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
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!