Therapy and Adolescence

Adolescence is often a time of turmoil, confusion and intense anger directed at parents, teachers and people in authority.

Developmentally, the adolescent is immersed in the process of separating from his/her parents or guardian and attempting to establish a sense of who he/she is. However, research tells us that while the conditions are often ripe for establishing independence, the adolescent brain has not yet fully developed to a point where logic and careful decision making preempt emotions and impulsivity. What sometimes begins as a struggle with developmental adjustment can evolve into a serious crisis or psychological problem.

As they develop their sense of self, adolescents can experience self-doubt, risk-taking behavior, anxiety, fear, depression and frustration with the adult world.

Common issues dealt with in adolescence include: parental pressure, academic under-achievement, anger management, low self-esteem, suicidal ideation/attempt, self-injurious behaviors, eating disorders, negative peer influences, peer conflict, school avoidance, lack of assertiveness and bullying, identity issues, substance abuse, divorce reaction, blended families and physical/emotional/sexual abuse.

Several specific child related issues include:

  • Disorders of regulation such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Intermittent Explosive Disorder and Eating disorders
  • Externalized disorders such as Oppositional Defiant and Conduct Disorder
  • Internalized or mood disorders such as Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Depression
  • Adolescent Therapy involves work focused upon self-esteem building, cognitive-behavioral restructuring, and, most importantly, involvement of the family system.

Individual work with an adolescent also involves establishing trust at the onset and guiding the young person through identity formation while assisting them in connecting feelings to their actions.

Developing a therapeutic relationship can help an adolescent explore their feelings/emotions through talking, journal writing, guided imagery and activities outside of the office setting.

The Family System and the Adolescent

Parents themselves often experience the same emotions that the adolescent experiences: frustration, anger, anxiety, disappointment and self doubt. They often are divided in their approach to their child and are concerned about the impact on the other children.

Meeting as a family can help develop a team approach to the situation, involve the children in the process and open up new pathways of communication.

DCYF and the Judicial System

Some families experience an escalation of behaviors that require the involvement of the State and/or the Courts.

In work with court-ordered or DCYF involved families, it is important that all parties work together on behalf of the family system to move towards safety and permanency leading to well-being. Strong collaborative partnerships must be fostered in order to provide the family with cohesion of need identification and appropriate service delivery.

Hospitals, Partial Hospitalization, and Outpatient programs:

There are adolescents who experience the emotional trauma at a level that can benefit from medical interventions from a psychiatrist or from a hospital setting. It is often helpful for the family to have a resource to assist and consult with them and the related professionals so that appropriate treatment approaches can be successfully implemented.