”Show me only what I only know the limits of.” Leonard Cohen, Dance Me to The End of Love”
ADOLESCENT GROUP THERAPY
Adolescence: that vast expanse that traverses the terrain between childhood and adulthood. The skills required to successfully negotiate the developmental tasks of this phase may, at times, seem monumental. It is not surprising then that some adolescents will have significant difficulty mastering these tasks. The move from childhood into adolescence involves, in part, a shift in one’s frame of reference from family towards peers. Group psychotherapy by its very nature provides a context for which adolescents can begin to establish an increased sense of their own identity as well as an effective way of being in the world.
If you’re a parent with challenges raising your adolescent to be a confident, caring, individual who is compassionate with themselves and others, please feel free to give me a call (512) 339-1694, text, or email me to see if I may be able to help. While I have run adolescent therapy groups in the past, I, myself, am not currently conducting any therapy groups.
In The Adolescent Journey, Levy-Warren divides adolescence into three subphases: early, middle, and late. Early adolescence begins with the onset of puberty and is roughly between the ages of 10 and 14. It is characterized by a shift away from family and towards one’s peer group. As they shift their focus away from parents, adolescents will need to be able to begin to rely on their own feelings, thoughts, and reactions. Same sex peer relationships are of critical importance at this time. With so much physical, cognitive, and emotional change, adolescents want to know that their friends share in their feelings and experiences.
Middle adolescence is very strongly peer-oriented, characterized by establishing a sexual identity as well as a customary way of dealing in the social world. This stage corresponds roughly to ages 15 to 18. Adolescents at this phase are working more fully on the separation process from their parents while concurrently working on individuation. These adolescents look both towards peers and adults other than their parents for signs or clues as to who and what they themselves wish to be- come. In the later middle adolescent phase, there is a shift to mixed gender friend- ships, dating, and eventual steady intimate relationships. This provides an opportun- ity to explore similarities and differences with increased intensity and focus.
Late adolescence, ranging roughly between ages 19 and 22, is a time of consolidating one’s identity and character. Relationships with family and friends become more stable, complex, and reciprocal. Issues of commitment are grappled with and what that means in terms of gains and losses. There is an attainment of a capacity for intimacy.
Group psychotherapy is a vehicle in which to assist adolescents who are struggling with the huge and complex tasks of this phase of the life cycle. Adolescents are naturally looking towards their peers as well as adults other than their parents for ideas about who they are, what’s important, how to engage socially, what it means to be masculine or feminine, sexual preferences, and intimacy. Group therapists have a unique opportunity to create an environment in which adolescents can safely explore their thoughts and feelings and find effective ways to express them, resolve conflict, set boundaries, value themselves and others, build trust, establish meaningful interpersonal relationships and skills, and develop the capacity for intimacy. Younger adolescents tend to benefit more from same gender therapy groups. Older adolescents, who are more fully engaged in the process of sexual identity and intimacy issues, tend to benefit more from mixed gender groups.
A study was done in which adolescents in therapy groups rank ordered Yalom’s curative factors from what they found to be most helpful to least helpful. These results were compared with previous research done on adults. The top four helpful items listed by adolescents fell into the categories of catharsis, interpersonal learning, and existential factors. They included the statements: 1) Being able to say what was bothering me instead of holding it in, 2) Learning how to express my feelings, 3) Learning that I must take ultimate responsibility for the way I live my life, no matter how much guidance and support I get from others, and 4) Other members honestly telling me what they think of me. What adolescents found least helpful and where they differed from adults fell under the insight category: Learning that I react to some people or situations unrealistically with feelings that somehow belong to earlier periods in my life. This may reflect the high level of defensiveness found in adolescents against the recognition and expression of repressed conflicts. These statements all reflect the effective use of Group Therapy in identity formation. The study also suggests the important role that Group Therapy can play in the development of self-perception, through the communication of that self-perception by other group members.
Adolescence is a time of extraordinary change and growth. The journey to self -discovery is filled with pain, confusion and celebration. Ultimately each of us must come to know our own “true selves”, as Winnicott would say. Along the way, however, Adolescent Group Psychotherapy can be a powerful tool in this search for self.
If you think that you may benefit from consulting with me on parenting your teen, feel free to call (512) 339-1694, text, or email me to set up an appointment.