Every hour in the U.S., 57 teenagers attempt suicide, which amounts to 497,952 adolescent suicide attempts per year. This can be startling and as a parent, and you may think that your adolescent would never do anything like that. However it is a reality today for many reasons, some of which include the stressors that are being put on our teens today, the differences in their brain development, compared to adolescents in the 60’s and 70’s, the sleep deficit that is particularly damaging to the developing brains of our teenagers, and many other factors. Even when parents and teens have fairly solid relationships, the intense pressures and distractions that teens are exposed to surrounding sex, money, success, alcohol, substance abuse, video games, and gender identity are so powerful and subtle that they can sabotage even the most loving intentions on the part of both the parent and the teenager. To top it off, most teens today are more disconnected from themselves and others than ever before, due to an increased reliance on media. To bring in your teen for counseling does not mean that you have “failed” as a parent. However it does show that you are clearly seeking solutions and the skills that you need to be the best parent you can be, during the few years that you will have your teen under your roof. These years are crucial, and there are many “teachable” moments that you most likely do not want to miss or to misunderstand.
Denice worked for several years in a locked inpatient unit for severely disturbed adolescents prior to becoming an outpatient therapist. She has many years of experience teaching the skills needed for parents to understand their teens, and for teens to be able to work with their parents to get their needs met, both in inpatient and outpatient settings. Adolescent therapy is very complex and multi-layered, and it takes specialized skills and training to be effective in this area. Not all therapists specialize in adolescents. The dynamics of school, peer groups, family, vocational and role identity are far different today than they were even twenty years ago. Modern teens live in a world that is media connected, fast moving and intense and we need to be able to understand the different kinds of pressures they experience.
Denice sees teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18, but does not see children younger than 12 years old as primary patients, unless they come as part of the family sessions for the teens. Occasionally 12 year olds are accepted as primary patients depending on the situation. Although often times a teen may need to work alone with the therapist for several sessions, the goal of therapy is to help the teen and their parents work out their differences and move forward, since this relationship is a “template” relationship that affects all others. The parent-teen relationship is the central relationship that needs to be healed. All future relationships in the teenagers life, including their relationship with their future spouse, friendships, authority figures, and most importantly themselves are largely impacted by the kind of relationship a teen comes to have with their parents.
For these reasons Denice works primarily with the family when a teen is referred for counseling. It is not in the teen’s best interest to think of therapy as “dropping off my child so the therapist can fix him/her”, which does not have a high success rate. Although some teens would prefer to work alone and would prefer not to have their parents included in the therapy, Denice has experience to believe it is not in the teen’s best interest as a long-term solution for their therapy. Although she used to work with teens alone, she has found that this approach does not produce desired results as effectively or as quickly as including the family in the sessions at some point. As a parent, you are part of the issue and the problem that has developed with your teen. You are also the most important person(s) in their lives, regardless of the fact that they recognize this at the time. You have an innate ability to help your teen in ways that nobody else can, and you need to be taught how to bring this forth again. Both parents, if possible, need to be involved in the therapy at some point and be willing to come to the sessions. This will be discussed at the first intake session as the treatment plan is developed.
Denice is able to establish rapport with most teenagers through helping them see what is in therapy for them. Most teens don’t want to be in therapy, and have been brought in against their will by their parents, or referred by other authorities. There is a fine balance in working with them to help them to establish their own goals, versus the goals of their parents or the therapist. Unless there is something really in it for them, they will do their best to tolerate the therapy, but won’t really gain any useful tools. When they can see how it would benefit them to gain control over their own emotions, thoughts and behaviors, to learn how to relax, to better be able to discern a thought from an emotion, they are more motivated to work. They are tired of being told who to be, how to be, and what to be. In a time where they are learning to establish their own identity, this is the last thing they need or want. They are given skills to learn how to relax, slow down and cope with their fast paced and ever changing world, so they feel more “in control” of themselves and as a result, have better self esteem. They are also taught to communicate with their parents respectfully, which helps them to get their needs met, and helps the parent-teen bond. In the end, is there anything more important that teaching a teen to have better self-control and better relationships?
A thorough assessment will be made of the teen and the family to rule out such issues as depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, sleep deprivation, anger, drug and alcohol addiction, OCD and impulse disorders, personality disorders, etc. Also, the effects of divorce, death, emotional or sexual abuse, or physical trauma will be factored into the issues at hand. If the teen is unable to handle outpatient therapy and is actively suicidal or destructive, they will be referred to a psychiatric hospital for stabilization, to continue therapy upon discharge.