will update you on how therapy is progressing, provide suggestions/strategies, and give you the opportunity to provide information and feedback, and ask questions.


As therapy progresses, it is common for there to be sessions in which your young person is seen alone. This can be for a variety of reasons, for example the session has been focussed on teaching your young person a new skill/strategy. If you’re ever unsure about the frequency of sessions/your involvement, let me know - I want to make sure you feel supported and engaged in your young person’s care!

Attending with your young person

Parent-only sessions

You can request to schedule a parent-only session with me at any time, and this may also be suggested by me. Although they aren’t present during parent only sessions, your young person is still the client and as such I will inform your young person of any contact (i.e. phone calls, sessions, emails) I have with you. I will also give your young person a summary of what was discussed, for example “your parents talked to me about how it’s been hard for you to get to school, and mentioned you’ve had some issues with friends recently. They also asked for some advice about how they can support you, and I asked them some questions about your development”.  I will also speak to you about how you could approach speaking with your young person about parent sessions (if you haven't already).

At the beginning of therapy

There are a number of reasons why parents may opt to have a parent-only session before bringing their young person to therapy. Having a parent-only session first gives you the opportunity to discuss your thoughts/concerns with me in detail, provide a thorough developmental history, receive support and guidance regarding how you prepare your young person for coming to therapy, other support services they may be eligible for, and general parenting strategies. 


If your young person engages in therapy after the parent session, I will be open in telling them that a parent session took place, and will give them a summary of what was discussed (as noted above).

Throughout therapy

There will likely be times when a parent only session is necessary or beneficial, including but not limited to:

  • Supporting separated parents - e.g. discussing coparenting and managing transitions/changes between households

  • Specific and recurring conflict/challenge/s experienced by young person - discussing in detail and offering strategies/tools/resources 

  • Discussing recommendations for further assessment or supports - e.g. assessment for Autism, ADHD etc

  • General parenting support - e.g. setting and maintaining developmentally appropriate boundaries, managing conflict, how to respond/support if your young person is distressed

Parent-only sessions

Can I communicate with my young person’s therapist without my young person knowing?

Sometimes parents want to give me information, but don’t want their young person to know the information has been shared. This often comes up when parents aren’t sure how to talk to their young person about something or are worried it will lead to an argument.


While this is understandable, receiving information in this way prevents me (the therapist) from being able to act on or use this information in therapy with your young person. It can also undermine the trust between you and your young person, and your young person and me.


I can help you to discuss the issue/information openly with your young person in a therapy session. I can scaffold the discussion to support you and your young person, and offer ideas and suggestions for how you might resolve the issue or move forwards. 


While it may sound daunting, this can give you and your young person a more positive experience of having a tough conversation; bringing these discussions to therapy can actually strengthen your relationship.

I’m worried my young person isn’t telling their therapist everything that’s going on - what do I do?

There may be things going on for your young person that are really difficult to talk about, even with their therapist. Your young person may also be worried that if they do talk about these things in therapy, it will become the only focus and they won’t get to talk about other things that are important. If you’re not sure if your young person has raised an issue in therapy, I recommend starting by (gently) asking them, e.g. “I know you really don’t like talking about X with me, and I was wondering if it’s something you have felt able to tell Hilary?”.


If your young person says no, it’s important to stay calm and not push them. For example, you might respond “Ok thanks for letting me know. I’m not trying to pressure you, and I wanted to check if there’s anything I can do to help if you do decide to talk to Hilary about it? I really care about you and you deserve to have someone to talk to”. Sometimes even just agreeing to let me know there is something they’re not ready to talk about can be helpful, as I can also validate this and demonstrate that I will go at your young person’s pace.

Common questions
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