As a child and family therapist, there is only one question I get asked by parents more frequently than, “How do I get my child away from screens?”
The question is some variation of this one: “Do you work with kids (or families) like mine a lot?”
They ask this question when I introduce myself as “Dr. Julia” and I see them looking at me and doing the math. They usually look at my business card, and then up at me, and then down at my business card again. They notice something about me: yes, I am young.
My answer to the question “Do you work with families like mine a lot?” has often been “Yes, I have worked with many children (or families) like yours,” along with general examples of how treatments I’ve provided have been helpful in the past, and the specifics of my training and education.
This question makes so much sense. Parents want to know that the therapist they are seeing will have the knowledge, experience and skill to help them and their family. They may be feeling afraid that, because I am young, I might not have the knowledge, experience and skills. I want to do my best to understand and respond to that fear.
The therapy relationship asks a lot from the people I see. For one, it asks that you trust that I am going to be able to understand and help you and your family. When you look at me and see an early career psychologist, you might wonder if I will be able to understand and help you with some of the most important, treasured parts of your lives. You might be afraid that this process may not help in the way you need it to or that it might even make things harder for some time before it gets better.
You might be afraid because, like most of the parents that come to me, you are the most exhausted you have been in a long time and you just want help now. You may feel like you have tried everything, and then here is this young person who might ask you to try something different, and that feels, well, weird.
You have only just met me, and that is a big leap of faith that I’m asking for. It’s an especially hard leap of faith when you see that I am so young.
Most of the time, now, I will speak to that unspoken fear. I’m guessing that you are wondering if I can help you (or your child or your family) at this time. You can see that I am young, and you’re wondering if I am the right person for the job. I imagine that you might be at your wit’s end here, and you really did not expect to see someone as young as I am to be your therapist.
Then, let me tell you a bit about my training and experiences and how I imagine that I might be able to help. I likely will not have worked with a family exactly like yours, but I will certainly have helped families similar to yours. I have worked with and helped families in which there has been trauma, disease, disorders, disability (visible or invisible), big behaviours and/or big emotions. Many of the families whom I have helped have asked the very same question and communicated the same concerns when I first met them.
What is most important to me is that I speak to the fear that led you to ask this question in the first place. By doing so, it usually leads to a much more productive conversation than if I simply listed my qualifications and spoke to my skills.
So please do not be afraid to ask if I have experience or if I’ve worked with families like yours. You certainly won’t be the first person to ask and probably won’t be the last (at least for a few years!) I know that I am young, and I am happy to talk about it, because I also know how much I want to understand and how much I want to help.