“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading” Lao Tzu
For over 20 years, I have worked with adolescents in innovative organizations focused on improving the lives of youth. My roles have included: Canoe Trip and Wilderness Therapy Guide with Camp Wapomeo and Project CANOE, Youth Counsellor at Eva’s Initiatives Homeless Shelters, and as a Psychotherapist at Blake Boultbee Youth Outreach Service in Toronto. For the past 5 years, I have served as a Psychotherapist and Team Leader at the Pine River Institute, a long term, developmentally and family based therapeutic residential and wilderness program for adolescents struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues, the first and only program of its kind in Canada.
From these experiences I have learned that teenagers and young adults have so much potential but they can be vulnerable and get lost easily at this time in their lives. Often therapy can be a welcome place for them to talk freely and to be joined by a caring adult to receive support in the confusing work of growing up. As much as they do not want to admit it, and often work hard to reject it, they also need their parent’s support.
Parents are often left out of their adolescent’s therapy treatment; they are left in the dark just at the time that they are most concerned about their child’s wellbeing and are desperate for answers about how to help. I believe that parents are too important to leave out of their child’s process so I promote a parallel process where teenagers and parents work simultaneously in their own therapy at first and then come together in therapy when there is more understanding of how to engage usefully in the relationship. If the teenager is not ready or willing to engage in therapy, I will work with the parents only; I have seen the strong positive influence healthy, supported and educated parents can have on their teenager’s mental health even when the teenager is not in therapy themselves.
Often, I will incorporate family therapy into the process when everyone is ready, since siblings are often deeply impacted by the behaviours their struggling brother or sister has exhibited in the family and it can be very healing for them to get the answers they are seeking in therapy and to reestablish care and trust with their sibling.
Which Teenagers do I work with?
I work with teenagers and young adults struggling to grow up and willing to do the hard emotional work it requires. These teenagers agree to engage in regular therapy and their parents also agree to attend therapy regularly.
I do not work with teenagers who are forced to come to therapy by the courts or by parents – for these teenagers who are not ready to grow, I work with their parents only and the teenagers are welcome to engage in therapy at any time.
These teens struggle with:
- Poor peer and family relationships
- Trouble going to school or succeeding in school
- Having realistic future plans or feel hopeless about the future
- Feeling bad about who they are
- Feeling angry, stressed, nervous, numb, lonely, isolated, anxious or sad
- Leaving their home during the day to fulfill responsibilities or social activities
- Hurting themselves or others with self harm, suicidal thoughts, excessive drug/alcohol use or dangerous behaviour
- Seeing things in black and white terms and struggling to understand the grey areas in relationships.
- Have accessed hospital interventions, psychiatrists and therapists and nothing seems to work.
Outcomes for Teens in Therapy:
- Feel better about yourself and more comfortable in social situations
- More respectful, easy, supportive relationships with your friends, parents and siblings
- Understand your family dynamics and how they play a role in your mental health
- Be more successful in school
- Feel like you have a voice with your friends, your teachers, your parents and siblings
- Discover what makes you happy
- Learn why you feel so nervous, anxious or depressed and what you can do about it
- Learn to say no to people who are trying to get you to say yes to something you don’t want to do
- Learn how to have dating relationships that feel good and supportive instead of confusing, constricting and dramatic
- Figure out how adults can help you instead of always seeing them as the enemy who will get you in “trouble”
- Understand addictions and figure out if you are headed for one or not
- Learn about healthy relationships and sexuality
- Figure out how to be a supportive friend or boyfriend/girlfriend
- Understand why it is you keep getting in trouble with the law – decide if this is the path you want to take
Which Parents do I work with?
- Parents who have felt shut out of their child’s psychological interventions by professionals and want to be an integral part of a transparent healing process of the teen and family.
- Parents who are frustrated with their teenager’s inability to function, scared about their teen’s and family’s future, hopeless about the medical and educational system’s ability to help them,
- Parents who are ready to commit to their own therapy, understand their own histories and how they are impacting their families.
- Parents who recognize that this process will not be quick, but will require sustained effort, will involve setbacks and will require of them resilience and commitment. Parents are the engines of the family and their growth and development is a central part of the therapeutic process that will bring about change in their teen’s life.
- They recognize that they will have to look at themselves through their teen’s eyes and they may not always like what they see.
- They have the courage to see themselves more accurately and to have compassion for themselves and their own histories, then to extend this compassion to their partner, their children, their family of origin and their community.
- Parents who no longer want to be isolated because of their teen’s behaviour
Outcomes for Parents in Therapy:
- Become more confident handling conflict and learn to help their child through attuned limit setting and successfully navigating the rupture/repair cycle
- Discover how their own childhood development impacts their parenting today
- Recognize that they have a huge part to play in helping their teen feel better
- Reignite their own vitality – get a life again
- Feel better in their relationship with their partner or the other parent – start to work together rather than be split by the teenager’s behaviour
- Improve communication within the family
- Heal from past traumas and live a more calm, confident and grounded life
- Discover effective communication styles that allow you to be truly yourself and to parent from a place of responding rather than reacting.
- Recognize and reclaim your strengths and resources
- A peaceful home (most of the time!)