Working with Adolescents, A Rewarding Population

Research says children with mentors in their lives are significantly more confident in their academic abilities and are considerably less likely to have behavioral problems (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 2013). As counselors, its important to remember that we wear many hats with our adolescent clients. We are sometimes mentors, occasionally parent figures, and often influential agents in their change process. That being said, the adolescent population can be tricky to work with, so it’s important to keep three things in mind when working with these clients.

Become a master at being comfortable with silence.
Children and adolescents typically don’t self-refer. They are usually forced into counseling by a parent or guardian. They may believe problems don’t exist or are not ready to talk about them. In working to build a rapport, it’s important to be comfortable with silence. Sitting with the client’s silence lets them know you are willing to listen without judgement. It reassures them that you are not giving up on them. Most adolescents are all too familiar with adults giving them advice, lecturing them, telling them what they should do, and judging their behavior. With silence, you are conveying that you are patient and willing to support the client, even in silence. Silence is a powerful tool. When mastered, silence can set the stage for a flourishing client/counselor relationship.

Collaborate with the school as much as possible.
Counselors must focus on their adolescent clients’ school environment as well. By collaborating with teachers and school counselors, therapists are able to get a critical view into the environment where they spend the majority of their time. Understanding adolescent clients’ social and academic performance is valuable information for treatment planning. Adolescents are experts in telling adults what they want to hear and removing themselves from responsibility for their troubles. However, getting a release to talk to their school counselor and/or teacher on an ongoing basis can provide a wealth of information about the client.

Be clear with the confidentiality terms for the adolescent AND parent.
The ACA Code of Ethics B.5.b. states that counselors should inform parents and guardians the role of the counselor/client relationship. Counselors need to establish an appropriate collaborative relationship with parents and guardians to best serve their adolescent clients. Although it is important to explain the basics of confidentiality to adolescent clients and parents alike (danger to self, others, or knowledge of someone else being hurt), educating parent/guardians on the importance of building a trusting therapeutic relationship with the client is essential. The counselor should assure the parent/guardian that they will be invited into sessions periodically. If the adolescent is indulging in high-risk behaviors, this information will be shared by the client, with the counselor’s support and guidance. Additionally, during the first one-on-one session with the adolescent, the counselor should be clear on this expectation. Most parents/guardians are comfortable with this scenario. Often times when adolescents come to therapy, parents have tried almost everything to change the behavior and are willing to trust the counseling process. More importantly, it makes the adolescent client feel completely safe in the therapist’s care and relieved that they finally have a place they can unload—free of judgement and the impending doom of being “told on”.

Many counselors say they would never want to work with adolescent clients. Working with this population is not easy but can be very rewarding work. Adolescents are not children but they are not mature enough to make adult decisions on their own either. Adolescents are like sponges looking for direction and support. These clients are constantly changing and as counselors it is a gift to be a part of that process.

-Leslie Holley, MA, LCPC

Healing Circle’s Advice for the New Year

A new year and as the saying goes, a new you, right? Some people want to lose weight, others want to grow professionally. Whatever the goal, we begin the new year with high hopes for change in our lives.

What about our relationships with others? Have you had an argument with someone in 2014 or prior that has not been resolved? What if that person passed away and you did not have the opportunity to apologize for your part in the conflict? Would you regret it?

While we focus on the things we want to change about ourselves in 2015 it is also important to focus outward. How are our relationships with others? Is there a family member you miss, is it a long lost friend? Whatever the issue, today is a new day. 2015 is a new year. There is no time like the present to confront our old conflicts with others. Even if you cannot see eye to eye a simple apology for your part can help close old doors and open new ones. Create closure and the ability to move on to all that 2015 has to offer with a clean slate.

Happy 2015!

Living In The Moment

A few weeks ago I was walking and thinking how the day was a particularly cold day for November. It seems like fall passed us by in the blink of an eye. While walking to lunch, I overheard a group of guys talking. One stated that he hoped this summer would be warm because it seems winter is already upon us and he did not enjoy last summer. His friend looked at him and said, “just live in the moment man”. This made me pause, he was right. It is funny how something so simple as overhearing someone say live in the moment can bring clarity.

It is important that we all live in the moment. As soon as he said those 4 words I began to see my environment more clearly. I began to appreciate the cold air on my cheeks, the long deep breaths I was able to take with ease, the quickness in my step, and hard concrete under my feet. I began to notice the hustle and bustle of the city and pay close attention to the beautiful colorful coats, business suits, and people walking by. It is fall, I have my health. I began to think about my beautiful family and how my kids are thriving in this moment, what they enjoy, and the things they do to make me laugh. I started to look forward having a quiet lunch to reflect and write this post. I began to enjoy the moment of reflection and the presence of mind that God has given me in this moment. I began to reflect on my blessings, my health, and the now.

Too many of us are constantly thinking about what is next, next week, next year, 5 years from now. We dream of the perfect job we are working towards in the future, that perfect mate we will meet, the perfect children we will have. Maybe we dream of retirement. Whatever the idea, we are taught to think ahead, to dream big. But what about the now? What about what is happening right now? The truth is, none of us know what the future holds for our life or our loved ones. Today is all that matters. Yes, it is a good idea to plan for the future but it is also wise to breath in the moments of today. Look around you, what can you notice and appreciate in today?

Advocacy: The Life Blood of the Counseling Profession

As psychotherapists, how do we advocate for others? Hopefully, most of us support our clients with active listening, mental health education, and access to additional resources. When we are not working with, or for, our clients, how do we advocate for others? This is a question that I continually ask myself. How am I making a difference with the gifts that I have been given?

As a Therapist, I believe it is our life calling to continuously speak up and support others. What is something you love to do that can also benefits others? When I came into the profession I gravitated to programs that help at risk youth in the inner city of Chicago. As I continue to grow as a therapist I add new life experiences under my belt that support these communities.

When I first graduated with my Masters in Community Counseling I volunteered to be a Big Sister, in the Big Brother Big Sister program. As my family continued to grow I sought out opportunities working with at risk youth in the Woodlawn community where I taught anger coping groups. In that role, I was drawn to working with parents and educating them on school resources and enrichment programs for their children. I identified a need in the schools and worked diligently to bridge the communication gap between parents and teachers. I incorporated activities and initiatives to support deeper communication among the two parties and a larger sense of community. I no longer work in that community but my efforts have stretched to volunteering my time in my church community with at risk youth, as well as, co founding an African American youth group in my community. Now, as a mother of two African American boys, this work has become even closer to my heart.

While it is important to note that, as therapists, we should be actively changing lives of others, this work can only be authentic and therapeutic if we take care of ourselves. In giving to others, it is also important to give to ourselves. If we can’t make sure we are spiritually inline, we cannot provide care and support to others. I believe as therapists we know how important this is but we often forget or overlook the benefits. I know for myself, keeping a busy household, staying on top of my duties at work and at home, while creating a balance can be difficult. Sometimes my self care regime goes on the back burner, only to be realized after I feel like my brain is about to explode!

We all know how important supervision can be for novices and experts alike. But peer consultation groups are also a great way to exercise self care. Talking casually with other counselors about tough cases, counter transference, and the struggle to fight for a work life balance can help normalize these issues. As therapists, lets not forgot what made us gravitate to this profession. It is through connection with others that we thrive and learn more about ourselves personally and professionally.

Mental Illness & Suicide

Recently, I read that director Tony Scott committed suicide. The 68 year old Top Gun director jumped to his death from the Vincent Thomas Bridge into the Los Angeles Harbor (Blankstein, 2012). He left behind a suicide note for his wife, Donna Wilson Scott, and their twin sons Frank and Max. Just days later, celebrity music manager, Chris Lighty, allegedly commited suicide. Police confirmed he was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head at his apartment in New York. He was 44 years old. (Samuels & Kemp, 2012).

Celebrity prompt many media outlets to bring the seriousness of suicide to the attention of everyday citizens. Journalists and bloggers have speculated why these deaths may have occurred. Some attribute it to marital problems, while others may blame financial difficulties. Regardless of the cause, the act becoming one that we as a society can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to. The National Institute of Mental Health says that 90 percent of all suicide “completers” display some form of diagnosable mental disorder (Anderson, 2008). Could these celebrities have been suffering from mental illness? One can never say for sure, but this highlights the overwhelming stigma on mental illness in our society. In 2005, approximately 32,000 Americans committed suicide, or nearly twice the number of those killed by homicide (Anderson, 2008).

Mental health professionals, as well as people who have experienced therapy first hand, need to educate others about the positives of mental health services. Now more than ever people need additional support. The unemployment rate has reached 8.1 percent last month (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012). Government and personal debt is at an all time high as well (Lubin, 2011). These statistics make it clear that everyday citizens are facing unprecedented pressures. Do you have a positive mental health support experience that you can share with others? In today’s society, with all the challenges ahead, sharing positive experiences about mental health support can help others who may be looking for direction and guidance.

Anderson, S. (July 6, 2008) The New York Times. Retrieved from

Blankstein, A. (August, 19, 2012). The Los Angles Times. Retrieved from

Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012). Retrieved from

Lubin, G. (September 23, 2011) Business Insider. Retrieved from

Samuels, T. & Kemp, J.(August, 30, 2012) New York Daily News. Retrieved from

Children and Grief

A friend called me the other day asking advice about talking to her children about death. Her mother-in-law is dying of Cancer and her 11 year old twins are starting to ask questions. My heart goes out to her and her family. I can only imagine what her children may be thinking and feeling.

This is just one example of an issue that most people will eventually face one day if they have not already. I have two children and I began to think about how I will introduce the topic of mortality to them. The world our children live in is completely different than the world most of us grew up in. When I was a child, no one talked to me about death. I just figured it out and coped through laughter because that is what my mother did. But today, with more information at our fingertips, our children are exposed to a lot more tragedy. Think of September 11th. I know I felt hopeless on that day. I can only imagine how a child watching the 9/11 coverage must have felt.

In my work with children and adolescents I love to use books to open the conversation about death. Books are a great way to allow children to use their imagination and speak freely about the subject. One of my favorites, When Someone Very Special Dies by Marge Heegaard, offers an opportunity for children to use drawing to express their feelings about change and death. Children sometimes do not have the words to describe how they are feeling. Drawing allows them to speak freely and it also allows you, as the parent, to guide the conversation.

Check out the book here:

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do…

Most of us have been there. You meet someone and before you know it you are doing everything together. You enjoy spending all your time with this new person and you cannot imagine being apart from them. Then, the breakup happens. Sometimes we are blind sided and other times we initiate the split. Either way, breakups can have a large impact on our lives.

I work with many clients during the transition of a breakup. During this time it is necessary to normalize their experiences and to help them move forward and cope in a healthy manner. However, it is not my job to have an opinion on whether the breakup was warranted or if the ex is a good match for my client. A psychotherapists’ role is to remain neutral and provide a supportive environment for clients, not a judgmental one.

If you are going through a breakup, remember that there are stages of grief that you will experience (Kübler-Ross, 1969):

1. Denial and Isolation

When a breakup first happens, whether we ended it or not, it is common to deny the reality of the situation. A person rationalizes overwhelming emotions as a defense mechanism for the immediate shock.

2. Anger

Once we have accepted the breakup, we may feel resentment towards our ex and replay how things ended. It is typical to ask ourselves, “what went wrong in the relationship”. We may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us.

3. Bargaining

The normal reaction to feelings of loneliness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control. We may try to become friends with our ex or find a way to be around our ex to ease some of the pain and loneliness.

4. Depression

Once we realize that the relationship is definitely over, depression kicks in. This stage is often perplexing because during this time a person may find themselves crying frequently and feeling generally low. Sometimes it can be surprising, especially after going through the bargaining stage. Because this stage can be confusing, a person can go from depression, back to anger, back to bargaining, back to depression, and so on. Depression can be a hard stage to process and accept. It can be the hardest stage to complete.
5. Acceptance

Everyone does not reach this stage. Because of the back and forth exercise in the last stage, some people never reach acceptance. When we accept the breakup withdrawal and calm appears. This phase is not to be confused with happiness and it must be distinguished from depression.

Additionally, read books or articles that can empower your experience. Breaking up with someone is hard and you shouldn’t feel that you have to be strong and move on without feeling hurt or a sense of loss. Gaining knowledge about our experiences can only make us stronger. Lastly, during a breakup is a great time to seek counseling. A person can learn a lot about themselves through this process. A breakup usually allows a person to see things about themselves that they would like to change. Counseling can offer an extra source of support during this transitional period.