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Scaffolding

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by Suzette Shahmoon

Summer 2014

I fundamentally believe every child is born perfect

I fundamentally believe every child is born perfect, it is their experiences which create their fears and anxieties and there are times they don’t have the tools to overcome them. I used to worry that therapy could be disempowering for children. I believed that they were handing their problems over to a therapist to sort out in turn creating dependence and other such issues. That was until I started working with them.

Just like adults children have their own wisdom sometimes it’s just about unlocking it. I’ve seen children who live with overwhelming amounts of fear due to physical and verbal abuse. Kids who have felt unable to come to terms with feelings such as loss and grief. Others who look in the mirror and just wish they saw something or someone else. But all of this can be transformed through scaffolding.

Developmental psychology

In my recent studies I’ve come across the work of Lev Vygotsky, one of the forefathers of developmental psychology. Whereas it was once thought that children learn by mimicking their elders, or through systems of rewards and punishments, Vygotsky saw children as social learners who learn with the help of their more experienced elders.

He spoke about the zone of proximal development and scaffolding. Children are knowledgeable but with help they can always learn more and this is done through scaffolding. The place between what is known and what can be known is the zone of proximal development.

Scaffolding is what parents, teachers or more experience others can offer. A structure for learning which the child can use to gain more knowledge and insight and I think this is where therapy comes into play.

An example

Explaining the concept is probably best done by giving you an example. I once saw a young girl of 12 who was having social anxiety issues. She was finding it harder and harder to interact in society until eventually she was unable to go to school. After some careful questioning she explained that she felt different to everyone else and was so self conscious she couldn’t bare being seen by others. Scaffolding worked a treat. What she needed to learn was that everyone is different and that those differences are to be celebrated. I could see her qualities and what she had to offer to society but I needed her to see them because once she did I knew she would be able to walk out into the world with her head held high, feeling comfortable and confident.

So that is what we worked on. Through various techniques, timeline reconsolidation work, parts integration work and embodiment. When we questioned her anxiety and looked for what it had taught her, she stated, “That I can be strong when I need to be. My anxiety is very powerful which means that I am powerful because it is a part of me.” I could never have come up with that for her. She used her wisdom. Having identified that source of power she then started stating other areas of her life where she could use it more helpfully. I had created a scaffold and she slowly filled in the gaps of what she needed to know about herself using her own wisdom.

Watching her mature in my room was stunning.

Hearing about her development between sessions even more amazing. As much as I thought she was filling in the gaps in the sessions she was doing it tenfold when she was out in public. She used the framework of support to prove to herself who she was and what she was capable of.

Cognitive Hypnotherapy holds the flexibility of creating a scaffold, a structure where others can climb and start filling in the gaps with their own wisdom and answers. It’s a process which takes them from one level of understanding to another through gentle guidance and the rewards are immense because as much as the kids learn in my therapy room they always end up teaching me too.

We sit in my room as equals

I’ve seen so many children echo my own insecurities and I realise that mine probably started at their age too. Then I watch them overcome and I am often left awed and amazed. I have learnt about strength and love and self esteem through my work with children and I wonder….. Who’s erecting the scaffolding for who? I have learnt that therapy is a two way street between therapist and client whether it’s with adults or children. We sit in my room as equals, we work together as equals and we learn from each other.