Adolescents make up a challenging and rewarding group of individuals in psychotherapy. Many times this group wants to be heard and appreciated, but parents and teachers become frustrated and angry. The group of adolescents is particularly sensitive and is incredibly capable of self-insight and change. Personally, I have found this a rewarding sub-group in my practice with which to work. They are usually longing for respect and someone to listen. Parents rarely realize the depth of the thinking of their adolescent. With the growth of a teen comes change and experimentation. Therapy can and does make the difference in the choices an adolescent will make.
A source of conflict can arise when therapists, parents, and teachers assume that adolescents who do not adhere to adult norms of behavior are deviant or pathological. It is all too easy for adults working with adolescent to fall into the trap of urging adolescents to adopt adult norms of behavior. Adults often ask questions with the intention of leading adolescents to the conclusion which the adult believes is correct. At the same time, the adult states that they respect the teen to make their own choices. The adolescent invariably spots this discrepancy and will cut off communication.
Adolescents desire to be listened too rather than preached at. Teens are especially sensitive to conflictual behavior on the part of adults. They are often bombarded from many directions with ideas of how to behave, think, and construct values and priorities. Parents, teachers, siblings, expended family members, and peers may all be trying to influence the adolescent’s thinking and behavior. The teen may be ambivalent about consulting with adults. Thus, adolescents may simultaneously seek and resent adult intervention into their lives. If adults are too directive in advocating values and behavioral choices, the teen may become oppositional or simply stop listening, resulting in a conversational impasse.
My therapy with teens has been successful because I respect the individual adolescent. First, I recognize the many positive characteristics about each one. Then, I build rapport by listening intently to their thoughts and feelings. I rarely pass judgement on the teen’s behavior. Instead, I help the teen to look at his behavior and analyze the elements he or she wishes to change. The therapy hour is a time for the adolescent to trust me and to feel free to discuss any issue in their life.