Tips for Teens:
You’ve made it this far. Chances are, if you’ve stumbled across this article, you are either considering or already in therapy. I just have to stop here for a second to say what an epic achievement you’ve already made. The fact that you are reading this article alone says great things about how far you have come. Seeking help is something to be proud. Trust me when I say, while it may seem awkward/boring/annoying/painful right now, especially if you are in therapy with your parent(s), the payoff you will experience will be so worth it. I know this because I was once in your shoes. In the meantime, how can we make therapy less and of a drag and more of a positive experience? How can you talk to your therapist and parents about those awkward situations and annoying feelings? First things first, don’t give up. Keep reading, and you may just find something here that can help you move forward. Here are some therapy tips for anxiety:
Remember why you are here in the first place. What is the issue that brought you into therapy in the first place? Problems with your parents? Issues with your boyfriend or girlfriend? Loneliness? Annoyed with school? All of the above? Whatever it may be, remember that the amount of pain and discomfort was large enough to convince you (and perhaps your family) to start therapy. I know it’s easy to get comfortable in your sadness and pain because it is familiar. But my therapist once asked me, would I be happy feeling this numbness for the rest of my life? Was my frame of mind actually working for me? The answer was no. I was lonely, miserable, failing school and using drugs. By doing nothing about it (except wondering ‘why me?’), I was driving myself into a bigger hole by holding on to what now felt normal -my depression. If you’re tired of feeling the way you feel, know that being proactive and honest in therapy is your way out of the darkness. If you are not open about your feelings, and dishonest when stating your needs, how can you get the help you need and most of all deserve?
But what about those of us who were ‘dragged’ into therapy, say, by our parents? I know that’s how I felt. This made it significantly harder for me to be honest with both my therapist and parents. I felt like my family was punishing me by sending me to therapy. They didn’t understand what it was like to be me! I was so annoyed, I thought by lying to all of them, they would think I was okay, and let me stop therapy. I can tell you that this attitude of mine only put me in a darker place. Not only were my therapists (I went through a few over the years until I found the right one for me) trained and able to detect my lies, my stubborn nature and inability to be honest actually ended up keeping me in therapy for a lot longer. Realize that if you are honest with yourself, family, and therapist from the start, it could save you years of therapy.
One of the reasons I found it so hard to be honest with my parents and therapist was because some of the issues I needed to talk about were so. freakin’. awkward. Adding fuel to the flame, my parents were extremely strict. In high school I couldn’t stay out past nine, I wasn’t allowed to date, or even hangout with girlfriends after school. And parents, if you are reading this, no, these rules did not keep me out of trouble. But we’ll get into that later. So I was stuck. If I wasn’t even allowed to date, how could I tell my therapist, with my parents in the room, about my (secret) boyfriend problems for example? After I was able to admit I needed help, honestly, I didn’t care what my parents thought anymore. I didn’t care about their reactions. Sure, they freaked out at some of the things I said, but, in time, they got over it the more progress I made. I realized, if they loved me, and wanted me to get better, they would accept me for all of the bad choices, bad moods, and awkward admissions. Remember, your parents were teenagers once too. You may be surprised to hear they may have gone through similar situations!
Something that also helped me to be honest in family therapy was dividing our sessions into three separate portions. First, I would speak with the therapist alone about the issues that were bothering me. Then, I would leave, so my parents could sit down with her. The therapist would brief them on my problems, listen to their issues, and prepare them for what I was going to have to tell them later on. After our individual sessions, she would bring us in together to discuss the problems as a group. If my parents got upset, judged, or didn’t listen to me, my therapist was there, by my side to calm them down and help them understand my point of view. She acted as a buffer between us –an advocate for me, and a trained professional my parents could trust.
I hope you find some of these tips to be helpful as you progress in therapy. Try to share this piece with your parents too. I’ve left some helpful tips for them below, which of course I encourage you to read as well. Remember, as cliché as it sounds, it gets better. Period. It may take a little time and effort, but I promise you, you are not alone and won’t always feel this way.
Tips for Parents:
Ask your teenager if and how they like their therapist. Often this is a major factor when it comes to a lack of authenticity in therapy. Here are some therapy tips for anxiety:
As a teenager, I went through about three therapists before I could find one in which I felt comfortable. She was younger, proactive, but still professional. She held me accountable for my actions but was still nurturing and gentle when it came to helping me understand my shortcomings. Additionally, since she was closer in age to me than my parents, she was easier to talk to, especially when it came to the uncomfortable stuff. Best of all, she did not act like a third parent. Many of my therapists did, scolding, and belittling me in front of my parents, which in turn made them feel like it was okay for them to scold and belittle me as well. I believe a bad therapist can instill bad habits. Find someone professional enough to trust, but relatable enough for your teenager.
Parents, please find it in you to stay calm. If your teen is living in fear of how you might react to his or her struggle, this will lead to dishonesty on their part. Make it known to your teen, both in and out of the therapists’ office; you welcome the things they may tell you. My mother had a very hard time with this. Often she would act as though she could accept my issues while in therapy. As soon as we left, she would lash out and use my struggles as ammo against me. If you have any doubts, concerns, or questions about what your teen is telling you, your time in therapy is the time you should address this. Ask all of the questions you need, (perhaps one-on-one with the therapist if you think they may come off as judgmental in front of your teen) before you leave the office. Know that it took a lot of courage for your teen to open up and be honest about their issues in front of you. If you truly want to see progress with your teen, you must listen, and accept what they have to say. You may not always agree with it, but it is your job to show them you love them no matter what.
Finally, remember to be open and honest yourself. You cannot expect your teenager to be truthful, if you are exhibiting the opposite behavior. Trust me, they know when you’re lying too. I understand there may be topics, which, even as an adult, you find difficult to discuss in front of your teen and/or the therapist. It’s important to remember in this situation, honesty is the only way to make any progress.
If you find that your teen could benefit from this article as well, please feel free to share it with them. You may even find bringing this to your next family therapy session proves beneficial.
By: Dominique Joelle, AiT Contributor