Adolescence is a turbulent time of life. We define adolescence as the period from the early teens, when puberty onsets, to the mid-twenties, when the brain at last is fully developed. Adolescence is difficult because powerful drives toward sexuality and autonomy emerge while impulse control, planning, and judgment are still weak, due to incomplete development of the brain. Adolescents often act out if they feel these drives are being thwarted, or become depressed and anxious if they feel themselves failing to meet the new challenges that they present.
Treating adolescents is complicated both by their developmental level and by the fact that they are often brought to treatment involuntarily. They often enter treatment fearing or even assuming that the therapist is just another authority figure who is going to tell them what to do. We address this by respecting their desires for autonomy and sexual development while clarifying to them that limits in these areas are not intended to thwart their development but to guide it so that their needs will eventually be met successfully.
Parents often have difficulty understanding their adolescent children, and this difficulty reflects the fact that their adolescents usually do not understand themselves. They are generally unaware of their emotional dependency on their parents, since they are rebelling against it and often vocally denying it, and so their parents are often unaware of it as well. Also, surprisingly, they often have low self-esteem and do not know it, feeling intensely that something is wrong but externalizing the causes and blaming others.
In our work with adolescents we deal directly and
clearly with issues of autonomy, sexuality,
dependency, and self esteem, along with many
others. We let them do a lot of talking but we also
do a lot of talking ourselves. We educate them on all these issues in addition to promoting insight into their feelings and emotional needs. When oppositional behavior is a problem we join with the adolescent in acknowledging that the underlying desire for autonomy is valid while making clear that a defiant rejection of all limits always just leads to more and more of them. Where self-esteem issues are a problem we talk about them and make them explicit, and then correct any negatively distorted views or create problem-solving strategies for actual deficiencies. We have found that most adolescents respond very well to this approach.
In our work with parents we promote a parenting style that is neither authoritarian nor democratic but authoritative. What this means in practice is that parents retain ultimate authority to override adolescent decisions because they have better judgment, but that they also must use this judgment in deciding whether overriding a bad decision is necessary.
Thomas B. Hollenbach, Ph.D.
The Integrative Therapy Institute of New Jersey has two offices, one in Metuchen in Middlesex County, and the other in Montclair in Essex County for parents seeking counseling or therapy for their adolescent. Our Metuchen office is convenient to the Middlesex County towns of Edison, Woodbridge, South Plainfield, Piscataway, Highland Park, New Brunswick, East Brunswick, Sayreville, Dunellen, and Middlesex. For residents of Union County, the Metuchen office is near to the towns of Scotch Plains, Clark, Westfield, Plainfield, Garwood, and Fanwood. For residents of Somerset County we are near to the towns of North Plainfield, Green Brook, Bound Brook, South Bound Brook, Bridgewater, and Franklin, New Jersey.
Our Montclair office is convenient to the Essex County towns of Glen Ridge, Cedar Grove, Verona, Essex Fells, Bloomfield, Nutley, Caldwell, North Caldwell, and West Caldwell. Slightly farther away are Fairfield, Roseland, Livingston, Milburn, Orange, East Orange, and South Orange. For residents of Passaic County, we are near to the towns of Clifton, Little Falls, Woodland Park, and Totowa, New Jersey.
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