You can do ‘No Talk Therapy’


Have you ever had the experience of trying to talk with a troubled child or teen and all you get is a shrug, a grunt or nothing at all? No Talk Therapy was developed for parents, foster carers, grandparents, aunts, uncles or teachers faced with just this problem.

You see, the thing is that having sustained, in-depth conversations with adults is simply not natural for kids. They think that focusing on problems (especially if they can’t manage their emotions) only makes the problem bigger! They feel miserable when they get in touch with bad feelings. They just want to get rid of those feelings, not focus on them or on what caused them! And if the child lacks a history or positive experiences of talking with adults, they can take our adult problem focus  as an all-out assault on their dignity and their very ability to get through the day.

Another thing. Most kids feel (and usually are) powerless over much of what happens to them. So how, they might wonder, is our well-intentioned help going to give them more control over their lives? Our great advice often assumes that they have the same skills – and power – as us, which is rarely true. Nor are kids inherently motivated to change – developmentally they can’t comprehend that the rewards for ‘getting better’ are really worth all the struggle along the way. In fact, kids usually enter therapy to please someone or to avoid punishment.

So – what to do? No Talk Therapy works in the here-and-now. It  is geared to developing competence while harnessing the child’s interests and natural enthusiasms or motivations in their everyday lives.

The Basics of No Talk Therapy

A.  The relationship is central! Establish and maintain a connection with the child. Give the child an experience of feeling close and special to someone. Play with them, send silly notes or poems, establish a shared metaphor (e.g. with your card games: “You might get a rotten hand but it’s how you play it that counts”.) Do some Theraplay activities with them.

B.  Work to give the child something to feel proud of – establish things which the child enjoys and feels good about and get her to do more of it! – art projects, computer classes, sports, crafts, drama, etc.

C.  Deal with the child’s context, especially school and peers. Establish and work with a ‘circle of adults’ around the child. Turn problems into goals. The five important areas are: school, sports, peer acceptance, behaviour (e.g. the three baskets method)  and physical attractiveness, e.g. the skills of grooming, dressing well, using colours to our advantage.

The process of No Talk Therapy

1.  Start by setting short-range goals with the child. Keep it simple. Examples?

*We’ll play games and I’ll give you a couple of good relaxation strategies to take that tension out of your shoulders.

*I’ll help you find a job and do some tests that can tell us why you are hating maths so much.

*Maybe some day you won’t melt down so quickly.

*You’ll go to Alateen and then tell me why you’re different from the other kids there.

*I’ll teach you how to play poker and you’ll show me how many ways you can shoot the Nerf ball into the basket.

*Eventually we’ll do some negotiating to get you a later curfew.

*How about trying out for that school play?

*I’ll get you the name, place and time of a good bongo drum teacher or percussion group.

2. Develop wonder. For example, wonder aloud –

* How many ways a ball can go into the basket?

*What happens if I cheat at cards and don’t get caught – or cheat and do?

*Who will step on untied shoelaces during our walk and will anyone trip and fall down?

*How many more blocks can go on this tower before it will collapse?

* How many more classes can be skipped before the teacher notices (says something)?

* How will the pudding taste with all these lumps?

* Whether the picture should go on the wall or go home?

* What will happen to the little pig when the big bad wolf huffs and puffs?

* Who would be most surprised if the maths assignment got handed in?

3. Allow long periods of (comfortable) silence. Stay in the moment.

4. Be unconventional, warm and enthusiastic. Get in touch with your own inner child. Have fun and belly laughs with the child.

5. Be flexible and creative. Try something different, change directions, turn the time around. Build a tower to the ceiling, gamble for 5 cents, make a pudding, talk a walk, sit in a tent, do a magic trick, write a secret code, arm wrestle, invent a board game, play on the computer, play soccer (“bend it like Beckham”) but with a Nerf ball. Encourage the child’s contributions.

6. Use light (brush) touch. Snuggle on the couch with a good book. (But no tickling.)

7. Feed kids while managing their blood sugar. Cook, preparing the food side by side, e.g. English muffin pizza, fruit people, cake popsicles, ants on a log, peanut butter on crackers, fruit smoothies.

8. Collect ‘cool stuff’ in a large, gorgeously decorated box- puzzles, masks, dress ups, recipes, games, constructions.

9. Be transparent and honest. Don’t be afraid to share your ‘screwups’ with the child.

10. Take every opportunity to show the child that you like him or her. Remember the cardinal rule of child therapy: It is more important that you like the child than that they like you.

Taken from: No Talk Therapy, by Martha Straus.