The Clinician's Guide to Reclaiming Youth

Posted on October 31, 2013, in Counseling, Therapy

Reclaiming Youth International offers a cornucopia of learning experiences for participants. The consistent message offered through each is understanding the paradigm of strength-based work with troubled children and youth. Most of the venues discussed are schools, residential programs, out of home care, and juvenile justice settings. The training and teaching are usually curriculum based and describe the intended practice in terms understood by a diverse audience. I have had the opportunity to be a learner and now a teacher for Reclaiming curriculum. However, my professional connection is as a clinician, dedicated to providing therapy services in a private practice.

Therapy for troubled children and youth can sometimes be daunting for clinicians. Children do not usually request counseling; they are generally informed they will be attending. In fact, some kids are told the purpose of the visit on the way to my office or when they arrive. The session can begin with hostility, fear, tension, and general suspicion. As a therapist I can understand this and choose an approach that will ease the tension, or I can create more problems. Understanding the principles of Re-ED and the Circle of Courage®, the clinical components of Life Space Crisis Intervention, and the opportunity to teach children the benefits of CLEAR® Thinking from RAP™, I find myself excited about the challenge of working with these youth. My office has posters of the conflict cycle, the Circle of Courage, and a plastic brain. I have flip charts, markers, a variety of ways to use technology and additional resources available to support the kids in telling me their story. They are usually surprised that I am interested in their opinion at all.

Being eclectic in our approach allows us to challenge ourselves as treatment professionals. Instead of ascribing to only one particular method of intervention, we can utilize the learning from Reclaiming in a wide variety of treatment interventions. In this way, we demonstrate to the children we serve that we actually do understand what they are trying to explain to us, and we have tools to help them feel better. This is accomplished through a genuine and caring relationship, asking lots of questions and reviewing, connecting feelings, thinking, and behaving, and asking for the story the way they see it. We do this with adults and never blink. Some find it harder to connect with kids. I think it's because we have a mistaken notion that children think like adults. When children say, "I don't know," many therapists fire more questions and remind them why they are in counseling, thereby blaming and labeling them as resistant. However, when using the concepts taught in RAP, we know that "I don't know" could certainly mean the child is trying to identify if you are friend or foe. His amygdala is scanning to measure your sincerity. Do your words match your tone? What is your body language demonstrating? While I present this as learned through Reclaiming, I also learned these very tenants when studying to become a therapist. We called it developing rapport.

Therapy for adults is based in catharsis when their actions, words, and beliefs are presented to them through another person. Children's brains, as we have learned, are not always prepared or able to do this. Our job is to assure them that we do not pose a threat, and we understand the need they demonstrate through their words. We teach them internal locus of control by understanding patterns of self defeating behavior, and help them discover new ways of problem solving.

I can pull out a white board and draw the conflict cycle as a means to display the connection of what they are thinking to how they are behaving. I can teach the Circle of Courage and then engage the children to tell me how this fits for them, thereby learning about their private worlds. I can use the time line to visualize how they see it. I can teach how the brain works through technology and the brain model. Most importantly, I can teach and model that adults can be genuine and caring. As trusted adults in a professional setting, we have an obligation to learn the problems they way the children know them, so that our suggestions are seen as helpful and not intrusive. It is essential that we teach trust, the glue that holds teaching and learning together. (Hobbs, 1975)

Lisa Shepard's webinar, "The Clinician's Guide to Reclaiming Youth" is now available. Register today and watch it anytime! 


Hobbs, N. (1975). The troubled and troubling child. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

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