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How to engage teenagers and young adults in counseling

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The teenage years are a distinct stage of human growth, often involving experimentation, danger, and the search for one’s identity. Few people would likely choose to return to their teenage days if offered a time machine. Therapists sometimes find it challenging to reach teenagers, as they are not quite old enough for the tactics that work with children and are not quite mature enough to process certain problems like adults do.

Counseling aimed at teenagers is designed to assist youths with their mental health. It is beneficial for all adolescents, but it is especially necessary for those suffering from mental health issues. Through counseling, adolescents can be protected from facing mental health crises and can also receive additional help if needed.

Challenges facing teenagers

Working with young people in therapy is challenging due to their resistance to accepting help and various beliefs about the therapy process. The stigma around mental health problems is a reality for them; they care about what their peers think about them, and most of them are in denial of their current challenges. To engage them in therapy, it is essential to address their fears, assure them of confidentiality, and use an age-appropriate approach to develop a therapeutic relationship.

Most therapeutic processes were designed for either children or adults so that teenagers may find an approach either childish or way beyond their cognitive reasoning. One framework to foster this relationship is HEADS 3.0, which stands for Home, Education and employment, Eating and exercise, Activities and peer relationships, Drug and alcohol use, Sexuality, Suicide and depression, and Safety (and Spirituality).

It helps clinicians understand the young person in the first session while also reducing feelings of shame. It is a strength-based approach and encourages young people to slowly become more comfortable with the therapist and the process of verbal disclosure before discussing difficult issues.

Importance of seeking teenage counseling

When it comes to addressing mental health issues in adolescents, there are different types of counseling available. Parents should think about seeking out clinical mental health counseling for their children when they are having difficulty. Teachers and school professionals are usually the first to identify when a teen may need adolescent therapy.

Adolescence is a significant period of life where puberty and hormonal changes can take a toll on the teen, affecting their health and wellness. In today’s world, several external factors can disrupt teens in terms of mental health, such as social media, climate change, and even fear of world events like the pandemic. Furthermore, adolescents also face difficulties associated with their age, including bullying, peer pressure, and self-esteem issues.

It is a way of providing them with the necessary support and guidance to help them navigate through life’s difficulties. Counseling provides teenagers with a safe space to handle psychological health troubles. If mental health problems are not addressed, adolescents could get into a dire situation. Additionally, counseling for teenagers can benefit those not facing a crisis but could still use some extra help and guidance navigating life.

Counseling for teens promotes the development of constructive coping strategies and realistic objectives. It also creates a safe space where adolescents can process their feelings and childhood experiences while establishing better relationships with their families.

Professional counseling for teens, handled by qualified and licensed counselors, may involve the participation of family members like parents or guardians. Different types of counseling are accessible to adolescents. A trained clinical therapist must do the counseling. An online master school counseling program can help anyone seeking licensure help high and middle school students deal with their challenges.

Types of adolescent counseling

  • One-on-one counseling

Individual therapy is an opportunity for a person to explore their feelings, beliefs, and behaviors with the guidance of a licensed professional. Adolescents can receive counseling specifically targeted to their mental health concerns in one-on-one settings. A kids and adolescent therapist will facilitate the sessions.

  • Family therapy

This is often an advantageous approach for family members who are anxious about their adolescent’s mental health. Mental health professionals specializing in family therapy will incorporate the family unit into the treatment. We think that family involvement is a crucial part of attaining lasting healing from adolescent mental health issues.

  • Group counseling sessions

Group counseling provides an opportunity for teens to connect with other youth who are going through similar mental health issues. Professionally trained counselors in group dynamics create an environment where adolescents can talk about their experiences with each other and the therapist. This kind of therapy is beneficial, as it helps young people feel less isolated. They get to engage and get help from their peers and the mental health counselor.

  • Trauma therapy

All mental health clinicians are aware of the fact that trauma counseling for teens is a common occurrence. As a result, there is a trauma-informed approach for all clients, regardless of whether they are in an individual or group counseling setting. The language and interventions used are designed to make adolescent patients feel secure and avoid triggering traumatic memories.

  • Experiential therapy

This form of psychotherapy emphasizes a person’s experience in the present moment rather than on past experiences. Through role-play, art, and music activities, teenagers are encouraged to explore their emotions and learn how to express them healthily. This type of therapy is effective in treating a range of emotional and mental health issues.

Inventive ways to engage teenagers in counseling

Here is a list of innovative activities for teenage clients that can be used during therapy sessions, thanks to Lina Lowenstein and the American Counseling Association:

  • Cards to understand self-identity

Utilizing cards (I am, I think I am, I don’t think I am) that contain various characteristics, ask the adolescent to put them in three sets. The first set should be for traits the teen is aware they possess, the second for qualities they believe they have, and the third should be for features they recognize they do not have. This will help show what the teen thinks of themselves.

  • Anger Menu

Creating a menu in therapy can be a helpful way to display and measure the anger one is feeling. Fold the menu with the outer side titled ‘Anger Menu’ while the inner side reads ‘menu options’. Work together to come up with a variety of suitable ways to express anger. Have the adolescent write down different options on the inner part of the menu.

  • Designing a personal music album

We can all agree that music is a popular topic among teens, so opening up a conversation by asking them about their favorite songs and albums is useful. Suggest they create a vinyl cover, including an album title, with a comprehensive playlist and artwork. As they work, they take the opportunity to pay attention to their choices and ask questions about their artistic decisions.

  • Lifeline

For this activity, have the adolescent create their life’s timeline by collage or drawing. Ask them to include significant events up until the present, and for the future part of the timeline, let them share their aspirations. This activity is a method to learn about the client’s past and future objectives and goals without being too intrusive.

  • Bursting balloons

This activity encourages reflection on the necessity of dealing with anger healthily. Ask the teen to wear safety glasses and give them an uninflated balloon. Request that they think about something that angered them, yet they could not express their feelings. Ask them to blow into the balloon repeatedly until it bursts. Then, give them another balloon and tell them to blow it up the same way, not letting it reach the point where it explodes. Have them verbalize their feelings about the situation while letting out air until the balloon deflates. Finally, brainstorm ways they can positively manage their anger.

  • Paparazzi

Many young people are interested in the lives of celebrities, and a popular way of unveiling their lives is through paparazzi pictures. This activity encourages teens to be like paparazzi but on themselves, capturing images of the significant places and people in their lives. When they have collected a set of photographs thadepictingeir life, they will produce a ‘tabloid’ showcasing the images grouped and labeled according to the places, people who support them, and items they consider to be integral components of their life.

  • Paper bag story

This game is intended to give adolescents an indirect way to disclose difficult parts of their lives. Start by showing them a paper bag with instructions to make a creative media collage of their life. Use the back and front of the pack to highlight important life events. The folded sides of the bag, which are only visible when fully opened, can be used to write painful or challenging experiences. The experiences that are hard to express can be noted at the bottom of the bag.

  • Social media profile

Well, almost all teens are familiar with social media. After talking through as much of the teen’s social media profile as they feel comfortable, you will provide a paper template that follows the style of a social media profile. Every part encourages them to explain a significant belief they have about themselves.

For instance, the profile photo section can have a prompt to create an image of their future self, picturing what the future may be like for them. In the introduction, the template could ask them to explain how they view themselves and how others perceive them. The counselor can personalize the prompts on the template to address the client’s particular objectives.

  • Talk meter

It can be hard for adolescents to communicate with a new adult, particularly when addressing hardships they are going through. This activity offers a method to display their eagerness to converse indirectly. Start by showing a picture of a gauge such as a thermometer, labeled in steps from ‘not ready to chat’ to ‘totally willing to chat’. Have the teen color the thermometer to the level that reflects their comfort level with speaking. Finally, discuss their obstacles when opening up in the therapy session.

Reflecting on progress

It is beneficial to assess the progress made during a course of therapy. To do so, have a client write on the front of a blank piece of paper how they feel about treatment at the beginning. Keep this paper in their file, and then, on the last day, ask them to write how they feel now on the back of the article. This is a great way to celebrate the progress made!

Counselors must strive to form a connection with the adolescents they work with. The therapeutic relationship is often considered the most essential part of the process. If the teen does not trust you as a counselor or does not feel secure enough to open up, there can be no progress in therapy.

Counselors assist adolescents in establishing objectives. Furthermore, they employ an array of techniques, such as:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – is an evidence-based treatment that concentrates on behaviors, emotions, and thoughts and typically provides tangible coping skills.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) – is beneficial for helping build distress tolerance in teens.
  • Mindfulness approaches – they are useful for helping teens relax their bodies and quiet their minds.
  • Motivational interviewing is used to engage teens in counseling and create motivation for healing.
  • Experiential therapies – include art, music, and outdoor activities.

Advantages of counseling for teens

1. Helps develop the ability to regulate emotions

As teenagers become young adults, the capacity to manage their emotions is an important skill. However, controlling feelings can be a challenge for those with developmental issues, mental health issues, eating disorders, and addictions. Emotional regulation is a valuable tool for these teens.

2. Helps recovery from traumatic experiences

The process of healing from a traumatic experience can be difficult and lengthy. It is essential to take the necessary time to work through the emotions and memories associated with the trauma to reach a point of recovery. It can be beneficial to seek professional assistance from a mental health expert and build a strong support system with family and friends. Engaging in activities such as journaling and mindfulness can be helpful techniques to process the trauma and move toward healing.

During the teenage years, the brain is still in a state of formation. Without intervention, serious or chronic trauma can impede brain growth, giving teenagers a condition that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. The signs of trauma and PTSD are comprised of flashbacks, nightmares, dissociation, feelings of terror, and physical pain.

3. Helps build up self-esteem and self-love

Adolescents need to build up their confidence and self-esteem. Poor self-image can be a risk factor for depression and suicidal behavior. Cultivating self-love is beneficial to teens in improving their self-worth and being more tender with themselves.

4. Helps rebuild family ties

Trying to improve the relationships within a family is something that can be done to create a more harmonious environment. Repairing family relationships can be difficult, but it is possible to re-establish a connection between family members. By taking time to understand the needs and feelings of each other, members of a family can start to reconnect and build stronger relationships.

When treating teenagers, involving their families can be particularly useful. Attachment-based family therapy is a type of therapy that is specifically designed for adolescents. It works to repair any broken bonds between parents and children that may have been caused either by childhood trauma or the mental health struggles of the teen.

5. Helps acquire useful methods of dealing with stressful situations

Adolescent counseling can be beneficial in teaching young people to develop healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with difficult situations and emotions. A clinical mental health counselor can assist adolescents in discovering new methods of managing issues such as troublesome family relationships, depression, and anxiety.

6. Promotes individual development and growth in teens

Developmental milestones are significant for teens transitioning into the next phase of adolescence. Through counseling, adolescents can attain their developmental objectives, as it assists in the exploration of the effects that each stage of development has on social, emotional, and behavioral growth.

In conclusion, therapists must invest in creating a solid bond at the outset of treatment to ensure the teen trusts the therapy. Keeping adolescents involved in individualized activities can keep them interested and aid in accomplishing therapy objectives.

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