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Professional relationships with young people
Professional relationships with young people

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1 Professional and/or helping relationships

For practitioners working with young people, good-quality relationships are fundamental to their work. The trust engendered by strong relationships enables workers to encourage young people to try new experiences, take some risks and perhaps acquire new learning. These new experiences may involve the young people in taking a fresh look at themselves or exploring new roles and new identities. Alternatively, they may be drawn outwards to join new groups or learn about, and possibly take action within, their communities. They might even do both.

That said, developing relationships isn’t always easy. In fact, developing relationships with young people can be very challenging. Young people might not want to develop a relationship with you at all: they may be confrontational or disengaged. We recognise that there are challenges and different approaches to developing work with young people. Some practitioners work with young people on an entirely voluntary basis, e.g. the young people come to a project because they want to. Other projects or programmes may not facilitate voluntary participation: for example, those with young people who have to attend after being excluded from school.

Activity 1 Professional and / or helping relationships

Timing: Allow up to 1 hour and 30 minutes

For this next activity, read the article entitled Helping Relationships [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

  1. As you read through this article, pay particular attention to the section on ‘The Helping Relationship’ on page 4. In considering the nature of a helping relationship this section refers to the work of Carl Rogers (1951; 1961); his ideas about the key qualities and attitudes that facilitate learning are discussed. Make notes about these.
  2. Now think about these qualities and attitudes and how they support the development of relationships you have experienced. Choose three and make a list from 1 to 3, with 1 being the most important in the development of effective relationships and 3 the least important.
  3. Now jot down your thoughts about the core qualities discussed:
  • a.Are there any which you feel he has left out?
  • b.Do they relate to your own principles?


Your top three will probably be unique to you because everyone has different experiences of developing relationships. Each of us has our own preferences in relationship building and it’s useful to have started the process of reflecting on the qualities and attitudes involved. You may also have noticed some discussion about Gerard Egan, whose book The Skilled Helper (2002) introduced the idea of helping within professional relationships. ‘Helping’ in this context refers to establishing quality conversations with young people, listening and exploring issues and problems with people; these are all skills in working with young people which help build effective relationships.