Psychotherapy for adolescents requires a varied and creative approach. This approach is different than talk therapy for adults. Psychotherapy for teenagers requires meeting the teen where they are, understanding the social environment that they are involved in, understanding their individual academic interests and plans, and helping to manage and cope with parental needs and demands. In addition, therapy for teens needs to respond to the individual while framing their specific issues and dilemmas in context of puberty and hormonal changes, social relations, family dynamics and brain development.
The specific psychological and social stage of adolescence is described in what Eric Erikson termed, identity vs. role confusion. Teens are naturally moving their lives toward a developing sense of self or identity. The process of developing a sense of self is vulnerable to disruption by peers, parents, teachers and the social environment. Many teens feel the pressure to be someone whom they are not. Acting from a sense of responsibility to others instead of responding to their own needs. This can lead to role confusion and away from their positive, developing sense of identity. Adolescence is also a time of reevaluating values and core beliefs from childhood and making efforts to integrate numerous layers of psychological dynamics into an identity they can feel positive about. This aids in solidifying their identity.
Recent research has shown that adolescence brings on a growth spurt in brain development. This affects decision making, risk taking and overall judgment. Together with the drive toward independence and the reinforcement from peers to try new activities, teens are often left vulnerable as their brains are dealing with increased activity while the demands on them are greater. Later adolescence brings a refining of the recent brain growth into new pathways of thinking, feeling and behaving. Psychotherapy can greatly aid the refining period.
Finally, as teenagers grapple with the numerous issues, challenges and dilemmas of adolescence, psychotherapy can provide a place for talking about these issues. Teens naturally tend to distance themselves from parental guidance. Therapy thus provides a safe place to share their challenges with an adult (therapist) who is distanced emotionally from them and who is able to zero in on their unique qualities and needs. In effect, helping the family system as a whole to manage this critical developmental stage.
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