What to do…
In most situations when people hear I work primarily with teenagers, I get a lot of “oh man” with an eye roll. I quickly respond with “I love working with teenagers.”
The key to making progress with teens is building a strong client/counselor relationship. Teens can be very skittish when it comes to trusting adults. It may be necessary to spend a session talking about tv or what they watch on YouTube to break the ice. Counseling is a crazy concept, sit down in front of a stranger and quickly reveal one’s innermost thoughts and feelings. Teens often tiptoe into this process. As counselors, it is our goal to reach them where they are and to connect in a way that creates a feeling of trust and safety.
Teenagers are just misunderstood. Adults rarely believe they could not be getting into trouble. They are believed to make every decision based on how their hormones are impacting them that day. On the flip-side teenagers feel they deserve respect without needing to earn it. Teenagers don’t understand why parents don’t let them do whatever they want. They’re almost adult’s right? Teenagers want to take on the challenges of being an adult. The reality is they are not developmentally ready to take them on without guidance.
Teenagers are considered adults in the counseling world at age 13. They can sign paperwork for themselves and they can decide whether to keep their parents or guardians in the loop as far as their treatment. This may seem like a dream to have this type of control for a teenager, but at our practice, we strongly encourage teens to allow their therapist to be in contact with their parent or guardian. It is crucial to have parents involved in the treatment of a teenager when possible. One of the main focuses in session is the communication between a teenager and a parent. Both parent and teen often feel like their loved one is speaking a foreign language. This frustration leads to yelling and assumptions. Too often everyone is trying to be heard, but no one is listening. Learning quality communications skills is key to battling most mental health issues and relationship issues.
Teens bring several unique issues into the counseling. They often look at the negative, feeling that “life sucks” or “why is this my life”. Putting a spotlight on their support system as well as reminding teen clients of the strengths they bring to their lives. Often teens feel like they have no choices and no control over their lives. In session, we guide our teen clients to understand what they do have control over and that they always have choices. They may not be the choices they want to have, but choices they still are.
Teens can find great success in counseling. With a strong client/counselor alliance and the client’s willingness to keep an open mind to learning new skills, great strides can be made to battle, depressions, anxiety, and several other mental health issues.