I confess. Over the years, I’ve disliked some of the young people I’ve worked with. Some have been arrogant. Some have been wilfully destructive. Some have shown no remorse for the things they’ve done. Admittedly, my dislike has sometimes been retaliatory – because they haven’t liked me, I’ve made it my business not to like them. Childish stuff. But often there’s been more to it than that. Often they’ve seemed to like me well enough – they’ve been on time for sessions, they’ve been happy to talk, happy to come back. And yet…

Why is it shameful to admit that we don’t like a young person? Is it because young people are young and therefore don’t deserve to be disliked? Is it because they can’t help being the way they are? Like most counsellors, I pride myself on liking young people. I’m not scared of them. I enjoy their company. I take as much trouble with the inarticulate and slow-witted as I do with the emotionally fluent and funny. And liking young people is important. It’s often what they pick up on and remember long after the relationship has ended. So when I find myself disliking a young person, it disturbs my equilibrium, my professional self-regard, my sense of who and how I’m supposed to be.

Is it that young people confront us with our younger selves as they sit there: spotty, uncomfortable in their own skin, dirty,  sweaty, overweight sometimes, with awkward hairstyles and ill-judged clothes? How much, wonder, do they remind us of those shadowy, disavowed parts of ourselves: our envy and fear, despair and hatred, our vengeful feelings, sexual chaos, competitiveness…? If we want to believe that these parts no longer exist, that we’ve completely exorcised them, then to what extent are we confronted by them all over again in young people, reminded of the very things we were trying so hard to forget? Does the strength of our dislike of a young person indicate the strength of whatever we’re denying in ourselves?

The danger of not acknowledging the dislike that we inevitably feel towards some young people is that we enter into false therapeutic alliances with them, pretending that everything’s OK until – eventually – it isn’t. If young people sometimes hide their likeable qualities for fear that they’ll be contaminated by whatever’s dislikeable in themselves, do we sometimes hide our dislikeable qualities for fear that they’ll contaminate our kindly counsellor personas?

Nick Luxmoore’s latest book, Practical Supervision for Counsellors who Work with Young People (Jessica Kingsley, 2017), is out now. www.nickluxmoore.com

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