Psychotherapy for Adolescents

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Do you struggle with an Oppositional Defiant Teenager?

What is oppositional defiance? Oppositional defiance is described as habitual uncooperative, defiant, hostile and disrespectful behavior towards authority figures. Oppositional defiance can range on a spectrum from mild to severe. For example, on a mild level you may be dealing with habitual passive aggressive refusal to follow through on commitments like school, work and chores. Your teenager may assure you that he is going to get the commitment completed but it never gets done. Then on the far extreme, you may be dealing with overt hostility and blatant defiance, an example would be an adolescent who refuses to come home from school until the night time.

Regardless of the extent of the behavior you are experiencing with your teenager, it is important to recognize that the behavior you experiencing is not sustainable. Soon your teenager will be eighteen years of age and by law, will be considered a full-fledged adult. If your teenager isn’t ready for adulthood, that is when things get really complicated. In addition to defiant hostile and disrespectful behavioral issues, other issues that can become prevalent with defiant teenagers are as follows:

Underachievement in academia.

Academic underachievement occurs when an adolescent’s’ reported grades in school are not on par with the agreed upon work his parents and teachers agree he is capable of performing.

Recurring conflicts between parents and their adolescent.

Increased resentment between parents and their teenager, this is inevitable due to consistent conflicts between the parents and the teenager in regards to the habitual defiant behaviors of the teenager.

Addiction issues.

Addiction issues can range from the abuse of prescribed medications, to the habitual abuse of illegal drugs. Also other addictive behaviors can include, but are not limited to video games and excessive internet use.

Conflicts are Normal.

The dawn of the teenage years is an interactionist effect of environmental factors and the timed release of hormones in the body of the teenager which marks the beginning of a transitional period into adulthood. A natural effect of this process is your teenager beginning the process of challenging traditionally held family beliefs and values he was raised with. Such challenges are often times brought about through a sudden shift in behavior, followed by a verbal defiance upon confrontation.

How parents respond to these sudden shifts in behaviors influences the consistency and severity of the teenager’s undesirable behavior. Often times when I have worked with families going through such a predicament, harmony is restored in the household when parents and teens are introduced to cognitive strategies for adjusting their approach to conflicts.

Change is Possible.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is the fundamental type of therapy, practiced at Road 2 Resolutions Specifically, parents learn effective cognitive behavioral strategies for setting healthier and firm boundaries with their teenager, while the teenager becomes more motivated towards working with the new constraints in his personal life. It is not uncommon for the family as a whole to have experienced a trauma, for which your teenager is experiencing the most difficult time coming to terms with the trauma. An example of family traumas may experience may be divorce, long term illness of a family member or the death of a family member. For these circumstances cognitive behavioral therapy may not be enough, at which point, practices such as mindfulness therapy and eye movement desensitization reprocessing are utilized.

The therapeutic guidance offered to teenagers and their families at Road 2 Resolutions, comes from Ugo’s fourteen and a half years of experience in the field. This includes combined experiences in a residential program and a therapeutic boarding school where Ugo worked exclusively with troubled and wounded teenagers for the first half of his career to date.

What you can expect from therapeutic services through Road 2 Resolutions for your defiant teen is an emphasis on the following issues:

Getting Your Teen to listen to you and follow household rules.

During our first meeting, it be with parents only, where parents will be presented with a treatment plan that demands they begin practicing changes in how they relate to their teenager. Parents will learn the gentle art of persuasion, which involves the practice of being assertive, acknowledging the expressed feelings of their teenager and setting in place firm boundaries for behavioral conduct in the household.

Resolving Parent/Child relationship issues.

No one is perfect, and subsequently parents are human like anyone else. It is not uncommon for teenagers who resist coming to therapy to use an issue they have with their parents, as retaliation to shame their parents for bringing them into therapy. Regardless, outside of disciplinary issues, relationship issues you have with your teenager will be processed during the family portion of therapy. Acknowledging wrong doing to your child does not diminish your authority within the household, on the contrary it only reinforces your authority. The primary goal of addressing any lingering issues from the past and present with parents and their teenagers, is to help parents and their teenagers to restore harmony in the parent- child relationship.

Resolving Academic Issues.

Often times, poor academic performance is a common symptom with defiant teens. This is because the brain of a teenager, specifically the portion of the brain responsible for planning and the practice of disciple will not reach full maturation until the teen’s mid-twenties. So what does this have to do with poor grades and defiance? Simply put, the defiant teenager seeks to become his own parent, and subsequently live life by his own rules, but lacks the maturity to be successful at this, on his own. Evidence of this can be seen by a desire to benefit squarely of the resources of the parent while living life on his own terms.

The process of working with teenagers involves introducing the teen to cognitive behavioral and mindfulness strategies that improve studying habits and increase self-discipline. With the parent following through on setting firm boundaries in the household, the teen finds liberation through the therapeutic process. This is because as he becomes more reliable in following through on his commitments, and his grades improve, he experiences a radical improvement in his sense of self-worth.

Identifying and Resolving Possible Addiction Issues.

Defiant teenagers often struggle with low self-worth, due to the lack of achievement they experience in multiple areas of their lives. As a result, it is not uncommon for these teens to seek psychological refuge through the habitual use of mind altering substances, foods or other behaviors they find pleasurable. An example would be a teenager who is often playing video games, to the extent that when he is pulled away from such an activity, he responds with an irritable mood that lasts throughout the day. With the help of parents who are willing to enforce healthy and firm boundaries, teenagers can learn to identify their triggers for addictive behavior and learn and practice effective cognitive behavioral strategies.

On occasion, situations such as excessive use of illegal drugs maybe determined to be too severe to be addressed in outpatient therapy. In such a situation, parents would be advised to place their teenager in a therapeutic treatment program.

Concerns About Treatment.

It common for parents to experience hesitation and objections about putting their teenager through a therapeutic process. Three of the most common reasons I hear are as follows:

“My kid is going through a phase; he will soon outgrow it.”

Teenagers do experience a phases where they engage in quirky to problematic behaviors, which they typically grow out of. However, if you suspect your teenager is going through a phase, how do you tell the difference between a phase or a detrimental behavior that is only going to get worse?  Simply ask yourself these two questions; quirky behavior or otherwise, is your adolescent on track towards what seems to be a healthy adulthood? Do you and other adults in the household seemingly walk on eggshells around your adolescent? If you answered no and yes to these questions respectfully, then there is a good chance that your teenager may benefit from an intervention.

“My kid has threatened that his disruptive behavior will only get worse if I put him into treatment. Also he has promised that he will improve his behavior.”

An example of this question, would be a teenager who has promised that his grades will never improve if he receives therapy. Even though his grades are already poor.

If your teenager has threatened to make life more difficult for you, the question you should ask yourself is this;

“What difference does it make?” Chances are that if you are reading this, the habitual behaviors of your adolescent has made life significantly difficult for himself/herself and the rest of the family. So you already know that what you are doing isn’t working.

“My ex has threatened to sue me if I take our teenager into therapy.”

In situations like these I would refer the parent who is seeking therapy for the teenager to an attorney, while offering to provide parenting consultations for the parent until the legal dispute is resolved.

If what you are doing with your teenager isn’t working, then it is time for a new approach.  I founded Road 2 Resolutions in March of 2009, after working in the residential therapeutic industry for a number of years. I am eclectic and pragmatic in my therapeutic approach and I prefer to use evidenced based practices when working with teenagers.

Interviews with Bam! Radio

Teens and School Sports: What Parents Need to Know

Understanding Dating Violence Among Teens

Liquid High: New Ways Teens are Abusing Alcohol

Connected Fathers: Maintaining the Relationship Through the Teen Years

Does Your Teen Have Peer Approval Addiction?

Helping Teens to Manage Their Emotional States

Teen Ups and Downs: Just Moody, Mad or Mentally Ill?

Teen Trends: Why Bullying Is the New Mini Skirt

Has Your Teen Developed the Basic Mental Skills for Academic Success?

The Impact of Race and Social Acceptance on the Achievement Gap

Teen Couch Potatoes: The Problem, The Solution

It’s All About Me: Coping With the Teen Ego

Changing Our Paradigm for Educating Teens

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