I once had this angry teenage client (well, I've had many angry teenage clients). This particular teenage client was furious at his family, at being forced to come to therapy and at life in general.
Early on in our work together, his mom brought him to my office and he refused to get out of the car. I eventually made my way down to the car and proceeded to do therapy in the parking lot; I stood in the hot summer sun and sweated through my work outfit showing him that I was not the enemy and I wanted to be a source of support. (Years later the by-then-less-angry teenage client and I joked about that hot summer day and how I was standing on the hot parking lot pavement trying to convince him that therapy wasn't that bad).
Week after week his mom dragged him into my office, he plopped down on the couch and gave one word answers to my very interesting and probing questions: how was school?, what did you do this weekend? how are things with your parents? You can only imagine how slowly my clock ticked during those very quiet sessions.
I consulted with his psychiatrist who was my colleague and would regularly seek his advice; the kid doesn't want to be here, he doesn't talk, I feel like I am wasting his parents money, am I making any difference? This wise mentor, a thoughtful man of few words, repeatedly told me that I was helping the client; by just being present for this kid, I was providing a calm and stable place for him, a safe place so that when he was ready, he would have someone to talk to, a place free from judgement, pressure or anxiety that he often experienced at home.
I worked with this kid for years, I feel like I prepped for the SAT's and got ready for graduation along side him. The hours and hours of drudgery in my office turned into moments of laughter, silliness and connection. The laughter came at a snail's pace, often after months of my patience, his yelling and even throwing things (not necessarily at me, just towards me, primarily due to the very small square footage of my office). Over time hee began to share things in session, confide in me, and actually hear me. There were times he even paused to consider and actually acknowledged that perhaps something I said had merit.
I excitedly contacted the psychiatrist to tell him that he was "right". The kid had, in fact, opened up and really used the therapy time to his benefit. My presence, in the beginning, was enough to build a foundation for trust so that when he was ready he could utilize the connection, the safety and the comfort we had created in this therapeutic relationship.
I know my mentor was smiling at my shift as I was smiling at my client's shift; both of us had learned to trust the process and each other. If we are patient enough, yes, progress happens.