Timothy Kahn on the Power of the Therapeutic Relationship

Safer Talk Perspectives #2

Editor’s note: The is the second in a series of posts in which we look back at past Safer Talk webinars and trainings to pull perspectives that we feel may be of interest to professionals in our field.

During his Safer Talk webinar conversation with host David Prescott, Timothy Kahn had some powerful thoughts about the influence of the therapeutic relationship between the clinician and his or her youthful client. Kahn, author of the ground-breaking Pathways workbook, notes that this influence can sometimes have unintended consequences that the professional should be aware of.


 I’ve heard from other practitioners about kids who, for whatever reason are willing to say, well, I actually did this and that and the other thing that they didn’t actually do. In my practice at at Echo Glen, a juvenile corrections institution, I found at least 10 kids who we could document had made up additional victims and we could prove that the victims didn’t exist. And so it was kind of shocking to me back then we were, you know, much less experienced at this. But then we looked at why these kids were making it up and most of them were making it up in group therapy because they could see other kids getting supported and reinforced, with the therapist saying “Great job. It’s really brave of you to talk about that.” And if you’re sitting there without anything brave to talk about, then you’re going to feel left out. And these kids ended up wanting to feel included and made up that they had additional victims.


I’ve been telling attorneys for many years, that I’m convinced I can get kids to disclose pretty much anything because of the power of the therapeutic relationship.

So, this is an important dynamic that you have to be aware of. You don’t want to give too much recognition for kids who disclose new victims. You want to be balanced about that. And you want to do your due diligence and make sure that the story they’re telling involves somebody who really exists. And you can usually check that out by talking to a family member and they can say, yeah, there’s no cousin by the name of Billy, that person doesn’t exist.

And this phenomenon just speaks to the power of that we have as therapists. Kids want to gain our recognition and they want to gain our praise and they will often do crazy things to get that. Kids want to gain our recognition and they want to gain our praise and they will often do crazy things to get that.

I’ve been telling attorneys for many years, that I’m convinced I can get kids to disclose pretty much anything because of the power of the therapeutic relationship and that trusting relationship. But getting them to admit an additional victim isn’t necessarily a good thing for them, depending on what the legal consequences are going to be. So I have learned over the years to be a little more cautious about that and I encourage other therapists to be cautious and aware that kids do and can make things up.

View all available Safer Talk webinars by clicking here.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.