When we first learned about therapy in graduate school and the importance of a good therapeutic alliance, our attention was directed toward a small but unwavering group of principles that were understood to be critical in fostering this connection. We were taught to demonstrate to our clients our capacities for empathy, keeping confidentiality, and unconditional support so that they could tell we were compassionate and safe to talk with. Basically, we chased them.

Here’s what we weren’t taught. In spite of all the hours spent discussing how to connect with clients, and especially teenagers, we really weren’t taught how to be so they’d want to connect with us. These two clinical tasks are very different from each other, and they shape the ensuing therapy in different ways. When we understand how to use our best selves to be compelling rather than banking on our empathy or benevolence to draw young clients in, we will show up more fully to them and find we no longer need to chase them. I think we pose the wrong question when asking, “How do I get this teenager to talk with me?” I believe a better one is, “How can I become an inviting and relevant enough figure to teenagers so that they actually want to talk with me?”


— Janet Sasson Edgette