To be a teenager in today’s world can be exciting and exhilarating but also overwhelming and scary. With so much access to social media through the Internet, TV, cell phones, and texting, teenagers are more exposed than ever. With hormonal changes, peer pressure, complex family dynamics, parental and school demands, it is easy (sometimes unavoidable) for adolescents to feel flooded with emotions. Whether a teenager is struggling at school, in the middle of their parent’s divorce, adjusting to a remarried family, or dealing with bullying and difficult relationships at school, it can be difficult for teenagers to contain and grasp all the different emotions they feel and find effective coping skills. Turning inward and stewing in their challenges alone is often the more natural and common, if potentially destructive, solution for adolescents. However, many times this approach results in teenagers feeling overwhelmed, helpless, afraid and alone.
Therapy can be beneficial for adolescents looking to find a safe space to talk about their feelings, experiences and difficulties with a professional who is not directly related to, or conflicted by, their family and friends. Therapy can provide teenagers an opportunity to understand their growing emotions better and learn how to separate emotional reactions with clear and thoughtful responses. A seasoned professional can validate and normalize a teenagers’ experience and help guide them to develop more effective communication skills with peers and family members. Further, therapy can create a safe space for teenagers to explore new and undiscovered parts about themselves, voicing these hidden strengths and energies by getting in touch with their needs, goals, and aspirations. As a result, therapy can show positive changes in a teenagers’ confidence and self-esteem, something most adolescents have a difficult time dealing with as they begin to mature and individuate.
As a practiced family therapist that benefited from my experience working with teenagers throughout both the Broward and Miami-Dade County school systems, I am equipped and sensitive to understanding the unique challenges teenagers face. My approach is interactional, strengths-based and non-threatening. As a family therapist I look to understand the context and relationships in teenager’s lives that are important to them and how those relationships inform their thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
Family dynamics can be difficult, and I often incorporate family members in my work with teenagers to address relational issues, family interactions, communication difficulties and destructive patterns that keep families stuck. I ask parents to respect their teenagers’ privacy in individual sessions as much as possible. Although parents have the right to know about the content and process of their child’s therapy, it can delay or stall a teenager’s progress if a parent gets overinvolved. It takes a trusted and safe environment for a teenager to feel comfortable enough to open up and talk openly about their feelings, challenges and fears. Therapy is most effective with teenagers when parents respectfully give teenagers space to explore their own challenges while being supportive and engaged in the process of therapy.
There are three occasions where I as the therapist would have to breach confidentiality in my work with a teenager: the facts suggest the teenager is at risk to self-harm, the teenager expresses homicidal intention and/or a plan to hurt someone else, or when abuse is reported or suspected.
If you are a parent or teenager and would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns.
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Dr. Olivia Schläpfer Colmer offers individual, couples and family therapy in Miami, FL. Her office is located at 4770 Biscayne Boulevard, Suite 1440, Miami FL 33137.
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