Is your teenager engaging in constant conflict with parents or siblings?
Are your adolescent’s grades deteriorating?
Is your son or daughter having difficulty concentrating or problems completing school assignments?
Is your teenager engaging in risky behaviors or exhibiting defiant attitudes?
Does your adolescent seem sad, lonely, or socially isolated?
Are you noticing significant changes in your teenager’s sleep patterns or appetite?
If your teenager is exhibiting some of these problems, then they may need professional help to successfully navigate this difficult and exciting stage of life.
Adolescence is a very tough time of life. Children’s bodies grow at an accelerated rate, their sexual characteristics and drives emerge, and yet recent neurological research indicates that their brains do not fully mature until they are age 25. Teenagers start to move from a primary focus on their family to one where the primary focus is their friends. They struggle to figure out what they want to do with their lives, how they want to behave, and which role models to emulate. All of which requires trial and error learning. And they are trying to do this with a still evolving brain. So they make mistakes and, hopefully, learn from these errors. No wonder few adults, when asked what age they liked best, cite their teenage years! But if your teenager is having problems, I may be able to assist them.
There is a very old (bad) joke: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but it has to want to change. We have good techniques to assist people who acknowledge they are having difficulty managing some aspects of their life, but very little success in assisting people who do not want to change. So the first step in helping your teenager is to get them to acknowledge that there is a problem. I recognize that this is often not an easy task. Most of us want to feel that we are the captains of our lives and know best how to run our ship. So if your teenager is having difficulties that are not imminently life-threatening, but they are resistant to seeing a therapist, then one technique is to enter into the following contract with them.
Whereas you (the parent), believe that they need assistance, they (teenager), believe that there is no real problem or it is one that is temporary and can be resolved on their own. So the deal you suggest is that the two of you come up with a reasonable period of time during which you leave them alone to resolve the issue. If they are successful, great. But if in x number of months they are unable to resolve the issue, then they agree to come for counseling. While it may be difficult to watch them flounder for yet another marking period, the delay is worthwhile if it means they will now acknowledge that they need assistance and are ready to receive it.
I generally begin with a joint interview in which I meet with the parent(s) and the teenager to hear about the parent(s)’ perception of the issues. Then I spend the bulk of the session with the teenager in an individual session to begin to develop some rapport with the teenager and hear their perception of the issues. If the issue is clearly one that will respond to individual psychotherapy, then we discuss what this will entail. If it seems that family work is needed, then we can discuss that alternative.
Research has shown that the faster people self-disclose, the faster they get better. And one will only self-disclose if one feels comfortable with the therapist. So the critical factor is the connection between the adolescent and the therapist. It is great if in the first session the teenager feels very comfortable with me. But this does not always happen. However, if they have a negative reaction towards me, which may happen if I remind them of a teacher they do not like or a neighbor they cannot tolerate, then I am happy to make a referral to a colleague.
The exact nature of the treatment will depend upon the adolescent’s issues. I utilize cognitive-behavioral approaches for straight forward anxiety and depression issues. I am also trained in more depth approaches to help teenagers who are struggling with more complex emotional issues. I have been working with teenagers for many years and enjoy the challenge of engaging them in conversation to help them make sense of what is confusing and stressful in their lives.