Popi Zappia (adolescent psychologist): Hello I’m Popi, and I’m a psychologist, and I work with young people from the ages of about eight to 16 and their families around issues such as risk-taking behaviour, in particular drug and alcohol. Also around behavioural problems, mood problems, school avoidance, relationship issues and those kind of other concerns relating to young people and their development.
Alex Rushworth (adolescent psychologist): My name’s Alex, I’m a clinical psychologist. I work with young people around a range of difficulties, but particularly with young people who have a chronic illness or ongoing physical symptoms that are starting to impact on their life and trying to help them minimise that impact.
Being a psychologist means that we’ve had training in psychology but we haven’t had training in medicine, so that’s the main difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist, and that’s why a psychiatrist or a paediatrician who’s a doctor can do the prescribing, whereas we, as psychologists, can’t do that, but we certainly, as psychologists, provide counselling and therapy, and sometimes that therapy will be more non-specific counselling for just what’s going on at the time, and sometimes it will be more tailored intervention for a particular diagnosis.
Popi Zappia: I think it’s important, in order to make things work well from the beginning, is to let the young person know why they’re coming to see the psychologist. You don’t want them just to turn up and have no clue why they’re there or had to have been tricked into coming to the appointment, because we sometimes see that and then that will build up resistance, which makes it a bit more difficult for the young person to be honest and open up.
Alex Rushworth: I think generally it’s about being open about what you as a parent have noticed and that you’re coming from a place of being worried and concerned and caring for the young person, and that you want to give them the opportunity to do something about what you’ve noticed and whether they’ve noticed it too or whether they haven’t been so aware of it, all those conversations are really important to have so that once the young person gets to the session they’re not feeling like they’ve been ambushed and like they have no idea what’s actually happening.
Popi Zappia: Parents might also have a lot of difficulty getting the young person coming to see us, and I’ll be happy to chat with the parent on the phone or even see the parent on their own for the first or second session, and often the young person will say “well you’re not going there to talk about me without me there, so…” [laughs] They might— You’ll be surprised that they’ll turn up, the young person will turn up as well.
A teen usually comes to see me because they’re referred—They’re brought along often by their parent, and their parent has been referred by the local GP or school counsellor or paediatrician or another service.
Alex Rushworth: So when you come and see a psychologist like myself, I guess you would expect in the first session to be asked lots of questions, and that the psychologist would want to know a bit about your background and also what’s brought you here at that moment, what your concerns are, but also what’s going well. We don’t just focus on what’s going wrong, because we want to know what you’ve got going for you and what the most important things are to you that you can use to help get you through whatever’s not going so well.
Once the psychologist’s got a bit of a general idea about what’s bothering the young person and the family and what their main concerns are…
Popi Zappia: So often families will come together, or a parent will bring a young person to see me, and I’ll often spend part of the session together with the family or the parent and the young person, but always give the young person opportunity to have some time on their own with me.
Alex Rushworth: When a family or a young person come to see a psychologist, we’d always aim to give them a safe space to explore what’s going on for them, both as an individual and with their family, because adolescence is all about that balance between and the young person finding themselves and finding independence, but based in their connection they have with their family.