For many teens and young adults, psychotherapy doesn't work. They find it irrelevant to their lives, and they resist it. They protest that it's not helping and refuse to continue. And yet, many teens still need guidance from the outside, a wiser person they can look up to and trust. Sometimes the need isn't to fix something that's wrong, but to set in place a direction that's right.
I don't want to be the guy who bashes psychotherapy, because I know it has done great good for people, and given them hope for a meaningful life. And I know what I'm about to say is going to make some people mad, but that's just a risk I'll have to take.
Because what I know works for teenagers and young adults has helped them achieve great success in academics, sports, or whatever they truly want in life. I've seen it over and over again. And it's something quite different.
What I believe is most effective with teens and young adults is a one-on-one relationship of support, guidance, trust and setting good intentions then taking action on them. I believe in mentoring.
For many in the 14-to-29 age group, sitting in a closed room and talking about unpleasant past experiences results in their withdrawal and unwillingness to continue. They say therapy doesn't work for them. They say they don't like therapy because it's focused on problems and what's supposedly wrong with them. It just doesn't seem relevant to what they're dealing with in life on a daily basis.
In most instances, these people need direction, focus, purpose, and an understanding of how to build meaningful and valuable relationships that will add value to their lives.
Rather than focusing on their dysfunction, negative thinking patterns, obsessing, ruminating, and thereby increasing anxiety and depression, they need input based on the current challenge they face right now and guidance as to how they can take action to better their lives.
I like to work with clients to determine -- not what's wrong with them, but -- what they truly want in life and how to get the outcomes they're looking for. Then they can experience transformational life change. I've not seen this with the traditional therapy model but I've seen lots of it through professional mentoring.
In fact, the 14-29 age group loves mentoring because it focuses on solutions right in the middle of living their lives. It's that relevant. To be honest, kids need regular contact with a professional they trust, in addition to their parents. They're in a state where they're defining their beliefs about life, and they look outside their parents for confirming input.
A professional mentor may see a client once a week in the office, or at Starbucks, or on a hike. In between, as life happens, that client may call from a party, or while studying, or on his way home from school, to discuss how to respond to a situation that's baffling him. What takes place in that ten minute phone call in the throes of life has far more impact in that person's life than a 50 minute session.
Mentoring is about "every day, right now" support, and while it does include compassion, empathy, and listening, it focuses on these 4 empowering processes:
1. Mentoring is about decision-making. It's about acquiring the ability to make quick decisions without the agonizing and constant state of ambivalence that entraps people like Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm. (Love the show by the way, but that is no way to live.)
Imagine if there was a strategy for learning to make quick and solid decisions about work, friends, entertainment, and life goals? Would you want to know what it is? The good news is that there is, and it's not hard to learn. In fact, it will immediately change a kid's life.
Obviously, the earlier kids learn these strategies, the more successful their lives become. But they have to be ready to accept the guidance, and if they aren't initially, a professional may be able to help them get there.
Because bottom line, many teens are smart and deeply sensitive, and are already looking for more depth and meaning in their lives than most adults around them realize. They want to know how to make healthy friends and have meaningful relationships. They just don't know where to start.
2. Mentoring is about establishing positive healthy and authentic relationships. Mentoring can happen through older family members or neighbors, but the benefit of a professional mentor is that the parents know his guidance will be for the child's best benefit. Then, through mentoring, a client can learn how to go out and find more healthy relationships to surround himself with to further his success in life.
Relationships are key for teenagers. And those relationships can build them up or tear them down. When a kid learns how to find relationships that bring tremendous value to his life, his life transforms. Imagine how life changing it could be for a young person to learn how to do this at a young age! Many of my clients go off to college or work and immediately begin putting the right people and resources around themselves to improve their lives and future.
3. Mentoring is also about gaining an understanding of one's strengths that already exist and then building on them. We're all born with strengths, but through "bad learning" we can lose sight of them. Through mentoring, clients learn how to access those strengths again and put them to work to empower their lives.
The best "education" happens as life is playing itself out, in the moment, through experience and guidance... far more than being "talked at" in a closed room.
Remember the person who had the most impact in changing the course of your life? Think back about the time you spent together, and how that came about. I remember who that was for me...and it didn't happen in a closed room with traditional therapy.
4. Mentoring is about developing interpersonal skills, social skills, and effective life skills. It's about more than talk... it's about setting intentions and taking action with the help of a guide. Then confidence is built from better outcomes based on better principles. Kids learn to find what they truly want in life and how to pursue it. And boys grow into strong capable men, and girls grow into confident capable women.
...I know... I know... what about the boundaries... ?
I say, screw boundaries!
There are just too many rules and kids and young adults are navigating their way through them. You'd be amazed to hear what your own kids think are 'rules' of society.
My own mentor once told me that in order to truly begin living you have to throw out the rules, because sometimes the rules themselves come from "bad education." Sometimes rules need to be rewritten on better foundations.
If you have teenagers, and you'd like to see them build stronger foundations for their current lives, and better lives for their futures, consider giving them the benefit of a professional mentor.
Never set limits, go after your dreams, don't be afraid to push the boundaries. And laugh a lot - it's good for you! - Paula Radcliffe
Follow Todd Kestin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@toddkestin