Group Therapy: It's Not Just "Social Hour"

A few parents have remarked in the past that group wasn't the right level of support for their teen because they didn't believe that a "social hour" would ultimately help their depression or anxiety.

But here's the deal...

Support support has been scientifically proven to be the #1 indicator of overall wellbeing in humans. It leads to improved symptoms of anxiety and depression, better physical health (and actually higher incomes too!)

Here are three reasons that group WORKS and why it's a valuable layer of support for your teen:

Group helps your teen experience and understand that they are not alone.

Being in a group with others who have similar struggles normalizes this experience to help your teen understand that they are not weird, bad, wrong or different for having the feelings that they do. It allows them to feel heard and understood and this validation is the first step towards making any changes.

Group helps your teen learn to love and accept themselves for exactly who they are.

The experience of showing up week after week, being able to "take off the mask" they wear at school and allow themselves to be know for who they are at their core is a priceless experience that most don't get in life. It allows your teen to actually live the truth that they are accepted for exactly who they are which leads to courage, confidence and sky-rocketing self-esteem.

Group provides your teen with a built-in accountability system.

Group members support each other in making healthy decisions. I've had group members commit to quit smoking, end toxic relationships, finish school work and more... and they actually follow through because they have PEERS checking in on them on a weekly basis to hold them accountable and cheer them on.

There are MANY ways to find a social support system for your teen.


Whether you decide on group as a way to help your teen find support, or you seek connection for your teen elsewhere, our mission is to help your teen understand that they are not alone.

(The key is to find a social support that your teen is interested in so that they will actually invest in the process.)

As Montgomery County's Teen Support Center, we've collected a list of local resources for 7+ ways to increase your teen's social support system.

Click the image below to get your free printable resource guide for local teen activities.

 
 

How to Help Your Teen Break Free of Limiting Beliefs

Our beliefs influence our thoughts, words and actions, and then the way we interact with the world around us.  The way your teen thinks then impacts their words and behavior too.

Watch the video below to learn how your beliefs about your teen are actually a part of the story in how they see and define themselves.  You'll also learn how you can use this information to boost your teen's confidence and productivity.

Some examples of limiting or unhelpful beliefs include...

  • I am unlovable
  • I'm not good enough
  • I am unwanted or uncared for
  • I am helpless or powerless
  • I am weak
  • I am trapped

Here are 2 ways to help your teen break free of limiting beliefs:

Technique #1:  Observe and Dismantle

Your thoughts, words and actions are always a reflection of what you believe.  Pay close attention to what you think, say and do when you notice a difficult emotion start to arise.  Ask yourself, "What's going through my head?" then flip the unhelpful or limiting belief into something more helpful or empowering.

For example:  If you normally look at a pile of homework and say to yourself, "This is too much.  I'll never get through it."  Instead you might say, "OK, one thing at a time, I totally got this!"

Technique #2:  Bulldoze and Liquefy

When you can explain and rationalize all the reasons that your belief is NOT true (even when it's hard) you begin to create evidence for a new truth.  I encourage my teens to put pen to paper and write down all the evidence that a current belief is false.

For example:  If you normally believe that no one likes you, write down all the evidence that you can find that others appreciate you, want you around, or are kind to you.  Then, begin to make it a habit to find evidence of your new and empowering belief.

 Remember to "Act as if!"

The super important follow-up to both of these exercises is to begin taking action and behaving in ways that reinforce that this new belief is true.  Choose at least three new, healthy and empowering behaviors that will help you make lasting changes that match your new beliefs about yourself.

Is my Teen's Behavior Normal or Problematic?

Often times we hear parents' concerns about teen behavior that are completely valid.

It can feel worrisome to know that your teen may be experimenting with alcohol or becoming sexually active.

And, while we always err on the side of safety and encouraging teen's to act in alignment with their family values, we also want to have the "real" talk too so that we can adequately address the behaviors that are happening (rather than be a place where teens feel like they can't fully be honest for fear of consequences or judgment.)

This is the same worksheet we use with teens in our DBT groups to help them evaluate their own behaviors and assess for areas of concern.  Remember as a general rule of thumb to listen more than you talk to help support your teen in acting in alignment with their values.

How to Make Sense of Your Teen's Problem Behaviors

Some behaviors that your teen displays in the moment may seem irrational to you. They may upset you. They may baffle you because you see how they can be harmful or have long-term negative consequences.

But in the moment they make a whole lot of sense.

Drinking at a party may ease your teen's social anxiety.

Self-harm may give an immediate release to a build up of emotional pain.

Punching a wall (or a person) may provide instant relief to a burning anger that's brewing inside.

Behaviors always serve a purpose.

And when you're looking to better understand your teen, it can be helpful to understand the WHY behind the action (and be open and curious about this) rather than jumping right to conclusions and consequences.

START WITH VALIDATION

In a relationship first stance, you always start with validation, like,

"You must have been in a lot of pain to have hurt yourself like that."

Or, "Seems like you were pretty angry to have punched that wall."

^^ This is what eases your teen's emotional experience and opens them up to actually talking to you about it rather than being defensive and shutting down.

And, just like behaviors always have a purpose, they always have a consequence too (good or bad.)

Drinking at a party may ease social anxiety, but it also may lead to underage drinking charges or moments of embarrassment when you're less inhibited and have poor judgment.

Self-harm may help with in the moment pain, but it often causes shame, fuels self-hatred and leads to the desire to ultimately self-harm more.

 

Punching a wall may help you release anger instantly, but may also lead to hurt hands and having to fix the hole you created using your own time and finances.

Use the DBT skill Pros and Cons to help your teen decide whether or not their behavior has been helpful or harmful

Stop reacting to behaviors with punishments that make your teen resent YOU. Instead, Validate FIRST, then talk through the pros and cons that THEY see in their chosen behaviors and help them come up with a new way to think about and act on this feeling in the future.

This is how you set your teen up for being a successful adult. It's all about empowering them to learn appropriate ways of interacting and responding (not punishing them for acting on feelings they haven't learned to control yet.)

This doesn't mean that you condone unhealthy behaviors. It means you understand them and troubleshoot how to manage the feelings behind them so that they behaviors fundamentally change. (Otherwise you're punishing a behavior but not addressing the feeling that's causing it. And this typically just leads to sneaky and dishonest teens that try not to get caught but continue to do the same thing.)

You can validate the feelings behind your teen’s behavior and still set limits on behavior! Try this three step method:

Acknowledge your teen’s feeling: “I know you’re angry that I won’t allow you out past curfew.”

Communicate the limit: “But punching the wall is not an appropriate way to express this anger."

Provide alternatives: “So, you can choose to yell, journal, text to a friend to vent or go punch the punching bag in the basement-- which do you choose right now?"

With this method, you are validating your teen’s feeling while maintaining house rules and expectations. In addition, you are providing some acceptable alternatives that may satisfy your teen’s initial desire (at least in part) to show that you care about your teen’s wants and needs.

The 6 Components of Your Teen's Emotions... And How to Manage Them

When your teen is sad and they don't know why... 

Sometimes your teen may wake up and roll out of bed in a bad more. (Sometimes you may do this too.)

And you may question where it came from and ask yourself...


... why are you sad?

... what happened in the past few days that's getting to you?

... how does this even make sense?

And typically these questions arise from the desire to FIX the situation.

You don't want to feel sad. And you're convinced that if you find the reason for it, you can fix it and you won't feel sad anymore.

 

THERE ARE 6 COMPONENTS OF AN EMOTION

Understand what they are and how to address them and you'll know how to acknowledge your feelings AND move forward (even if it takes a little time to process.)

VULNERABILITY FACTORS

This is when you're hungry, tired, sick or not taking care of yourself with diet and exercise (or you're overusing alcohol or abusing substances.) These are examples of ways that taking care of yourself physically impacts you emotionally.

Think about it...

When you haven't slept well, you're way more likely to fly off the handle or break down in tears. So is your teen.

Routine and commitment to taking care of your physical health is the single best way to address these vulnerability factors and feel good about yourself. It's something we check in and hold teens accountable for each week in sessions using a DBT Diary Card too!

TRIGGERS

These are the events that prompt a reaction: the situations, thoughts and feelings that lead to an emotional experience.

Some examples include...


+ being told "no"

+ conflict with friends or siblings

+ a pile of school work or overwhelming demands

Knowing your teen's triggers and creating a plan to Cope Ahead so that they know how to handle the situation is a helpful way to manage triggers. And, identifying triggers then noticing them in the moment is a mindfulness practice in and of itself.

THOUGHTS

Your thoughts create your feelings about a situation. It's all based on how you interpret the event. Most times, these thoughts stem from beliefs your teen already holds about themselves and the world.

For example, if a friend doesn't answer a text right away, your teen may interpret this as, "She must hate me" based on a past experience of losing friendships or being rejected. And then your teen would feel sad which *could* lead to self-destructive behaviors as a result.

But, another teen could have the same experience of a friend not responding and think, "They must be busy at their job" and then move on with their day doing something fun or productive.

In therapy we work to challenge your teen's unhelpful interpretations with questions like...


...Is this ultimately true?

...Is there another way of looking at the situation that's more helpful or empowering for you?

(And you can ask the same questions at home too!)

BODY SENSATIONS

When you experience emotions, you hold them within your body too.

You may notice that...

your heart races

your shoulders get tenseyour blood feels like it's boiling

your breathing gets more shallow

And when these body changes occur, it may prompt even MORE thoughts and feelings about what's happening. You may register one of these sensations and then begin to believe that something is *really* wrong.

Have you ever had a panic attack?

You begin to think that you're actually dying. << This is an interpretation (thought) about your emotion and the related body sensation.

Using DBT Self-Soothe and TIPP Skills can help you to address and change your body chemistry and physical experience of your emotions so that you feel calmer and are able to think more clearly.

Some Self-Soothe examples include...

+ Taking deep breaths

+ Listening to soothing music

+ Taking a hot bath or shower

BEHAVIORS

Thoughts and feelings lead to behaviors. Behaviors are the outward expression of what's happening for your teen internally (and not a personal affront to you as a parent)

Urges and behaviors that are self-destructive are an indication that your teen is depressed, not a bid for attention or to manipulate to get what they want.

(That being said, sometimes your teen's desire to sit in their room is just a desire to be a typical teen and sit in their room. We have ALL the details on typical vs. problematic teen behaviors that we're spilling in our new parent support group here.)

When you can help your teen find a NAME for their emotion and VALIDATE them in the moment, you can help them feel heard which automatically decreases the need for the urge or behavior that's being expressed.

(Feeling understood = resolution for problem behaviors)

CONSEQUENCES

I'm not referring to "No driving for a week" but rather the natural consequences that come from your teen's emotional experience.

They may feel guilty for acting out.They may feel frustration that they didn't get the assignment done.They may feel anxious that another urge will arise.

In therapy, we often rewind and replay the incident by breaking it down like this. (In DBT we call this a Behavior Chain Analysis and we'll teach your teen how to do it too so they can essentially learn to become their own therapist.)

I'll often say things like...


If you went back and did it again, what would you do differently?

Where can you plug in skills that could have changed the outcome?

What do you know now as a result that you can use next time a similar situation arises?

And once your teen is calm, you too can return to the situation with them to help them learn from it and move forward.

Understanding the components of an emotion and how you can break it down will help you know how to respond to your teen AND how to help them understand what to do too!

30 Coping Skills Your Teen Can Use at Home

Coping skills work if you work them! 

Remember...

A coping skill is something to try when you are feeling overwhelmed by your emotions. It's a way to help your body and mind take a break so that you can come back to the situation at hand and attend to problem solve.

Sometimes there's not a solution and then it's time to work on acceptance.

It's important to note that coping skills are meant to be PLANNED and TEMPORARY.

They are not meant to make you feel happy. They are meant to help you manage a difficult situation without making a self-destructive choice that could make the situation worse.

Here's our three-step plan for using coping skills effectively:

STEP ONE:
Know the warning signs of overwhelm. Catch that very first sign that your emotions are shifting and become aware of your urges and behaviors that coincide with your difficult mood. It may be helpful to rate your mood from 0 to 10 so that you can assess the situation and best communicate your feelings to others.

STEP TWO:
Choose a coping skill to try and commit to it for at least 15 minutes. Rate your mood again and decide if the skill you chose has been helpful. If it has, you can continue with this or try something else. If it hasn't, choose another skill from your list. (It's helpful to have a list of skills to try BEFORE you're in crisis since thinking rationally when your emotions are high is more difficult.

STEP THREE:
Re-evaluate and rate your mood. Return to step one as needed. If you feel calm and capable of having a conversation, it may be helpful to try to problem solve or talk out the situation with a trusted friend or professional.

Check out this AMAZING list of coping skills that our campers came up with in DBT Summer Camp...

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Want a list of 100 more positive activities to help your teen cope?

 Invite them to do some activities together with you and encourage them to engage in a few on their own or with friends too!  It's all about surrounding your teen with positive supports and healthy activities so that they can have a break from overwhelming emotions until they are calm enough to problem solve or work through the situation that's causing distress.

How to help your teen feel understood

When you find someone that understands you, the world just makes sense. 

We all fear judgment. Feeling embarrassed or singled out is one of the biggest fears that we as humans experience. And, part of a typical teen's development is experiencing the "personal fable" -- the belief that you are the center of the world and that everyone's focused on you.

When you're eating with new friends, you fear that they are judging you for your food choice, or how much you're eating.

When you enter a crowd you imagine that they're thinking about the shirt you're wearing that you may have second guessed when you put it on that morning.

When you have a pimple, it becomes the only thing you believe people see when they look at you.

The world becomes a mirror for all your insecurities. 
And anything you think about yourself becomes magnified and projected onto everyone else.

It feels lonely.
It feels rejecting.
It feels humiliating.

And your teen doesn't have to go through it alone.

Learning that you're not the only one who feels a certain way and that others understand you is a VALIDATING experience. And for a highly sensitive teen, validation is step one before you can begin to see any kind of change at all.

How can you validate your teen?

LISTEN WITHOUT JUDGEMENT
Hear your teen out without telling them what to do, making disapproving faces or "shoulding" them into further shame or embarrassment. Just be there to listen without trying to change anything.

ACKNOWLEDGE THE FEELING
Decide how your teen may be feeling based on what they are sharing, their tone and their facial expression, then reflect this back to them.

This can be as simple as:

"I can tell you're really angry about this."

^^ Use a tone and body language that communicate this message too.

EMPOWER YOUR TEEN TO MAKE A CHOICE
Give your teen permission to stay sad or anxious or stuck if that's what they desire. Or, you can offer choices for how to shift out of difficult thoughts and feelings and to make changes. >> It has to be their decision.

Imagine that your support is like a buffet. They can view all the options and pick the ones that work best for them.

Here's how:

"If you want me to sit here and rub your back while you cry, I can do that for you. Or, if you'd like to go for a walk or watch Netflix together to take your mind off this, I'm game for that too."

You don't need to solve your teen's problems for them to feel supported. (In fact they're telling us here at the teen support center that that's not what they want at all.)

What they really need is to have a felt sense that they are not alone. And when you validate your teen's feelings, you accomplish this.

Overcome the myth of, "I'll do better in school once I get to college because I'll care more and I'm paying for it." 

This is an example of magical thinking at it's finest. And it's the lie that many teens are telling themselves to give them permission to coast through the rest of the school year.

But here's the truth

Unless you COMMIT to a routine that brings you success right now, it's going to be super hard to change your internal motivation or day-to-day work ethic just because you've had a change of location (even when there's more money involved.)

 

IT'S TIME TO DEVELOP A SCHEDULE TO GET YOUR LIFE ON TRACK. (now, not then.)

Here's how...

SET SMALL GOALS
People tend to get overwhelmed with big responsibilities, so it helps to break them down into smaller steps. Make a list of overall goals, then schedule smaller objectives directly into your calendar. Small wins lead to big successes.

CREATE AN ONGOING STRUCTURE
Having a daily routine allows you to wash, rinse and repeat success in a way that feels normal and keeps you from getting stuck. Write down your weekly routine. Of course you can allow yourself to be flexible within this routine, but committing to an hour of studying per day, or physical activity daily is a way of creating a strong foundation for a happy and healthy life.

REMEMBER TO ENJOY YOUR LIFE
Productivity is great, but when you ignore what makes you happy, tasks and responsibilities get more difficult to complete. Build in time for fun and self-care every single day. Make a list of activities that you feel confident when you're engaging in and that you feel happy when you complete. Make doing at least one per day as routine as brushing your teeth.

When you can be mindful of how routines help you build a more satisfying life and you commit to taking the time to make routine a habit, you'll soon be soaring towards your goals and ready for college now, not crossing your fingers and hoping it happens when you get there.