I am writing this blog post the week before the schools start to return, and when requesting support for teenagers has never been higher. Issues relating to anxiety about returning to school, worries about exams and concerns that they haven’t done enough work and will need to catch up are all common worries I am hearing about.
This is on top of pre-existing issues your teen may have already been experiencing, the pressure on them right now to adapt, adjust and ‘get through it’ is immense.
I speak to numerous parents every week about their concerns regarding their teenager and feeling they need some support. Pre-teens from as young as 10 or 11 to parents of young adults in their early 20’s. I see requests on social media for parents trying to find recommendations of people who can help them, and numerous responses follow.
I feel for these parents as I know, in a lot of cases you are looking for something to support your child but you are not sure what would help them, or how.
One of the things I have learnt from being a parent, right from the pregnancy days, is that everyone has an opinion, a view from what they feel has worked for them or someone they know. It could also be they have had support that they feel hasn’t worked too, and are keen to share their views.
When you, as a parent really need to feel like you are doing something to get some support and guidance, this can feel overwhelming.
I have also unfortunately read comments where professionals are critiquing others qualifications, often to stand out as the ‘most’ qualified or the ‘most’ experienced. I do not believe this is helpful, and only serves to add to the confusion. My standpoint is that we are all contributors to supporting our teenage community and their mental health.
I am compelled to write this blog post for the above reasons. No-one is ‘better’ than the other when it comes to finding support for your teen, but finding the ‘right’ person is.
So, here are five things you should consider when looking for support.
If you reach out for some recommendations and ask for support in a public space, like social media, be prepared to get multiple suggestions from different people. This in itself can feel overwhelming. You may also get a host of private messages from individuals too. The best first step is to take a look at the pages or websites of 2 or 3 people and see what YOU think of that person and what they say about their experience and qualifications. Then contact them and arrange to have a chat, most professionals who support teenagers would encourage you to do this first so that you can get a sense of who they are and so they can explain how they can support your young person.
Balance others opinions
Try not to make decisions based on what others, even close friends and family believe has or hasn’t ‘worked’. My latest qualification is in Solution Focused Hypnotherapy which often puts people off at the outset before they have had a chance to really know what it is and how it can help. This may be because of a lack of understanding or that someone else ‘saw’ a hypnotherapist and it didn’t go well. Either way, they are not your experiences. What my qualification does not reflect is 20 years’ experience working with children and young people in various capacities, which is why conversations are so important here.
Look beyond the qualifications
A list of qualifications can help you understand that person’s background, but not their experience. There are many different modalities which are extremely helpful and supportive when working with young people, but it has to be the right fit for your child. For example, coaching has a very different approach to psychotherapy, and even psychotherapists themselves will use different tools and techniques working with young people. Don’t be afraid to ask about their experience, and examples of how these individuals have helped young people, you can then get a sense of the approaches which they take by the language they have used.
Trust your judgement
Remember that instinct we have? We know our children better than anyone. Even if it feels like this relationship might be more challenging right now, we forget that we are still that person who truly understands them and what would be a best fit for them. It’s that gut feeling which comes from actually connecting with someone, hearing what they say and how they explain it, and also the response which your teen may give.
Rapport is key. When I speak to parents, and then in my first session with the teenager (if they agree to come), I explain to them that their first session is the opportunity to decide whether I am the right person for them to be supported by. I don’t believe I am the right person for every teenager who comes my way, and I tell them that.
‘Therapeutic Alliance’ is a term used to describe the relationship between the client and the person offering professional support. Research has shown that if this relationship is strong, then there is an increased likelihood of positive outcomes, up to 80% in some cases. It is why I believe that I often see young people who have been supported by an excellent therapist through the traditional CAMHS route, but they have chosen not to continue with them. It is not a reflection on that person’s ability but the role the young person plays in choosing the support which they believe may help them. They need to be engaged to increase the chances of a positive outcome.
Consider the safety of your young person.
Deciding on the support your teen may need will be based on the reasons you are asking for help. It could be that they are struggling with exam anxiety and need support with understanding and developing some strategies. Or it may be that they feel they need some help building confidence or talking to someone outside of the family about issues which are happening around them such as parents divorcing or a family bereavement.
However, if there is a serious health or well-being issue affecting your child or young person, and you have sought medical advice, ensure that the individuals you are speaking to have an understanding of safeguarding and strategies to support you and them as part of the wider support your child may be getting. One of the questions which you may ask is what experience the professional has of working with vulnerable young people, and have they trained in this area. If your young person is vulnerable, has self-harmed, or may be struggling with an eating disorder or suicidal thoughts then it is vitally important that the professional you access has the experience and understanding of the need to work in collaboration with other professionals and when to access further help and support for your child.
Ultimately, you want to help and get the support your teenager needs. No-one wants to have to see them struggling and not know what to do. Sometimes just a conversation with a professional can be reassuring for you in knowing that there is support, understanding and guidance out there, and often I do see parents separately to the teenager to help them navigate tricky times.
Remember you know best; you are in the position to ask the questions you need to ask and make initial decisions. Remember to consider the above and know that although it can be a difficult time, reaching out for support in whatever way you do, is one of the most positive steps you can take.
Want to learn more?
Visit my website www.clarecogan.com for more information about the work I do with teenagers and get in touch if it would be helpful to have a chat.