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Does My Teenager Actually Need Therapy?

I want to call a therapist and ask about what’s going on with my kid, but I’m not sure my kid really needs therapy. I don’t want to get talked into bringing them in if it isn’t necessary. I don’t want to start spending a lot of money and having my child get attached to a therapist if they don’t actually need to be there.

This is the thought process many parents go through when deciding if they should call. I understand it. I feel like that when I call the pediatrician’s office to see if one of my kids needs to come in. I wish they’d just tell me if it’s not necessary.

I’m writing all this because I want you to feel at ease to call. I personally return almost every phone call about counseling that comes our way. I do this because I don’t want you to bring your teenager in unless it’s necessary. Of course I can’t always tell that on the phone, but I do regularly tell people it’s not yet time to start counseling. I promise you the same courtesy.

I had a call last week from a couple of concerned parents. It was hard for them to witness their daughter struggling with friends at school. She was feeling isolated and left out. Once we talked for a little while on the phone, it seemed to me this problem might resolve itself if given a little bit of time. I asked the parents to wait a few weeks and see whether things improved for their daughter. If not, there might be something worth digging through in therapy. For many though, a little bit of time salves a lot of wounds.

This is not an uncommon story when you call to talk to us. You also might hear from me that nobody on our team is the right fit for your situation. It doesn’t help your teen if he or she is paired with a therapist who doesn’t have the right training/experience for your issue. We usually have good outcomes for our clients because we are very picky on the front end about who we see. That is why people in the community trust us and trust is the MOST important ingredient in a successful counseling experience.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Parenting Teens with Loving Authority

Let’s face it, as parents we all struggle to balance authority and love. When our kids are being respectful and obedient, it’s much easier for us to be kind, patient, and giving. When our teenagers are argumentative, rude, and ungrateful, we find ourselves wanting to exercise our authority. Watch this quick video to learn a little bit how you can balance the two for maximum effect. HINT: It’s all about going slowly.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

3 Signs of Depression in Teens

Depression can be devastating to those who suffer its insidious greed for life, engagement, and joy. Teens who are depressed feel lackluster about their world, their future, and themselves. Often slogging through each day without hope, depressed teens contemplate suicide as a means of relief from the relentless blandness of a life without color.

Watch this short video for three signs your teenager may be afflicted with depression:

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Why Working is Good for Teens

Parents and teens, one of the best things you can do to alleviate depression, anxiety, and a struggle with identity and purpose is get a job. I know it adds stress in a certain way, but in my observations, teens who work have several things:
1. Increased confidence.
2. A better understanding of money.
3. Can talk to people with good eye contact.
4. Lower anxiety.
5. More friends.
6. A place where they belong outside school and home.
7. Discipline that isn’t coming from parents or teachers.
8. More realistic ambitions and goals.
9. A better sense of marketable skills when they choose a college major.
10. More purpose, which leads to lower anxiety and depression overall.

I know this isn’t a foolproof solution to every problem. However, it has made a huge positive difference in the lives of many of my clients. I think it’s worth a try.



Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

What Do I Do With A Sneaky Kid?

Teens who sneak are often unhappy about the mistrust their parents have for them. Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teens who sneak are often unhappy about the mistrust their parents have for them.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What do you do if you’re one of the unlucky parents who has a sneaky teen?  You put very clear rules in place, but your teenager continues to do the wrong thing?  A lot of the time you’d even say yes if they’d simply ask, but they sneak anyhow.  This is incredibly frustrating for a parent.  It’s not that you want to control your teenager- you don’t.  You just want a trusting relationship between the two of you.  You want them to trust that you will say yes when it’s appropriate, and you want to trust they are doing what they tell you they’re doing.

 

The first thing you need to ask yourself is why they are sneaking.  You may or may not be able to answer this question.  If you believe they are sneaking because they are using drugs, having sex, or doing something otherwise dangerous they know you’d put a stop to, address this immediately.  For those of you that are pretty certain your adolescent isn’t doing anything dangerous, but is sneaking for some other reason, read on.

 

Perhaps one reason your teenager is sneaking is because you say no too often.  They feel confident you won’t give them any space if they ask for it.  They think the only way to have a little room to explore who they are is to go without permission.  I once worked with a teen boy who kept saying, “It’s easier to get forgiveness than ask permission.”  In his case, he was right.  He learned this very quickly and realized it was the only way he was ever going to date, try going to a party, or even get into minor mischief like toilet papering a friend’s house.

 

Another reason an adolescent could be sneaking is they are engaging in certain activities you wouldn’t approve of.  One way that many, many teenagers sneak is with their phones.  A lot of teens have smart phones now, and a great number of them download apps you would not like if you only knew they were there.  They know you’d make them take the apps off, and they don’t want to.

 

Whatever the reason(s) your teenager is being sneaky, here are a few ideas you can try to minimize this behavior.  The first thing to try is a heartfelt heart to heart chat.  This isn’t the situation where you punish them or get angry with them for what they’ve been doing.  Instead you talk about how it hurts you not to feel like you can trust your own child.  You ask them how they’ve been feeling when you keep getting frustrated with them as you catch them in their lies.  You and the teenager put your heads together to come up with a plan that will change this.

 

If this doesn’t work, you may have to try a less collaborative approach.  Warn your teenager this is coming if they don’t start being much, much more honest.  Then, outline very clear consequences that will occur if they are caught lying/sneaking.  Do this with a lot of love.  You don’t need to yell or even have a stern voice.  The only thing that is very important is you follow through on whatever consequence you’ve promised to give.  Be extremely consistent.  Reward them for honesty too.

 

Your final option is to make their world really small so it’s hard to sneak anything.  However, if you do this take care to make sure they don’t start resenting you.  You want all consequences you administer to children to make them think about how their action caused this result.  You don’t want them thinking, “My parents are such unfair jerks.”  They won’t learn anything that way.

 

Sneakiness is a really challenging character struggle to contend with and correct.  You are not alone in your aggravation.  Any parent who has dealt with a sneaky teenager feels angry, sometimes scared, and occasionally hopeless.  Just try your best to work on what you need to work on, keep loving them well, and be patient as you help them course correct.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

What Does Christian Therapy Look Like at Teen Therapy OC?

We provide an option for clients to see Christian therapists on our staff if they prefer it. I am often asked by Christian families what counseling looks like when it’s Christ-centered. The most important thing to understand is that we are not theologians or pastors so we do not give any biblical interpretation or religious advice. The way we most often see faith-based counseling play out is us encouraging clients to engage more fully with their religious community. For someone with social anxiety, there is an opportunity to face a lot of the fear while attending youth group. There can be collaboration with the youth pastor to make this a more comfortable step. For clients with an eating disorder there might be a discussion about what God really wants for their life and whether He sees them as beautiful even if they aren’t the “perfect” weight. For families there could be an encouragement to pray together or start attending church together. The bottom line is that Christian-based counseling means the therapist and client are operating from a paradigm that believes the client’s connection to God is an essential part of healing.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Forgiving Yourself

Fifteen years ago a 16 year old boy was approached by an acquaintance at school (We’ll call him John). The 16 year old had a reputation in his high school as the kid to go to if you wanted to try a new drug. John sought out the 16 year old and asked if they could hang out after school. When the time came, John worked up his courage to ask, “Do you think I could try heroin with you?”

The 16 year old liked John. He told him, “No. Some people can’t just use it once. You could become an instant drug addict.”

John replied, “Look man, I’m going to try heroin. Would you rather it be with you where at least you know the drug is good? Or would you rather I get it from someone else?”

The 16 year old sighed and took out a syringe. Together they got high. John fell completely in love with the euphoria and never got off the drug. By 22, John was dead.

The 16 year old is now 31. He cannot forgive himself for what happened. When he talks about it he glazes over. His eyes fill with tears. He consistently suffers with two questions. Firstly, ‘What if I had stuck with my no answer? Maybe he wouldn’t have made the effort to get it somewhere else.’ Secondly, ‘Why did he die and not me? He was a good kid who wanted to live. I was a horrible drug dealer who didn’t care if I lived.’

How do you forgive yourself for the sin you’ve committed that you feel is unforgiveable? How do you come back from a deeply entrenched belief that your bad choice led to so much suffering?

This question has plagued the human race for millennia. While there are differing answers to this question, two stand-out as most helpful. The first is related to repentance and the second is related to self-compassion.

Repentance is a religious concept but is easily applied to a non-religious context. If a person commits a sin against God, they admit it and turn from it. It’s not enough to say, “I was wrong and I’m sorry.” There has to be an actual effort made at changing circumstances so it is not repeated. To go a step father, true repentance often includes helping others out of the same sinful trap. The Christian God requires repentance from sin. This is likely true in many other religious faiths as well. Even a secular humanist will agree that owning responsibility for bad behavior and actively turning away from it aids in self-forgiveness.

Self-compassion is the second part to forgiving the self. For psychological purposes it comes from a Dialectical Behavioral treatment model. Self-compassion requires a person to gather understanding for the many things that led to a bad choice. In the case of the 16 year old, he had been using drugs to numb PTSD caused by severe child abuse. The drugs led him to unclear decision-making. John also made many choices leading him to seek out heroin. Experiences in John’s life contributed to his belief he could “handle” trying heroin. In any case, there is understanding available for the drug dealer even though his choice to provide heroin was the first exposure to the drug which caused John’s ghastly and tragic death.

One must be careful not to use self-compassion to make excuses for wrong behavior. People these days love to find ways they are victims of their surroundings. Social media inundates its users with messages that bad things happen to a person just because of skin color, because “rich people are greedy,” because “all politicians are liars and selfish,” etc. In actual fact, the good and bad things in life are a blend of outside factors (race, socioeconomic status, who is in political office, etc.) and personal responsibility for choices. So how does a person practice self-compassion without falling into the trap of victimhood? Give understanding and grace for the factors contributing to past choices while committing to being better at the next opportunity.

The combination of repentance and self-compassion allows for self-forgiveness. These two things must work together for a person to become “unstuck.” They are the perfect blend of personal remorse, personal responsibility, and grace. They provide a path forward and a way to learn from egregious mistakes. Help your teenager by forgiving yourself for things you regret. Let your teen see you find a way forward that shows personal responsibility and kindness so your teenager will know how he/she can do the same.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Thankfulness

Be thankful for your kids, they are a gift from God. Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Be thankful for your kids, they are a gift from God.
Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We have so much to be grateful for.  It is incredible that we can live in a country with so much freedom.  God truly blessed each and every one of us in ways we take for granted every single day.  Even having clean water and enough to eat is not a given in many parts of the world.

 

The reason I remind you of this is because if you’re reading my blog it means you’re probably hurting.  It means your teenager is behaving in some way that scares you.  It means you’re feeling overwhelmed as a parent and you aren’t sure what to do to help your child.  That is the most helpless feeling in the world.

 

It does us a lot of good to count our blessings.  This is especially true when it comes to your teenager.  I realize things are tough right now, but there are a lot of things going right too.  It’s very easy to become very focused on resolving one problem.  When you do this, you forget to see all the other things that aren’t problems.

 

I have a few clients in my therapy practice who struggle with body image.  Their focus on their body image is so intense that it often dominates the teen’s whole life.  It’s difficult for the parents of these teens because they worry about whether their child is eating enough, exercising too much, or just loathing their appearance.  The parents of these children have found it helpful to refocus on what is going right with their kids.  In some of the cases, these teens still maintain good grades and do not use any substances.  They are still loving and engaged with the family.  These parents try and keep perspective that there is a lot going well even though there is also a problem.

 

Life is like that, isn’t it?  We see problems run parallel with blessings all the time.  We shouldn’t ignore the problems, but we shouldn’t ignore the blessings either.  In fact, if you think back over your whole life, I bet you can hardly identify a time when things were all good or all bad.

 

Raising kids is about maintaining the perspective that things could always be better and always be worse.  Tell them constantly what you’re thankful for about them.  Work with them on improving what they can do better, but don’t make that the only thing you talk about- that would come across as critical.  You want them to know all the reasons you think they’re great too.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MFT

Coping with COVID Restrictions- For Teens

This is hard. This is even harder on you if you’re a teenager in some ways. You feel constricted. You are missing things that gave your life value and meaning. For many of you this means you feel symptoms of depressed moods.

As hard as it may be, it’s important that you don’t get stuck in the “waiting place,” because that won’t help you feel any better.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

What Does Teen Depression Look Like?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.ne

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teen depression can look a bit different from adult depression.  In teenagers you might see more of a general irritability.  Adults typically notice they feel depressed because their dominant mood is sad.  Sometimes adolescent depression presents as sadness, but just as often it presents as consistent grouchy moods.

One thing I see in my therapy practice pretty regularly is parents struggling to believe their teenager is dealing with depression.  This is because the teen has moments where they smile and laugh.  They have times during the day when they come out of their depressed mood and engage with others around them.  Parents tend to assume that teens are only unhappy at home, or at school.  Teenagers with depression can be good at faking feeling okay.  Even while they are laughing, there is a dark cloud somewhere in the background.

Other signs your teenager could be dealing with depression include a change in appetite, a change in sleep patterns, and a decrease in socializing.  If you see your adolescent either stop eating or eat quite a lot and this is different from normal, it is possibly a sign of depression.  It could also be a symptom of many other things though, so don’t assume they are depressed solely based on a change in eating habits.  If your teenager is usually a good sleeper and now sleeps poorly or sleeps excessively, it is another possible symptom of depression (I know it sounds weird that it can be either interrupted sleep or excessive sleep since those are opposites, but people’s bodies react in different ways to depression).  Finally, if your teenager is withdrawing to their room all the time and no longer has an interest in seeing friends, this is another sign of possible depression.

One sign you definitely cannot overlook is when your teenager is either cutting or expresses thoughts of suicide.  These symptoms alone are often enough to diagnose depression.  Please get them help immediately in these situations.

Many teens experience profound anxiety at the same time as depression.  If your teenager is overwhelmed and cannot seem to get organized, this can be a sign of depression too.  When a person experiences depression it is really challenging to plan and execute.  What I mean by this is a person with depression might write down their homework assignments, but actually deciding which one to start first is so overwhelming that they just don’t start.  Then they fall behind, and it becomes even more cumbersome.

Teen depression is more complicated than I can describe in one 450 word blog post.  If you are concerned your teen is dealing with depression, please feel free to contact me.  I will chat with you on the phone to try and help you decide whether an evaluation by a professional is warranted.  As a parent it is always so hard to watch your kids struggle.  If you’re worried about your child, my heart hurts with you.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Clarifying Morals for your Teenager

“So I totally think it’s fine to steal from Target because they’re a big corporation. I mean, who is it really hurting? They make tons of profits and they’re just greedy anyways.” This is something I heard straight from the mouth of a teenage client a few weeks ago. The parents don’t believe stealing is appropriate in any circumstance. They definitely aren’t training their kids to be envious, which is the sinful character flaw that leads to the belief, “You have too much so I deserve to take it from you.” Envy is much more destructive than jealousy.

The problem is this child’s parents aren’t paying any attention. Their teenager is learning from Tik Tok videos, Instagram, and whatever other corner of the internet they’ve found. The kid didn’t even realize what she was saying because she has not been provided enough moral training to recognize a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It was a big wake-up call for the family that they have to put more time and effort into moral training.

We grew up in a time when not stealing was a given. Society did a lot of the moral training for us. It’s not the case anymore. Your child can wind up in the company of people (via the internet) who continue to perpetuate bad ideas because social media helps us find like-minded people. We no longer have to rub shoulders with people who think differently than we do. While we may be more comfortable this way, we definitely don’t grow as humans. Like it or not, it’s just the way it is now.

This means you as parents have to be EXTREMELY intentional about training your kids up in what is right and wrong. You cannot let the current trends or dictates of society make that determination for them. History shows us how incredibly wrong many trends end up being. Of course this means some of what is popular to believe today will not pan out to be good.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen Girls and Eating Disorders

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Eating Disorders include rules like only eating salads.
Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Parents of teenagers call me for a number of varying concerns, one of which is that their daughter has an eating disorder.  Once in counseling for any reason, girls frequently reveal they believe they are fat.  Of the girls who believe they are fat, a significant number are actively trying to lose weight.  If their efforts are dangerous enough, they qualify for an eating disorder.  Lately I have been seeing a lot of girls with eating disorders, so it seems like a good time to address this.

 

The first thing that might have struck you as odd is that I wrote, “If their efforts are dangerous enough, they qualify for an eating disorder.”  You might be wondering what I mean by “dangerous.”  Girls (and less often boys) that are trying to lose weight are usually doing so in unhealthy ways.  For example, there are numerous risks associated with frequent self-induced vomiting.  It rots teeth, has the potential to burn a hole in the esophagus, and can cause electrolyte imbalances; sometimes these electrolyte imbalances have caused death.

 

Other dangerous things adolescents do to lose weight is crash diet, work out too hard (causing sickness and injury), take laxatives, fast, cut out certain food groups, and use drugs.  All of these things can be dangerous. Nutrition is an essential part of our health.  Girls who are struggling with an eating disorder are nutrition obsessed, but often eat very unhealthily.

 

One example comes from a girl I know who has an eating disorder.  She has numerous misconceptions about food based on the current cultural fads.  She believes carbohydrates are like putting poison into her body.  If she eats salads for lunch and dinner then she assumes she has eaten a very healthy diet for that day.  In fact, all she has done is eat a low calorie diet while missing out on essentials like carbohydrates and proteins.

 

Therapists are by no means nutritionists, but we are often required to address nutritional issues.  For this reason, in most cases, eating disorders are treated in conjunction with a registered dietician.  The dietician helps the teen plan appropriate eating.  The therapist then helps the teenage girl with the emotions surrounding staying on a food plan; this can be extremely challenging.

 

Eating disorders are primarily emotional.  Girls with anorexia are in tight control over their diet.  They control their food in what appears to be an unemotional manner.  However, anorexic teens live with constant feelings of self-disgust, shame, and fear.  This differs slightly from teenagers with bulimia, who also feel the self-disgust, shame and fear plus a numbing during a binge.

 

If you are concerned your daughter has an eating disorder, here are a few questions you can ask.  First, ask your daughter if she feels comfortable with her body.  You can directly ask if she’s ever trying to diet.  Find out from her how much she is concerned with her daily diet.  Nearly all girls are conscious of these things, but many still eat normally and exercise moderately.  You want to determine if it seems a bit extreme.  If your daughter is very defensive when you ask these questions, that can also be a sign of trouble.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Your Teen Still Needs to Socialize Despite COVID

“I’m so lonely and depressed,” are words I’ve started to hear on a regular basis. Our reduced social calendars due to COVID precautions have been positive in some ways, but for our teenagers this is hard. Teens need to socialize. I have more to say on the relationship between feeling depressed and our socially distant life right now in the short video below. I want us all to be extremely responsible, but we have to balance mental health and physical health. I’m sure that you, like me, are constantly considering how to balance these two things. Mental health is also extremely important, so what are we to do? I don’t have a perfect answer. My only goal for today is to gently remind you that your teenager has to see friends in some capacity to feel right.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT