My Counseling Services for Teenagers (Adolescents Ages 13 to 18)
I've been counseling teenagers (adolescents ages 13 to 18) for 20 years. I currently have three teens of my own. I enjoy the teen years.
Adolescence is a dynamic and complex experience. It's the ultimate Yin and Yang: there is struggle, and strength; pain, and joy. New ideas and concepts emerge, thoughts deepen, and emotions broaden. This is one of the most challenging developmental periods in a person's lifetime. We're processing new thoughts, emotions, and reactions. All of this can help or hinder one's path to adulthood.
Note to Teens:
Note to Parents:
If you're reading this then you are probably considering counseling or your parent, teacher, school counselor, or maybe your doctor has suggested counseling. If you've had counseling before then you are familiar with the process, and if you haven't had counseling then you most likely have ideas, positive or negative, about what counseling is all about. Let me give you a little introduction to my counseling practice.
I've been counseling teens for 20 years. I currently have three teens of my own. I enjoy the teen years. Adolescence is a dynamic and complex experience. It's the ultimate Yin and Yang: there is struggle, and strength; pain, and joy. New ideas and concepts emerge, thoughts deepen, and emotions broaden. This is one of the most challenging developmental periods in your lifetime. You're processing new thoughts, emotions, and reactions. All of this can help or hinder your path to adulthood.
Counseling is just a resource for change, reflection, and support. It can help you focus on directing your life. You are faced with tasks and pressures that for many teens can feel overwhelming. The process of growing up feels too fast for some, and too slow for others. Some kids weather adolescence with amusement and joy; some shut down in fear; others rebel in anger; some meet the pressures directly and make it look easy. Most teens feel a combination of emotions and have a variety of experiences.
As with any person at any stage of life, may factors impact us. These include our family situation, social relationships, moods, thoughts, reactivity, physical health, and individual challenges. So there is no one reason people choose to meet with a counselor. People come to talk, problem solve, or learn skills over a large variety of issues. For example:
- Some clients come in due to moodiness in the form of anxiety, depression, and anger. These moods limit their ability to function at school, at home, or socially.
- Some clients ask for help with attention and focus issues that challenge their ability to get things done at school or at home; their procrastination and impulsivity might result in poor grades, battles with parents, or unsafe choices. These experiences can result in a negative self-image and apathy.
- Some clients come to me with relationship issues often with parents, friends, or boy/girlfriends.
A counselor can be a helpful resource for any of these issues, but here's the rub; many people feel awkward confiding in a stranger. I get this - but let me see if my thoughts on this help you at all. All I ask is for you to try counseling with me for three sessions, and if I still feel like a stranger, then we can agree to work on it or match you with another counselor. I have tended to connect with my clients because all my clients, from ages 4 to 74, are people just like me. You are the expert on you (like the fingerprint), and I am the expert on the human condition (like the whole finger). I try to make my counseling office a comfortable place, almost like a living room. My clients tell me that I am pretty laid back, open, and friendly. I'm not here to be another adult telling you what to do. You can't get in trouble with me. My job is to help you connect to your own strengths and wisdom, and offer the insight and skills that might assist you to change, accept, or adapt to whatever goals you've set for yourself.
You should also be aware that counseling is confidential; you are in control of your information. At 13, you have the right to consent to health care services and you're ensured confidentiality. These rights are essential because without that guarantee most teens might not share private information with a counselor. Confidentiality guarantees you that you can talk to a trained adult about issues that you may or may not want to share with others, so that you can find the support you need.
Additionally, it's important for you to know that I counsel from a broad-minded perspective. Your life is not mine to judge. My question for most of my clients is: "How is what you're ____ (doing, thinking, feeling) working for you?" I am very clear that YOU ultimately make the decisions in your life. As you get more freedom to make these decisions, you need the skills to evaluate your choices. Is what you are doing working for you? Often, I'll work with teens to create a "pro vs. con" list, which sometimes motivates them to make changes in their lives, or stay the course.
Motivation is everything when it comes to change. Sometimes we have to dig deep to find motivation, and sometimes we discover that we are not motivated to change. When we are not motivated to change or maybe can't change (if we have a permanent condition, for example), we have to go through a process of acceptance and adaptation. Whatever your goal, need, or requirement is, it is my hope that I can help you cope with, manage, discover, and even enjoy this time of your life.
First, I want to share that I currently have three teenagers at home. I understand the erratic, complex nature of the adolescent first and foremost as a parent. Even with all the difficulties, however, I really do enjoy this stage. The difference between childhood and adolescence is much like that wonderful scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy lands in Oz; she walks out of the sepia colored world of childhood and into the Technicolor world of adolescence. The difference is shocking, scary, and delightful all at the same time.
Parenting teens is unlike raising children at any other developmental stage. As parents, we precariously balance on the edge of directing our teens and letting them direct themselves. Our teens teeter, too, between independence and dependence. Sometimes our impulse to direct matches up perfectly with their need to be directed, and peace reigns momentarily. Sometimes, the combination of our actions and their actions falters and puts in motion distressing feelings, experiences, or events.
Clearly, we need to respect our adolescents' space, independence, and distance - but when they pull away, we can worry. Their moods and behaviors can seem out of range from our highly attuned parental "tracking" system. When they were children, we constantly had a finger on the pulse of their moods, behaviors, and even their thoughts. In the teen years, however, adolescents will naturally individuate and our tracking system doesn't work as well. However-- just because your teenager may tell you they're doing fine, insist they are making good choices, and want to be treated as mature adults - they still need you as a parent.
Sometimes teens act or behave in ways that seem unsafe or unhealthy (see Parenting the Turbulent Teen link) and parents can feel helpless. If their children are choosing unsafe behaviors, parents might pull back on their child's independence, trying to keep them safe and hoping that the limitations will allow for increased maturity. Sometimes, these consequences don't work or aggravate the situation. If children are withdrawn, parents will try to open up communication or encourage social interaction, so that their child will come out of their "funk" and into a better place. Sometimes these suggestions are met with resistance or apathy. In either of these situations, parents might recommend counseling, but due to the laws giving adolescents the right to consent to services, they can refuse, leaving parents feeling powerless. Thus, many adolescents who really need counseling services end up being forced into therapy through the legal system, the school system (due to suspension or expulsion), or by parents using whatever negotiating tactic they have at their disposal (such as withholding privileges, threatening restrictions, offering rewards, or sometimes just pleading and begging!).
I have observed two basic reasons that adolescents agree to enter into counseling with me:
1. They are dealing with internal thoughts and feelings that they don't share with others. Their ability to function at home, school, or in social settings is compromised in some way. Anger, depression, anxiety, lack of focus and motivation has interfered with their daily functioning. They have asked for help or their parents have asked them to get help and they agree.
2. They do not necessarily see the need for help but due to negative behaviors or interactions at home, school, in the community, or with peers, they are directed by parents, the law, a doctor, or the school to seek help. Thus, they come in reluctantly.
In the end, I work with adolescents as long as they voluntarily sign my consent form. It's important to note that children 13 years and older consent for themselves in the state of Washington. (link to Washington state laws regarding treatment of minors) The content of their sessions and their records are confidential even from the parent unless the child signs a waiver that allows the counselor to share the information. Confidentiality can be broken only in the case of suicide risk, homicide risk, child abuse, and in some cases, a court order. There are many instances that parents feel that I should break confidentiality, such as if their child is doing drugs, sneaking out, talking about suicidal thoughts, or sexually active. I simply cannot break confidentiality, unless your child is in imminent danger of harming oneself. Only if your child's admissions suggest he or she is at risk will I consider breaking confidentiality. Even then, I will do so only after consulting with other professionals to see if it falls within the legal limits of breaking confidentiality.
I fully understand parents' desire to know. And I know how hard it is for parents to feel left out of the conversation. But confidentiality is critical: without it most teens would never be able to open up to me. For parents who feel frustrated by this, I encourage you to look at the positive: if your teen is not sharing thoughts, feelings or behaviors with you at home, I am able to provide them some adult guidance on their behaviors, thoughts, and feelings which otherwise they would not be receiving at all.
If your child allows you to be a part of a session then I will encourage it. I assist whenever I can to strengthen the parent-child relationship, communication, and day-to-day functioning. I encourage kids to talk to their parents, make healthy and safe decisions, and I care very deeply for their welfare. I am happy to work with schools, psychiatrists, and other professionals when permission is granted.