The last year has been an increasingly busy one at the Apple Tree Centre. As we expand our range of work, our team of therapists, and our client caseload, we are learning all the time about what parents need from us as an organisation, and what our therapists need to feel comfortable and confident in the work that they do.
As Non-Directive Play Therapists, we have always emphasised the role of parents in the therapeutic process, and the importance of a trusting relationship – a ‘therapeutic alliance’ – between therapist and parents. We endeavour to make parents and carers feel comfortable and welcome in the waiting room, and sometimes inside the therapy room itself; and we encourage them to attend regular progress reviews, where they can discuss the progress their child is making, the questions they have about the process of therapy or about managing their child’s behaviour, and make sure that the therapist and parents still have the same hopes, are working towards the same goals.
Up until now, we have offered all parents and carers a free face-to-face consultation with either Jenny or Rosie, co-directors of the Apple Tree Centre, to help determine what sort of approach is most likely to be helpful to each family. In the beginning, this worked very well: we were able to form a relationship with each parent and oversee their therapy directly, building strong links between the family and their therapist… as well as taking on a large proportion of the young clients ourselves.
We have received some feedback recently, from both therapists and parents, which suggests that this is no longer so effective. Some parents have expressed unease that the therapist might not have all the information they need about their child before meeting them, and concern that they don’t fully understand the approach that the therapist is using. Therapists are telling us that they would like to have the fuller, more nuanced feel for family dynamics and personalities that can only come from meeting face to face, as well as expressing concern about situations where the parents’ goals and expectations for therapy do not match those of the child or young person. These situations can be managed much more easily, and lead to more effective therapy, when trust, communication, and a common understanding are established at the outset.
We are therefore changing our referral process. As of September, parents and carers who contact the centre will have an opportunity to discuss their needs over the phone or by email, and we will do our best to allocate the most suitable counsellor or therapist based on this information. We will then offer a full assessment appointment with the chosen therapist. During this assessment, the therapist will help parents or carers to reflect on their child’s needs, background, and behaviour, and possible links between these, as well as discussing the work they will be doing with the child or young person.
As with all new developments, we will continue to review and refine this system. Sometimes information will emerge during a face-to-face assessment which suggests that a different therapist would be more suited to the family’s needs, and our associates will be trained to recognise when this happens and make recommendations. Rosie and I will still oversee all referrals, and as always, we will be happy to address any difficulties, concerns, questions or complaints which might arise. Most of the time, though, we hope that this approach will encourage closer, more direct communication between parents and therapists; and for all our parents and carers, we expect that the assessment process will provide useful, valuable insights.