Adolescents and Families

Supporting young people and parents balancing the “Independence and Connection" tightrope

Does your teenage son or daughter struggle to control their emotions? 
Does he or she find it difficult to get along with others?
Would you like them to learn more positive ways of dealing with stress?
Are you not sure how to set limits and maintain a strong relationship with your teenager?
Adolescence is a time of dynamic change in the family life cycle, where existing rules and boundaries often need to be renegotiated, allowing for increased autonomy and independence. This process of transformation may cause distress and turmoil for parents and adolescents and it often raises issues around safety, parental authority, discipline, and lifestyle choices. 
When family dynamics are strained, family therapy can be a useful approach to address concerns, and promote healthier relationships.

Some common concerns teenagers struggle with:
•   Low confidence and self-esteem
•   Difficulty handling emotions 
•   Worries around weight, shape and body image
•   Trouble dealing with bullying (online or and in person or both)
•   Feelings of low self-worth and self-esteem
•   Feelings of despair leading to self-harm and other destructive behaviours 
•   Anxiety about school work and performance
•   Uncertainty around their sexual orientation
•   Difficulties arising from substance abuse
•   Addictions associated with the use of technology

Are you thinking about coming to counselling as a family?
There is often a lot of ambivalence and anxiety about family sessions. Perhaps you have been referred to us by your psychiatrist or GP for family therapy and feel a little unsure what this might entail. We understand! 

Some families see counselling as a sign that they have failed as parents.  It can also be difficult to get everyone together regularly for a whole lot of practical and emotional reasons. The good news is that sometimes just a few sessions can open up parts of a system that have been stuck for a while.  

Why family therapy may be necessary for your family 
Humans are relational, and it follows that our problems have a relational dimension. We are profoundly influenced by, and influence the actions and feelings of our significant others. One of the biggest challenges we face as humans is knowing how to stay emotionally connected to those around us while still being authentic to ourselves. As Systems Therapists, we work with clients by looking through a lens that accounts for this phenomenology.
Seeing Families as Systems is the first step towards a positive change. 

Think of any system (i.e. a car engine, an air conditioner or plant system), if one part stops working, another part must compensate and take over otherwise the system might eventually cease to work.  If we take the example of the air conditioner, we notice that when a window or door is left open, it will start to over-function in order to maintain the desired temperature of the room.  In the family system this is called maintaining the “status quo”.  
Sound familiar? 

The change that we see in one area might be affecting something else in the system to keep the system going or stable.  This is called circularity.  Unfortunately “stable” doesn't always mean “healthy”, which is when we start to see problems happening within one family member or within the system as a whole.   Sometimes it's easy to see what's happening, and it's a one-step process to a positive fix (i.e. replace an engine part or close a window).  At other times, it can be a little more complicated, particularly in families where an emotional process is occurring. 
Families are systems and like most other systems, the family unit has predictable roles, behaviours and personalities that influence each other in a circular way.  There are “rituals” and “spoken or unspoken rules” that form the fabric of family life and the way family members relate to each other.

The patterns, processes, rules, and rituals in families originate in part from our attachment experiences and Family of Origin influences, along with our personality, temperament, strengths and vulnerabilities.

Am I to blame?

Absolutely not! It takes courage to tackle family relationship issues in an open way and with a therapist by your side. Family therapists understand how difficult it can be to open up with family members, especially if this is new for you. They are also specifically trained to be neutral - meaning “allied to all and no-one at the same time” – we are trained to give you unbiased support. 

Sometimes our family system works well and everything seems harmonious.  Problems are handled well and relationships remain intact.  At other times, particularly in times of stress (e.g. family life cycle changes, mental health issues, financial pressure, change or loss, things that worked in the past) can stop working or become a problem.

Dealing with problems (particularly in childhood and adolescence) purely at an individual level may have the effect of treating a “symptom” but neglecting to see a “deeply ingrained pattern” or “veiled process” that is standing in the way between the family life you have and the one that you hope for. 

What Family Therapy involves at a practical level

When seeing teenagers, parents are involved in the initial assessment phase, which may mean having a family session with all members present (including siblings). 
Afterwards, the level of family involvement is dependent on factors such as:
•    The age of the teenager
•    The nature of the presenting problem
•    Safety and risk issues

We will take all of these issues into consideration when working with your family. Our family sessions are usually 90 minutes in duration, depending on the needs and make-up of the family. It is recommended that families consider and plan for a series of sessions (around 6-8 sessions) over a period of about six months to get the most out of coming.

However, we often may need to see a teenager for longer than this while interspersing the work with some family sessions during this time.

Does the teenager have appointments on their own while seeing the family?  

For the most part, if parents are supportive of the counselling process and there are no safety or risk issues, the teenager can also be assured of a confidential space to discuss their fears, concerns, and worries if needed.  
Part of the process with teenagers can be in helping them find the “best words, the best way and the best time” for that teenager to communicate their worries and concerns with their parents. This is where we can also assist. 

As your therapist, we will also encourage the use of practical strategies to manage difficulties and work with the family to reinforce them. We endeavour to communicate these with family members as appropriate.

If it is clear that there is a significant mental health issue that needs more individual attention, another therapist may become involved in the case to work on a specific problem.
Can I talk to the therapist alone without my teenager?
Yes. However, the same principal applies that helping you find the “best words, the best way and the best time” to communicate your worries and concerns to your teenager directly is encouraged where appropriate. 

What about safety?
Safety issues are always talked about openly with parents and teenagers and a safety plan devised.

Our trained and registered therapists are mandatory reporters under the NSW Department of Community Services Legislation if a child is at significant risk of harm. 

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