Adolescents are an interesting group. The young people who come to see me are often seen as angry, immature, hyperactive, oppositional & defiant. On the flip side, I also meet with those who present as sad, isolated, and self-loathing. Both groups have learned to protect themselves from further hurt and disappointment. The symptoms mentioned above are what this protection looks like.
Teenagers are unique in that they are often impulsive, inexperienced and self-conscious to name a few attributes. But, in actuality they are probably closer to adults than we care to admit. They are often sophisticated, intelligent, passionate about their beliefs and willing to stand up for what they believe in.
A big difference between adults & young people is that young people lack “degrees of freedom”. They do not have the freedom that many adults experience and thus cannot cope with life by moving away from their parents or quitting their jobs. They usually have to stick it out. Guess what happens when you have to stay in a less than desirable place and do things you don’t want to do? You get a bad attitude!
So, just like adults, adolescents need help with communication, collaboration, reducing hostility and increasing empathy and understanding. But before they can do this, they need to be given the room to grow and learn from mistakes. They have a need to be understood, validated and ultimately be reminded that freedom comes when you meet your responsibilities to others. So many that I see do not see themselves as viable adults or at least have serious doubts about their future.
I approach teenagers in therapy a lot like I approach adults. I offer respect and authenticity as much as I’m able. I seek to understand their feelings, yet not necessarily condone their life choices. I try to meet them where they are and acknowledge that often they didn't bring themselves to therapy. I ask what if anything they want from our time together. I try not to be judgmental about their thoughts and choices, but do point out when I genuinely feel they are putting themselves in harm’s way.
I also assess and acknowledge the very real likelihood that through genetic predisposition, life experiences and current thoughts and habitual coping mechanisms, some desired changes may need multiple interventions from different sources. Still, I find that just like us, underneath ugly behavior is anxiety, anger and resentment and underneath that is fear. I find that this fear is the fear of not understanding how to be worthy of a place in the world.
So while the young person may be brought to therapy to “reduce defiance” or “decrease arguing” I’m usually engaged in a “hearts & minds campaign”. I’m involved in developing an authentic relationship in which I hope the young person can see themselves in a different light and experience a corrective emotional experience that may lead to positive changes in their life.