Therapy can mean different things for different teens.
For a 14 year-old girl with Asperger’s, teen therapy may mean a corrective experience where she is observed for age appropriate social behavior and guided in areas where growth is indicated. It may mean that she gets to share her interests and be seen and accepted for who she is. It may mean helping her think in new ways about her relationships with others. It may include helping her develop the capacity to self-reflect. It’s not a lecture or confrontation. The intention is to build a rapport that allows difficult subjects to be broached when necessary.
For a 15 year-old girl with anxiety, teen therapy may mean teaching her self-soothing techniques, so that she can manage the overwhelming feelings that come up for her when she goes to school each day. This may involve discussing how introverts need time to recharge their batteries, and various ways she can do that. It may mean helping her to learn to manage her time, and commitments, so that she is able to do her very best work. It may include listening to her describe all the ways in which she pushes herself to be perfect, and helping her to develop more self-compassion and acceptance.
For a 16 year-old boy with anger issues, teen therapy may mean sifting through his past to understand his current view of the world as hurtful. It may mean joining him in discussions about the unfairness of life, and the ways he feels misunderstood by his teachers, parents and peers. It may include educating him about personality styles, how his responses may impacting the outcome of a discussion, and new options for expressing himself, so that he may better get his needs met.
For a 17 year-old senior in high school, teen therapy may be about identifying and addressing unfinished emotional work in anticipation of leaving for college. It may mean supporting them in becoming more self-directed. It may mean exploring any fears they may have about the future. It may include discussions about how to say goodbye to their friends, family and routines, and what life will be like away from the home they grew up in. Ultimately, it’s about helping them solidify their sense of self, and the coping skills necessary to thrive in the world.
Teenagers, by their nature, do not always show incredible insight into their challenges. My job as their therapist is to act as an ally, earn their trust, and create a safe space for them to explore their feelings. For this reason, I do not behave like a parent or authority figure. Even as I bring up difficult topics, I do so with the intention of helping the teen develop the inner resources they need, while maintaining their self-esteem.
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Taking the Trouble out of the Teen Years
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