In this blog, I want to briefly outline some of the reasons I like working with adolescents and what are perhaps some of the key struggles faced by adolescents, their carers’ and those who work with or alongside them.
One of the most famous depictions of adolescents’ in my memory is probably Kevin, of Kevin and Perry fame, a very funny, exaggerated, but not unrecognizable depiction of a ‘teenager’. Kevin is by turns, childlike, demanding, exasperated at his parents, however reasonable they try and be, and genuinely struggling with the desire to experience the thrills adult world as he sees it and his unbearable lack of experience and shyness.
I think a good indicator of how it hits a note, is that some of the teenagers I know well, loved this depiction and found it hilarious.
What the characters focus is on the conflict the adolescent faces in needing to leave the world of childhood and its unquestioned dependence on caregivers, to somehow find their own identity. This can involve a painful, but perhaps temporary jettisoning of everything the parental figures seem to represent, however benign they may or may not be.
I think the pleasure and the pain of working with adolescents is how they remind us of some of the fundamental conflicts of, all of our lives, sometime ones, we have dealt with by; ‘letting sleeping dogs lie.’
Adolescents are suddenly faced with issues of what sex is, or means, how to belong or not and whether they may or may not want to. They are often in a position of having to make serious life choices, with only really a very limited knowledge of what those choices may mean.
The Psychotherapist Adam Phillips, writes, that in working with adolescents; “Violent feelings, dejection, sexual obsession, serious self-doubt and terrible self-image are something everyone who is at all awake can’t help but feel” …and that “Anyone who does this work with any real commitment will feel destabilised by it”.
So why do it?
I think because of precisely these issues, working with adolescents reminds us of what it is to be human, to be alive to the rawness of experience, the thrills, the highs and the lows. Adolescents’ are serious about this and often dedicate a great deal of thought about it, and finally as Phillips notes, that, ‘despite sometimes overwhelming feeling of powerlessness and disturbance,’, they can be, ‘committed pleasure seekers; something we as adults are not always so good at.’
Paul Salvage is Psychodynamic Psychotherapist trained to work with adolescents from 16-25 and adults across a wide range of specialisms including depression, anxiety, family issues, self awareness and relationship difficulties.