Gestalt/ Integrative Child psychotherapy: Engaging a Younger Client Cohort

A plethora of adult orientated psychotherapy trainings exists in the UK. Yet until recently the burgeoning need for therapy for many children and adolescents seemed to attract less attention from practitioners with a humanistic or Integrative therapy training than from those who embarked on the more established child psychoanalytic route. The field however is changing fast. Current figures are startling: in the UK three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental disorder; 80,000 suffer depression and one in twelve is deliberately self –harming. Over seventy per cent of children ‘in care’ have behavioural or emotional problems.*

The list of problems today’s youngsters may experience is not short either. It includes cyber bullying, concerns around puberty, impulsivity difficulties, heritage and identity concerns, bereavement, neglect, trans generational abuse, and family breakdown. It has become clear that within this specialist area of therapy to work clinically with children and young people safely and effectively requires specific knowledge, skills and techniques. The need to evidence such training and qualifications has led to UKCP creating a register specific to Child Counsellors and Psychotherapists and a Faculty of the Psychological Health of Children.

Of 429 therapists’ websites currently listed in the BACP directory, over ten percent work with children or with adolescents and families. There are no dedicated Gestalt oriented, accredited child therapy trainings in the UK.

Nonetheless Great Britain has eight institutes that offer Integrative adult- child psychotherapy conversion courses leading to UKCP registration. These are: IATE, Terapia, Caspari Foundation, Metanoia Institute, CCPE (all located in London); also Northern Guild in Newcastle, Manchester Institute for Psychotherapy and Newman University, Birmingham. In Ireland the Blackfort Institute offers adolescent- orientated training based on Mc Conville’s approach. In Normandy, Gestaltist Ken Evans heads child psychotherapy conversion training at the European Centre for Psychotherapeutic Studies.

Malibu USA offers weeklong child therapy courses run by the Violet Oaklander Foundation ( rooted in relational Gestalt principles. Similarly at the Cleveland Institute Mark Mc Conville has developed adolescent trainings that integrate Gestalt with systemic thinking. The short, arts- based courses I run in UK and abroad draw inspiration from both Oaklander and McConvilles’ approaches.

One thing child therapists of all disciplines share is a desire to help anxious, defensive youngsters (and their parents) engage in therapy. An open, conversational approach from the outset helps demystify the process.
The House Tree Person (HTP) exercise, much used by Violet Oaklander, provides a graceful dialogic ‘ice breaker’ that helps facilitate the process of engagement. It involves a simple drawing task. The conversation that takes place between therapist and client around this task helps convey the respectful, transparent nature of dialogic relating. This helps build trust which is essential if work of any value is to take place.

Children and adolescents are our future, the next generation. On the path to emergent adulthood they have to contend with many complex fields representing family, peer group, community and culture. When troubled youngsters are able to engage in therapy this helps them develop better relational contact skills and, through awareness , make informed choices. This in turn enhances self -esteem and self- belief, enabling them to live more satisfying, response- able lives.

I shall be introducing the HTP in my workshop at the forthcoming UKAGP conference- why not come and try it out yourself!

Jon Blend
MA Dip Child.