“There is in every child at every stage a new miracle of vigorous unfolding”– Erik Erikson
Adolescence is a time of social and psychological self-discovery and a time that can be uneasy for both the adolescent and parents. It is a critical time in both the resolution and formation of emotional disturbances and conflicts. Teens often become more aggressive and have more energy. In addition, they experience an intensified sexual drive. They hunger to be emancipated from their parents and often devalue their parents in the process. This is a direct result of wanting to be freed of their dependent feelings. However, in truth, they are very much dependent on their parents, much to their disliking at times. They usually do not hesitate to let parents know this. Parents often struggle with an adolescent’s outbursts to satisfy their drive for independence, particularly when they are vocalized with unacceptable language and in in anger.
Teens often exhibit rebellious behavior, the attacking of moral and ethical standards as well as parental rules. This goes hand and hand with this critical period of development and is almost necessary for development, but must be within parental boundaries. Teens are in search of their identity. At this time, peer groups become the foundation of support for teens, and parents take on a secondary role. This can become a source of tension between parents and their teenagers if they view this drive for friends and peers as a personal rejection or loss. This is but one of the many conflicts that can occur at this stage and why it is so important for parents to be involved the therapeutic process.
Emotional and behavioral difficulties can be exacerbated during adolescence and oftentimes parents find themselves worried, unsupported and anxious. Parents sometimes are unable to deal with the adolescent’s preoccupation with him or herself and their newly discovered power. Parents may reach a point of irritation and anger because old ways of dealing with their “children” simply don’t work anymore.
Adolescence is a period of physical and psychological growth. Simultaneously, parents often struggle with aging parents and their own developmental issues. This is why psychotherapy can be a useful tool in managing this particular time of life.
In addition to the most common issues of being a teenager, there are additional issues that make this stage of development even more complex. Some of these may have existed prior to adolescence or are issues that arise during adolescence and present a greater challenge at this time. These are several examples:
- Eating disorders
- Grief and Bereavement
- Divorce and Family Issues
- Self-Destructive Behavior
- Learning Difficulties
- ADD or ADHD
The task of psychotherapy with adolescents is to help them develop a healthy concept of an independent self. In working with adolescents, it is imperative to consider all the influences that impact their lives. Therapy includes the guidance of parents who may find themselves feeling helpless.
The goal at the onset of treatment is to sense the needs of the adolescent and help put them at ease so he or she can develop a sense of trust with the therapist. Trust is of utmost concern to the development of a healthy relationship with the therapist and the basis for the adolescent to resolve their conflicts and gain a better sense of self. The relationship with the therapist, in interpersonal psychotherapy, is of paramount concern.
In order to properly treat adolescents it is imperative that the therapist has experience with this population and extensive training. In addition, the therapist must understand development and be well informed about how environmental factors affect the way in which teenagers feel and think about themselves and the world around them.