Psychotherapy for Adolescents

Adolescents have a difficult “job” psychologically speaking. They must learn to be separate, whole individuals without their parents, while dealing with chaotic biological and (therefore) psychical upheavals that can make them feel and behave, at times, outrageously.

Adolescents can seem, justifiably, extremely competent and woefully immature. These years are tremendously important to their future well-being as adults. Feeling mature, confident and competent are essential to teenagers. Changing schools and languages – even if one has been on the move before- is particularly traumatic at this age.

This is why adolescents are very vulnerable psychologically, whether they come for psychotherapy or not. They need to feel they possess resources to do things themselves, but they are also easily overwhelmed by the intensity of their feelings, which can cause them to act impulsively, or paradoxically, seek to over-control themselves.

Here are some behaviors that can indicate psychological stress:

  • Fighting, anger and arguments.
  • Low self-esteem and self-confidence.
  • Disinterest in activities that they formerly loved.
  • Crying, withdrawal, lack of friends.
  • Difficulties paying attention, school difficulties.
  • Obsessional behaviors – checking things, repetitive movements.
  • Losing or gaining weight, seeming overconcerned by food, eating, and weight issues.
  • Sleep issues – strange hours, not sleeping enough, sleeping a lot. (Some of this is part of the biological turmoil of adolescence…!)
  • Suspicious behavior regarding alcohol or drug consumption (evasiveness, sleepiness, absenteeism or truancy)
  • Overuse of a screen – video games/messaging for long periods of time.

Adolescents in psychotherapy learn to better understand themselves and their reactions to painful situations. Understanding goes a long way towards experiencing more compassion for one’s self and boosting discernment rather than acting out, which in turn helps in feeling resourceful and competent.

Parental involvement in these sessions is more limited than for sessions with children. Most teens agree to have parental sessions where I explain the therapy process, or to hear more about the child’s home life. However, adolescents need a lot of privacy, and the success of their psychotherapy depends on how well they trust their psychotherapist.

It’s also important that parents participate in and understand their child’s psychotherapy process. I prefer to meet with parents either before meeting the child, or soon afterwards, to hear their experience and history, and help them to better accompany their daughter’s or son’s progression in treatment. This often brings families closer together, offering them a better appreciation of their shared story and its impact on each member.