Most of the cases that I attend to in my psychology practice are adolescents and their families. This is not surprising since adolescence is a critical period of changes that can negatively impact both the adolescent and his family. Beginning of substance use, school discouragement, family conflicts and disobedience and the development of emotional problems are some of the most frequent problems at this stage. In other cases, what is addressed, however, is the evolution of a problem that has been dragging on since childhood and that “explodes” at this age to become a serious problem.
The usual thing in these cases is that it is the families who detect the need for help and propose to go to a psychologist. In many cases, adolescents do not recognize the presence of difficulties or are reluctant to express it openly (this is also a characteristic of adolescence). In addition, going to a psychologist is always a complicated step because of what it means to talk to a stranger about what worries me or causes me discomfort. Therefore, the first challenge we have with an adolescent is to be able to help him even if he is not the one who has asked for the help.
From my experience, I can say that even with the most negative adolescent we can get them to go to the first consultation with the psychologist. As parents, we are in control of many issues that are important to our child and although he sometimes wobbles, we retain the authority to raise attendance at the appointment. Once there, that’s when, as a psychologist, I deploy all the resources at my disposal to achieve the main objective of a first date with a teenager: that he wants to go back to a second one.
To do this, the first thing is to give the adolescent the prominence they deserve in this first contact. If it has already been difficult to convince him to come, imagine what effect leaving him in the waiting room for an hour while we talk with his parents … So, after a first meeting with all the parties at once, I usually “invite” the parents to leave the room to be alone with the adolescent.
Before going to talk openly about why you are here, it is recommended to start an informal conversation about some detail that may be positive: something related to your clothing, your style or something that has arisen in the meeting with the whole family. This will make the adolescent “lower his guard” and open up a bit more. Afterwards, it is important to explain the confidentiality agreement to him, which means that he can be calm to talk and raise any matter that is important to him without fear that he will tell his parents later.
After this, it is crucial to emphasize the role of the psychologist as a “problem solver” who seeks to improve the situation of the family, not the adolescent. I usually explain that, unlike a car workshop, I am not going to fix anything on the adolescent, but rather that I am going to work with the whole family to improve the situation that is present. And after all this, the adolescent is asked the big question: What things would you like to see changed for the better? It may be the first time someone has asked you what you think or feel about what is happening in an empathetic and non-invalidating way. If we do not take into account the reasons that the adolescent may have for coming to your consultation, they will not want to return a second time. And we will miss an extraordinary opportunity to help that family get back on the path of well-being.
Working with teenagers is not easy, nor is it without its difficulties, bumps, and ups and downs. But collaborating with them from the authenticity and the implication allows the acceptance of the patient and opens the possibility to numerous changes. Writing him a WhatsApp on the weekend to see how he is doing, replying to an Instagram story or being interested in things he has told you in previous sessions are elements that reinforce the therapeutic alliance with the adolescent. In addition, thanks to new technologies I have been able to do online therapy with adolescents from all over Spain with very good results, always keeping the main idea of any therapy with adolescents: stand shoulder to shoulder, never in front.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.