Rest In Peace - Leonard Cohen
"I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah..."
Brian here. Finally, after 108 years of waiting, my favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. The curse was lifted, Steve Bartman was forgiven and the billy goat was laid to rest. One week later, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America. The morning after the election, I asked my wife no less than three times if she was being truthful with me regarding the results. I could tell by her sour mood and flustered facial expression that she was not joking. It almost felt as if someone had cruelly stripped my Chicago Cubs of their World Series victory and it was all a dream. But alas, it is not.
As I sit here writing this post, I am well aware of my position in society. I am a privileged white male. I come from a lower middle class background, and my parents worked blue collar jobs. I learned the value of hard work and commitment. They did what they could and I was able to attend private schools because of their sacrifice (and over ten thousand of dollars of student loans).
There is no way that I could even begin to know or understand what it is like to be a minority in this country. I very briefly felt a sense of that when I lived with a host family in Mexico City for a semester in 1997 while in college. My life never felt threatened and I most always felt safe. Comedian and actor Dave Chappelle sums it up pretty well here in his recent monologue on Saturday Night Live...
I don't know where I was going with all of this but it really felt good to write. I hope it feels good for you to write too. I hope you continue to create art, make music and make love. Please don't stop making love. Because then we would become extinct, and no one wants that. I encourage you to practice really good self care and to lay off all of those Oreos. I admit I have been emotionally eating quite a bit lately! Many people, including myself, have been experiencing some level of grief. Traditionally, there are five stages of grief that occur and you might find yourself stuck in one of the stages as you read this. My hope is that you be gentle with yourself and be patient with your own grieving process. Have you heard to Yoko Ono's "primal scream" yet? It's quite powerful and most likely a part of her own unique grieving process.
Lately I have been asked what people can do to get involved and to make our world and community a better place. I remember the quote: "think globally, act locally" and invite you to consider getting involved in your neighborhood, local community, school board, professional organization or Big Brothers/Big Sisters. They are awesome & what better time to teach our children well than right NOW!
Full disclosure: I am not a parent of a teenager (more on that in a forthcoming post) but I have worked with hundreds of teens and families in my 18-year career in social services. Teens need loving adults who will listen without judgement. I do know how hard it is to keep my mouth shut and just listen. I mean, really and actively listen.
This week, it is an honor to introduce Jessica Ellison, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and owner of J. Ellison and Associates, Inc. in Burnsville, Minnesota. I asked her to write a guest post about her work with teenagers and adolescents and she did not disappoint! Not only is her article highly geared to fellow clinicians working with teens, but there is also great takeaway information for parents/guardians. Much like me, Jessica absolutely loves helping teenagers navigate the murky and turbulent waters of adolescence filled with hot hormones, peer pressure, enormous expectations, tempting technology and many other devilish delights.
Jessica's office is just a few miles away from mine in Burnsville, MN. After a personal tour, it is very cool and comforting to see her office full of art, music and artifacts from world travels. Her passion is connecting with teenagers to they feel comfortable enough to share their feelings. That's what it's all about! If a teenager doesn't TRUST you, they will not share information. And much like me, Jessica has a unique ability to use her knowledge about pop culture, music and games to break down that basic level of communication.
Without further adieu, I proudly present to you... Jessica Ellison!
"In the beginning…
I have seven seconds to make or break the connection with my potential new teen client. They’ve probably already made up their mind before I can even get a word out. I think it helps that I look younger than I am, but that won’t last forever! It’s a lot of pressure and I’m usually feeling a healthy mixture of excited and anxious to meet them and their families. Most likely they would rather be somewhere else besides my office, so I try hard to make it as bearable as possible. One of the first things I let my adolescent clients know is that being a teenager is hard. I remember how lonely it can feel. Hormones are real and can have a tremendous impact on how we perceive, react, and behave. I experienced this grand phenomenon recently having been pregnant in 2015.
Something else I do is acknowledge they may be uncertain and hesitant to be open and honest with an adult, let alone a stranger. I try to be an open and honest individual and I believe it allows me to be seen as real and teens get that. Adolescents are very good at telling when someone isn’t being real or genuine. One of the ways I do this is to include them in the whole intake process; signing documents, answering questions, the whole shebang. I let teens know that I am on their team. My job is to keep everything private and everyone safe. That means I won’t share anything with parents, guardians, teachers, or anyone else without telling them first. I have a conversation with teens about why I think it’s necessary and a good idea to share information with other adults who can help and become teammates. I really mean this too. Teens already have their peers and maybe even other adults talking about them behind their back, we don’t need to add to that.
I want to empower teens and teach them how to have those difficult conversations, so many times I give them the option of how they want the information disclosed; I can disclose the information with them present, they can share the information with me present, or I can disclose the information without them present. Something very important I do is I let teens know that I make mistakes, just like everyone else, including other adults. I encourage them to let me know when I fuck up so I can apologize and try to repair the damage done. Oh yeah - I swear... a lot! I try to remember to ask permission first of course, I wouldn’t want to offend anyone, but I do have a mouth that would make a sailor blush.
Like sands through the hour glass…
The client is back. Things went well first session and they’re ready to try it out! I feel like most of the time teens don’t feel like they have much of a choice or control in their lives. They experience that existential pull between being a kid and being an adult. It’s like the ultimate GRAY ZONE of our development. In my office I give teens the power to make choices and control of what we work on together in session. We figure out what they think would be helpful to work towards; we set up realistic goals and everyday actions that they can start right away in order to reach those goals.
Sometimes it is important to get input from significant figures in the teen’s life such as parents, guardians, teachers, etc. However, I feel most of the time teens themselves come up with awesome goals and ideas of how to get there. They are more likely to really engage in the process if it’s something they came up with themselves versus having someone stuff something down their throat because it’s good for them. I do encourage teens to challenge and push themselves when it’s helpful to get a little bit closer to where they want to be. I also try to support and understand that change is difficult and takes time. I let my time and work with teens happen organically, by this I mean I don’t force an agenda and instead try to understand where they are at and how they would like things to be different. Together we figure out how that can come to be.
I strongly believe in teaching all of my clients, but especially teens (for brain development and hormonal reasons), helpful coping skills and distress tolerance skills. For those times for when our emotions feel overwhelming and we can feel like life is getting out of control. I wholeheartedly believe in the power of Mindfulness. Learning to live in the moment without judgement. Allowing ourselves to be present and to experience all that life has to give. I encourage my clients to find things that they are grateful for. Find things that are AMAZING to them or things that FASCINATE and INSPIRE AWE. We need to make sure we are taking good care, I mean real fucking good CARE of ourselves. I love to do the “life balance” wheel with teens. It’s not surprising how lop-sided it is... I’d be happy to tell you about how the “life balance” wheel works if you don’t already know and use it. This allows for everyone to see where we need to focus our attention in therapy.
The elephant in the room…
My approach or style may not be what some parents or guardians are used to when it comes to working with adolescents. Sometimes parents want to force their agenda onto the therapy. Sometimes they have a specific goal they’d like their child to work on. I’m certainly not saying I don’t welcome the input, I do, it can be helpful. However, if my client believes I am working for the parent or guardian, and not them, I have already done a disservice to my client and possibly have stunted the development of the therapeutic relationship. I also want to make it clear to parents or guardians that I can’t fix people, that’s not how therapy works. Change needs to come from within and that can take time. I have been lucky to have witnessed some amazing transformations in my clients’ lives and in their relationships. Some in a relatively short amount of time. But I do know in all cases it took a lot of work and navigating some tough challenges. The energy and drive to get that work done and get through those challenges all came from within the individual.
Get to the point…
I’ll be honest. I don’t always read the whole article or the entire blog. Who has time for that, right? If there are bold words or bullets points, I’m in. If there is a list, even better. So here it is:
Top 10 things to think about when you’re working with teens in a therapeutic relationship:
1. Acknowledge. It’s fucking hard being a teenager, and most likely, it’s extra hard for this kid because They. Are. Here. At. Your. Office.
2. Be real. Be genuine. Teens have a knack for calling BULLSHIT.
3. Include the teen client in everything. The intake, treatment planning, and disclosures. They already have people talking behind their back and making plans for them. You don’t need to add to that list.
4. Apologize. We all make mistakes and likely, you WILL make a mistake with your client. Admit it. Model what an apology looks like. Move forward. Teens need to see this modeled in healthy way.
5. Swear. (Or not. I do.)
6. Challenge them. They’ll appreciate it later.
7. Teach them Distress tolerance skills and Coping skills. They need this for their hormonal still developing prefrontal lobes. Simple as that.
8. Teach them real SELF-CARE. (Even though you might be saying “They are already little selfish ass holes”…) You need it, they need it, I need it, we all need self-care.
9. Advocate for your client. Just like you would advocate for any of your adult clients. They need respect just like any other individual.
Change comes from within. Chances are, if you are reading this you already know and believe this. This is just a friendly reminder to all of us to be realistic with our expectations about our clients and the work we do. If parents or guardians truly believe we have a magic want and can fix their child, we are all in big trouble. Change needs to happen organically. Change is hard. And we can inspire change that counts for our clients and for their loved ones."
Jessica is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and owner at J. Ellison and Associates, Inc. located south of the river in Burnsville, MN. Following in her father's footsteps she runs a solo private practice and is passionate about helping children, teens and families navigate their way through difficult times. She has tattoos that you can't see and holes in here face where piercings once were. She's a nerd about brains and science fiction. She's an artist, a mother, a wife and a lover of life. She is currently taking new clients and promises not to swear the first time she meets you! Please contact Jessica if you have any questions or would like a consultation. She accepts private pay and is also in network with Medica, Medical Assistance and Optum.
Brian here back with you - Wasn't that a great article? So much helpful information and tips on working with teenagers! Just a quick reminder that I am also currently have openings in my schedule for seeing new clients and I offer a free 15-minute phone consult to see if we're a good fit for each other. I accept private pay and am in network with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Medica, Optum, Preferred One and UBH. I am very excited to be in the development stages of hosting a relationship support group for women who are married to or dating men who would appreciate a professional male perspective. I have been learning that this is a much needed service in our community. More details coming soon - please stay tuned and have a wonderful week!