Welcome back! In Pop Culture Part 1, I discussed how, when connecting with children/youth, I utilize pop culture to: 1) develop and enhance rapport, and 2) gather information in regard to values, traits and indicators of resiliency. Please go to www.psychealth.com if you haven’t had a chance to read Part 1; it would be like watching the Empire Strikes Back without watching Star Wars! In Part 2 I will discuss the third way I have utilized pop culture: to help facilitate positive change.
Working with children and teens can be a humbling experience. I can prepare for a session for hours and then watch the plan fall flat within seconds or minutes. To help avoid this happening, I try to personally use the following examples, but I’m hoping they will spark some creativity when connecting with your child or teen.
A 14-year-old client was referred to me by his social worker but truly did not want to be in therapy; his lack of participation during our sessions reflected this. One day he came into my office wearing a Tupac shirt. I was pleased to see this because I knew that Tupac’s music has several messages of strength, resiliency and advocacy in the face of adversity. When asked, my client shared what he knew about Tupac and his other favourite rappers and what he respected about their music. For the next session, I decided to create a game. I gathered 20 different lyrics from various rap songs and had the client guess what rapper sang each specific lyric and the message he or she was trying to convey in that lyric. For the first time in 4 sessions my client was engaged and interested in the task at hand. He did well with the guessing game and spoke effectively about the themes. He decided, as a result, to start creating a song of his own that described some of the challenges he faced in his own life. Writing is a beneficial, cathartic way to process past situations and the counselling sessions progressed well after this break-through.
A 9-year-old client was referred t me, along with a diagnostic list of various mental health disorders, including oppositional defiance and attention deficit. The little guy would get angry and say horrible things to his mother, teacher and peers. This was extra distressing for the boy because he felt regret afterwards for saying and doing these things, especially for his behaviour towards his mom. One day he saw a ‘Where’s Waldo’ book on my desk. We ended up having a look at it and I was impressed by how patiently and systematically he scanned each page. Upon finishing I provided him with some positive feedback and explained how he can use these great scanning skills to notice sensations and thoughts in his body, a great lead in to a mindfulness exercise. A few weeks later my client and his mother came in for a session and his mom said that the yelling and extreme reactions had decreased significantly. Although I can’t take credit for the improvement (there could have been many confounding variables), my client did mention that he now notices the thoughts popping into his mind but now he chooses not to say them.
I used to work with a 10-year-old client who had significant feelings of depression and anxiety. He had a hard time connecting with peers and spent a lot of time alone at school. During our sessions, he would routinely give me one word answers or stare off when I started talking bout techniques. One day I asked him to explain ‘Pokemon Showdown’ to me, a video game he frequently played in his spare time. He lit up as he shared his expertise. In this game you select a team of 5 Pokemon characters, then select a range of abilities and moves for each character. Once you have selected these preferences, you go head to head with another player and their team of Pokemon characters. Pokemon Showdown became a metaphor for assisting my client navigate through challenging situations at school and home. Using the same framework, we came up with abilities and moves that he could use when facing difficult moments or adversaries. It made sense to him to conceptualize life circumstances in this way and it increased the probability of him using the techniques we discussed in our sessions.
Pop culture can be utilized in many ways to assist the ones we care about. The possibilities are endless!
Thanks for tuning in!