Yesterday I was interviewed on a National Radio Show called Emotions R Us talking about teens and fear. My point was that we are no longer seeing troubled kids from difficult backgrounds struggling with family legacies of mental illness, but rather, regular kids who are just scared to be in the world because of shame and terror in our environment.
The host had read my last piece called, “A Sad Time,” about B+ students who live with hidden angst because of the endless news feeds to which they are exposed. It requires a new kind of therapy where after careful assessment, you rely on existential techniques to be with the patient, comfort her and bear witness to her traumas. This new kind of therapy which I will call Total Process Technique (“TPT”) has few conventional restrictions, and confronts phobias with practical tips and patience. The therapist is fully engaged and present and allows as much time as needed to deeply process pain, distress and powerlessness. The therapist also must have a posture of gentle witness, healing and neutrality in spite of the presentation of tragic events, from 9/11, to Newtown, to a friend getting molested or a nude picture going around the school. The emphasis is on what it’s like rather than how to fix it.
Seemingly well adjusted teens become inpatients in the blink of an eye, dying of embarrassment, alienation and bullying. What to do?
- Meet the moment as a friend.
- Don’t rush the therapy process.
- Go where the patient is.
- Be afraid but not paralyzed.
- Have faith – you are stronger than you think you are.
- It is NOT a sign of weakness to ask for help.
- Use your strengths for good – helping others, developing passions, exploring the world.
- Make vulnerability your ally.
- Take good care of yourself.
- Take a small but important risk to be yourself.
The articles on how to talk to kids about 9/11 etc. are about explaining. But what we need to do is listen, not tell. One of my clients lost a parent in 9/11. She was asked to sing in a memorial. She refused not because she didn’t understand, but because she did. She didn’t want to be identified by her peers as “that kid.” Let’s do a better job of listening to what teens need. Most of the time they will tell you: just a little time and space to be myself free of judgment, pressure and worry.
Let’s all try to appreciate what we have lost in our pathological world – each other. The connection, support and healing from simply being human.