mentalhealth

Let's Talk About Teen Mental Health

Photo by  Raw Pixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by Raw Pixel on Unsplash

Recently, I had the honor and privilege of being interviewed by a local high school student for their Sociology class. Though I field many questions regarding specific client cases, I found this particular experience to be very eye-opening; I felt that if this teenager (who isn’t a client) had these questions, I’m sure that others are wondering the same things. With this individual’s (and her parent’s) permission, I am pleased to share our interview in hopes that it may help build connection and reach teens who may be looking for help and are not sure where to start.


Student Interviewer:  In what ways are therapists trying to solve the problem of teen’s mental health issues? 

Danielle: I love that you asked this question. It is my belief that we currently live in a “fix-it” culture where we expect to take a pill or see a therapist and then after 4-6 weeks, the problem very quickly just disappears and is considered “solved” or “cured.” While this would be convenient, it’s a very common misconception.

While I can’t speak for all therapists, I can speak on my own professional experience working with teens and their families. At least right now, I wouldn’t say I’m working to “solve” the problem as much as I am trying to honor, connect with, and normalize the adolescent experience.

Adolescence is unfortunately an unavoidable, yet necessary process of growth and development that is filled with self-discovery, self-comparison, and sometimes, even self-criticism. It’s the transitional period between childhood and adulthood, and the discomfort and awkwardness of it all is VERY REAL. The nice thing about that, however, is that everyone who lives to adulthood goes through it, and I mean everyone! So, at least you are in good company!

There are a number of transitional periods in your life when you will ask yourself, “Who am I?” Adolescence is perhaps the most memorable growth moments to happen across your lifespan, because it is the first time that your brain has developed enough for you to be aware of yourself and others in a social context, and then really remember it. It’s much like watching a baby walk for the first time. Those brain muscles and thought processes are new and a bit weak, so you’re going to fall or mess up. A LOT. The important thing is to get back up and keep trying. This leads you to get stronger and stronger, until eventually it somehow becomes second nature.

Sometimes, this transition can be a shock to our system and when you factor in family of origin and past experiences, it’s not uncommon to see anxiety, depression, etc. appear.  In my work, I use some Evidence Based Therapy approaches (those that have been researched thoroughly and have been shown to be effective in certain groups of people) such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Essentially, CBT is one way to help people see how their thinking can be a little faulty, and help them learn how to shift their thinking. I also incorporate what is called Interpersonal Neurobiology - which is just a fancy way to say that I’m looking at how our brain develops and changes in response to our life experiences - as well ways to connect to ourselves and to others. Connection to others is KEY to healthy development! Additionally, I utilize a lot of creativity through art, writing, and nature. Sometimes it can be difficult to put into words what you are experiencing, and it may feel safer to use a less verbal outlet.

The important thing to know about all of this is that it takes time, and likely more time than you think. The amount of time it takes depends on the client’s current abilities to process, face and incorporate change. As a therapist, I cannot “solve” these problems for my clients, but I can help support them and teach them ways in which they can help themselves. It is very important to remember that in adolescence, autonomy (aka self-regulating) is vital, and that the client (with support of parents, therapist, peers, and sometimes medications) has to do the work. It’s hard, but with support it is very much worth the effort ☺

SI:  Are there specific ways you try and reach out to teens? If so, what are they? 

D: In terms of outreach, I personally could be so much better - particularly in terms of social media. That’s the way to connect to your generation, yes?! Lol. Professionally, I have been fortunate to become a part of a group practice that has a positive and well-established reputation and social media presence. This has allowed me to accumulate clients, and then ultimately, it is word of mouth.

In a general sense, however, I reach out to teens by noticing them and making an honest effort to better understand one’s experience within a generation and culture. I ask questions. For example, I didn’t know what “stan” meant for the longest time, and I finally just asked (typing this out even just feels like that tiny, yet noticeable amount of embarrassing! Haha).  Do I use it in sentences now? No. Do I totally understand what it means to “stan” a musician? YES - 1000% yes (I love you, Fleetwood Mac!)

I also allow myself to be vulnerable with teens and show them that I’m a real person who has gone through real life stuff. I acknowledge when I mess up within the therapeutic relationship (it happens! People are people!), and I model what repair looks like in a social and relational context.

This is something that I am constantly working on!

SI:  How can a regular person help someone out who struggles with their mental health? 

D:   I think one of the best things you can do to not only help yourself but to also help others is to listen with compassion and without judgment. If you or someone else says that they need help or that they are questioning harming themselves or others, take it seriously and reach out for help, ASAP.  It’s then equally important to be familiar with available resources to get help. This includes trusted members of your community that you could talk to – parents, teachers, friends, church leaders, mentors, therapists etc. Additionally, there are a number of confidential and free resources available to teens such as:

For those in immediate/emergency crisis

  • 24/7 Austin Mental Health Crisis Hotline at 512-472-HELP (4357)

  • The Crisis Textline: Text CONNECT to 741741

  • Calling your closest hospital or 911

Non-Emergency

Free Apps: My favorites geared towards teens are Wysa, What’s Up? and  #Selfcare

 I like these because they guide you through ways to think differently about your situation as well as track your mood, behaviors, and give you ways to take care of yourself.

**Please note that these are NOT a substitute for professional treatment.

SI: Thank you so much! I hope to be able to reach out if I have any more questions, and I’m really excited to share these answers!

D: Absolutely, I’m so glad this was helpful!



I hope that this Q&A was as helpful to you readers as it was for my interviewer and I, and if you ever find yourself wondering more about how mental health affects teens, please be empowered to reach out to your trusted support system as well as the resources listed above. They are a part of your community and you are a part of theirs! You’re curiosity and questions matter, and as cheesy as it sounds, knowledge truly is power. Like, for real. Much gratitude to you all!

ProTip: "Should I Work With a Male Therapist?"

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I want to let you in on a little not-so-secret reality: in the therapy world, male therapists are a bit of a minority.  As a member of this smaller group, I’m often asked if it would be appropriate or effective for a female to work with a male therapist or even why someone, male or female, would choose to work with a man.  Although we are trained to be able to work with all individuals regardless of gender and sex identification, I’ve come to understand that some individuals have trepidation in working with a male therapist, and wonder how I could possibly understand/help/connect with a female client or if I will be as “nurturing” as a female therapist.  There are some preconceived notions about working with a man that can be helpful to unpack and I thought this would be a good opportunity to get some of these concerns and feelings out in the open and talk about them, which is just what therapy is all about after all:

  • “As a woman, I would be more comfortable talking to another woman about my issues.”  While I appreciate and respect the desire and perspective that speaking with a counselor of the same sex provides comfort and safety, I’ve found that many female clients find great solace working with a male therapist.  Some women haven’t been afforded the opportunity to engage in and experience a healthy relationship with a man, or have had negative experiences with men in their lives. Through the positive experience of working with a male therapist, some women are able to experience a totally new way of relating to men and having the healing power of a therapeutic alliance with a man.
  • “I think I’d rather my teenage daughter work with a woman.”  Some parents feel worried about their daughters engaging in a therapeutic relationship with a man, either because they are fearful that she won’t relate to a man or that it will limit what she is able to talk about with me.  My experience, though, has been that many teenage girls find safety and comfort in working with a male therapist.  In seeing a male therapist who is healthy, establishes appropriate boundaries, in tune with his feelings, compassionate, and attentive, adolescent girls often report feelings of empowerment and a great appreciation in being able to challenge their perceptions of men and to get to experience a male role model who they can really be themselves with and feel safe.
  • “Although I’m a guy, I really think I want to work with a woman.  Other guys don’t really know how to talk about this stuff.”  I get it.  Society has taught us that men aren’t supposed to talk about their feelings nor be able to express empathy and understanding to others. Through the effective modeling and authenticity of a strong relationship with a male therapist, men are able to experience a healthy and mature way of interacting with other men. This often plays in stark contrast to the Hollywood depiction of how guys interact with each other which often provides men with a new appreciation and bolstered comfort in engaging with other men outside the therapy room.

Making the decision to reach out to someone for therapy can be scary and makes us feel extremely vulnerable.  With this, it is absolutely understandable that we all want to feel as safe and secure as we possibly can throughout this process, and part of my job is working with all my clients in creating this felt sense of safety and connection. So if you’re wondering what it would be like to work with a male therapist, reach out to me and let’s explore how I can support you in your journey.

Justin works with all ages and genders and currently facilitates a teen Identity and Relationship group for all genders as well as GirlTalk Therapy groups for teen girls. Learn more about Justin here!

ParentTip: Is Playing Important to Survival?

Photo by  Robert Collins  on  Unsplash

As a therapist who works with children, as well as a preschool teacher, I am fascinated by the way children interact with their environment. I love the way children can spend an hour watching a bug walk across a leaf, and in the next moment pretend they are dinosaurs riding on a magic carpet. Watching children play in groups adds another layer, with social rules and norms that are often unspoken but somehow always understood among the children interacting together.

In a recent Ted Talk that I watched, a researcher and expert on play in all forms named Dr. Stuart Brown talks about why play is so vitally important to human development, and even to survival. Lack of opportunity to play has been shown to have far-reaching consequences, even later in life, his research has shown.

Dr. Brown examines play in nature– he shows animals at play that look like they are fighting and how innate it is in all of us.  He argues that children should be allowed to roughhouse– “dive, hit, whistle, scream, be chaotic”– to find their own limits, and learn the boundaries of how far their wildness can go. Dr. Brown says that kids learn social cues, emotion regulation and that they develop cognitively and physically through these experiences.  

Another idea mentioned in the talk is the connection between play and joyfulness later in life. Think back to the experiences in your childhood that were fun, and really resonated with you: did you love playing teacher? Did you love animals and pretend to play zoo? Did you build things again and again? Did you love to dance?  It’s so important to think about how those experiences connect with us today, because it can provide you with a new way of envisioning your life- as not just living day to day in a job that you may have just fallen into, but perhaps finding your way back to a career or a hobby that you really connect with! Additionally, if you are a parent, helping your child remain connected to the things they loved to be around as a child can be a great way to help them hone in on their passions and dreams later in life.

Dr. Brown is a proponent of allowing children to play without interjections, without guidance, or redirection. He says they know what to do and how to do it. Those that don’t know innately, simply haven’t been given the opportunity to do what they are meant to do. It is vitally important that we allow kids to play, unencumbered by us.  And, maybe if we offer ourselves the same playful opportunities, we can see how positively affects the rest of our lives.