What's your actual problem?

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Why therapy doesn't work sometimes... 

Did you know that 90% of poor treatment outcomes in therapy are related to assessment errors?

This means that MOST times, what your teen may be working on in therapy is focused on a goal or behavior that's not actually the root of the problem.

The "problem" is actually most times the solution! 

When your teen engages in a behavior that you see as problematic, such as self-injury, school avoidance, arguments or risk-taking behaviors, most times, this behavior is the result of a prompting event that has triggered strong emotions for your teen.

Their "problem" behavior is actually the solution for your teen in the context of their life, their resources, the skills they currently possess and the habits and behaviors they have learned over time in their environment.

The problem is actually the prompting event and high emotions that come with that cue.

Unhealthy behaviors aren't the problem, they're a SKILLS DEFICIT. 

Our goals for your teen at the teen support center are two-fold:

First, we help your teen envision a life worth living and partner with them to build a commitment towards their goals that's so strong that unhealthy behaviors become incompatible with their lives and begin to fade away.

(Have a teen who swears they don't have a problem or that their cutting isn't the problem?  This is definitely the approach they need.)

We help our teens articulate what they WANT out of life... not just what they don't want, so that they can spend their time moving towards goals and enjoying the moment, rather than trying to escape or avoid difficulties.

Next, we help your teen identify what behaviors are getting in the way of their goals occuring and help them learn new behaviors that give them the same outcome (and at the same intensity) as the unhealhty beahviors that were providing them relief.

We're not just spending 45 minutes venting or talking about problems, we're supporting a structured process of behavioral change that will help your teen learn to act skillfully no matter what life throws their way.

6 Questions to ask yourself about your teen's behavior to find the root... 

  1. What happened BEFORE the problem behavior occurred?
  2. Was anything else happening this week that caused them to be more emotionally vulnerable, like less sleep, more schoolwork or illness?
  3. What did I do as a parent to respond to my teen's problem behavior?
  4. Did my response make the behavior better or worse?
  5. What was the ultimate OUTCOME for my teen of engaging in this problem behavior?  Did they find short-term relief, escape or avoidance?
  6. How can I help my teen achieve the positive outcome they desire (and at the same intensity) while helping them phase out unhealthy behaviors?

Help your teen act skillfully! 

Groups have been proven to be the best way to help our teens learn new skills because it allows them to practice in a controlled environment and get real time feedback too!

How to Foster Self-Compassion in Self-Critical Teens

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If your teen is self-critical, you may notice that they…

  • Hate the way they look
  • Make self-critical comments about their body or their appearance
  • Feel like a failure and say negative things about themselves or to themselves if they get a poor grade on a test or something doesn't work out in a social situation.

What we see with these teens who are self-critical and who are really hard on themselves is that they end of falling into  one of two categories:

  1. They may shut down and start to think, "What's the point? Why should I bother? I'm not even going to try anymore."
  2. Or the other end of that spectrum is they may overcompensate and work themselves to the bone, stay up until midnight completing work, never feel like it's good enough and continue to be super hard on themselves as a means to try and motivate themselves to perfection, which we know is not a possibility.

Why boosting self-esteem doesn’t work…

Most of the time parents and professionals will try to increase or to boost self-esteem.  But, boosting self-esteem is just a temporary fix. It's like putting a band-aid on a wound that doesn’t heal.

Most professionals will help your teen track their negative self-talk.  They'll help them learn to tune in to what they're saying to themselves, and then learn some thought replacement techniques to try and change those negative or critical thoughts with more positive or helpful ones. They'll help them learn to be their own cheerleader.

But, in working with hundreds of teens in our community over the last 7 years, here’s what I’ve learned about why this doesn’t work:

  1. It doesn't work because the thoughts always come back. Yes, mindfulness of shifting your thoughts is  a practice and we can practice acknowledging that thought and then replacing it with a more positive thought,
  2. BUT, for teens especially this feels FAKE, and we all know that teens have that BS-meter, where they can notice something that feels fake immediately!  This leads to discouragement, because it's not a quick fix and it doesn't work right away. Who wants to replace the same thought over and over and over again, right?

Thought replacement is just a temporary fix!

If I said to you right now, "Try your best to not think about a pink elephant." You'd have to think about that pink elephant before you tried to not think about that pink elephant. It's the same thing with thought replacement, when we're talking about negative to positive self-talk, you still have to think about and feel the negative thought before you can replace it with a positive one, so that feels discouraging for our teens.

What's more is that when they have that thought and then they have to go through the action of replacing it, it inadvertently reinforces this idea that there's something wrong with them for having that thought to begin with because they are aware that they have to change it, and that further increases feelings of low self-esteem.

The Self-Esteem Solution

Here's the solution to low self-esteem:  let's foster self-compassion instead of self-esteem.

Self-compassion means is treating yourself with kindness, thinking about how you would talk to your best friend, and considering, “Do I talk to myself the same way?”

Now, this is a little bit different than thought replacement.  For example: if you got a B on a test you might say something to yourself like, "Oh my gosh, I'm such a failure, I can't believe I didn't get an A.  I can't believe I didn't study more." You'd start to verbally beat yourself up a little bit.

But if your friend got a B on a test, you might say something like, "A B is a pretty good grade. I know you wanted an A, but a B is acceptable, and you can try harder for the next one."

So why is it that we can talk to our friends in a way that's compassionate and kind, but when we don't measure up to our own expectations, it leads us into this spiral of shame and negative self-talk? It’s time to treat yourself with kindness and think, "How would I talk to a friend? And how can I learn to talk to myself in the same way?"

To doubt and question yourself is human.  Accept it!

Self-doubt and self-criticism are a totally normal part of being human. The goal for any of us isn't to get rid of these thoughts, but to recognize them without letting them define us. This is why groups can be so helpful, especially for our teens, because groups help them to recognize that they're not alone in thinking and experiencing what they're going through, and that there's nothing wrong with them for having these feelings.

It's a really beautiful thing when one of my teens can share an experience that they're having, and another teen, at least one, in the group can say, "Yes, I get that, I understand that, I feel you." They understand each other in a way that makes them feel like they're not weird, bad, wrong, or different for having self-doubt, for criticizing themselves, for feeling down on themselves, for being frustrated.

Normalizing these NORMAL feelings as part of a human experience is so, so important when we're talking about being self-compassionate, because it means that there's nothing wrong with you, it means that you're not broken, that you don't need fixing, that it's all about acknowledging these thoughts without getting attached to them or without letting them define us.

Getting a B on a test doesn't mean that you're a failure. Failing a test doesn't mean that you're a failure. It means that you didn't do as well as you wanted to, and there's a way to improve on that, but it's not defining you as a failure as a person.

Accurate self-perception is more effective than inflated self-esteem

The research says that having an accurate self-perception has been proven to be way more effective than having high self-esteem. Part of this is because when we focus on self-esteem as a metric and then we have an “off” day, we automatically believe that there's something wrong with us. It hinders our ability to have an accurate sense of self because we're always basing it on some kind of external validation or some experience that we're having in our lives.

The other end of that spectrum is that when we typically rely on validation or doing well to boost our self-esteem and then we don't excel at one of those tasks, it shakes the very foundation of our identity and who we are.  For teens, when their developmental task is figuring out who they are, this can become really dangerous, and it can lead to changes in mood and urges and behaviors that become concerning for us as parents and professionals.

Help your teen connect, cope, create and foster self-compassion!

If you have a teen who's experiencing a negative self-image and could benefit from learning the tools and skills to…

  • Be more self-compassionate
  • Learn how to treat themselves with kindness
  • Learn how to accept the ups and downs in life
  • Have the skills to cope with difficult feelings

I'd love to invite you to connect with us. We're enrolling now for our Connect, Cope and Create Summer Camp, that is a week of groups and activities that are designed to help your teen go from overwhelmed, stressed, and unhappy with themselves, to learning to cope with life's ups and downs, learning how to tune in to how they think and feel, and how to be in control of their feelings, rather than let the feelings control them and define who they are.

We all know that we can't change or make feelings go away, but we can learn to cope with them and create a life that's worth living and that your teen loves, fully engages in, and is effective for them so that they can learn to be kind to themselves and finally treat themselves like their own best friend.

CLICK HERE to learn more and apply for a space in summer camp for your teen:  http://creativehealingphilly.com/summer-camp/

Get Unstuck from Unhelpful Feelings (because you can't actually CHANGE them!)

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If your teen tends to get stuck on thoughts that cause undue stress, the DBT skill “Defusion” can help your teen stop, step back and get unstuck from painful thoughts and feelings so that they can can live life to the fullest and actually ENJOY the good times without worry thoughts.

Thoughts aren’t facts! 

Feelings are always changing and when we get caught up in a thought or a feeling, it sometimes leads to a decision or engaging in a behavior that isn't necessarily helpful in the long run and can lead to problems.

Using Defusion means is being able to observe your feelings to really notice what's happening in your mind, in your body, in your emotions and in your memories so that you can have more control and a little bit of distance from the process.

One of the ways that we teach giving distance from a thought that might be running through our head over and over again and doesn't necessarily feel helpful is for us to be able to label that thought as a thought.

SAY: "I'm having the thought that I might fail the test"

... rather than: "I might fail the test" or "I'm going to fail the test."

What that does it allows you to label a thought as just a thought, loosening some of the power it might have over you, and essentially not accepting that thought as an ultimate truth.

Don’t let your thoughts take the wheel! 

When you're learning to drive, you might have someone in the passenger seat or some backseat drivers that are telling you to do different things or telling you to go different directions and it can be really stressful!

But to stay safe, what you have to do is connect to your breath, connect to your center, and really decide which way you want to go and remind yourself that YOU are in control of the wheel. You need to make the decisions for where to turn or when to stop or when to use your turn signal.

Life sometimes looks this way when it feels like many people in our lives are being critical or making demands of us. When you can take some breaths, recenter and stay the course, you can make decisions that are ultimately in your best interest in the long term.

This is how you separate from your thoughts a little bit and allowing yourself to notice them just as thoughts rather than as facts or truth.

Ask: “What am I reacting to?” 

When you notice your emotions start to shift maybe into something uncomfortable or something that's difficult for you, ask yourself, "What am I reacting to?"

Then begin to reflect on what some of those thoughts are, what that prompting event was. Try writing it down or talking it out with someone.

Some of our teens have even mentioned that it's helpful to gain some distance from those thoughts by saying them in a different voice, using a different accent, saying them faster or slower, saying difficult thoughts to the tune of "Happy Birthday" or the alphabet or something like that.

While you're saying the same things to yourself, it's loosening some of the power that those thoughts have over you because it's making them a little bit silly.

Now, that's not to say we're invalidating the thoughts because some thoughts certainly lead to some difficult emotions, but that we don't have to feed into all of our thoughts and accept them as truth or fact...

...because thoughts are thoughts and facts are facts.

Manage overwhelm with visualization 

One exercise that can help with detaching from overwhelming or negative feelings is the "leaves on a stream" exercise.

Here are simple instructions:

Imagine you are sitting in the middle of a stream. The water is flowing away in front of you.

Notice if there is any sound from the running water. Notice if there are any trees on the banks of the stream.

Now see leaves floating down the stream away from you. They can be any shape, color, or size. As the negative thoughts come into your mind, be aware of what the thought is, and then place it on a leaf.

Now watch it float away down the stream. Do this with each thought as you notice it.

As you acknowledge each of your thoughts, you do not need to hang onto them. There is no need to become attached to the thought. Just acknowledge it and then place it on a leaf.

By watching it float away, it loses its hold on you and its intensity.

Think Your Teen Will Never Be Happy? You May Be Right!


Our brains are wired for survival, not happiness. I like to bring brain science into what we do at the teen support center with our groups and our individual clients because when they can make sense of what's going on in their minds, it helps them to cope in more healthy ways and be willing to buy into actually trying new strategies that aren't just a theory, but actually science-backed and evidence-based.

When we, as humans, first appeared here on the planet, we had one job, and that job was to stay alive. This meant that our main priority was looking out for anything that might harm us and avoiding it at all costs.

In those times, being hyper vigilant of danger and negative situations was really helpful to keep us alive.  But today, this has evolved into us avoiding people, places, and situations, by numbing our feelings, and constantly distracting ourselves with our phones, and Netflix, and anything else in our lives so that we don't have to experience that discomfort or so that we don't have to feel struggle.

What helped us long ago as a species isn't necessarily serving us now.  We often help teens recognize that something that may have been put in place in their life in the past to keep them safe or comfortable may not still be helpful to them now and, in fact, this interwoven part of their story may  actually be keeping them stuck from moving forward or from living their fullest life.

Belonging was critical to survival long ago. Today it creates pain and suffering for many of our teens. 

Back in those cavemen days, belonging was critical to survival. If you weren't a part of the tribe, if you were left out and alone, this left you vulnerable to getting eaten, attacked, or killed, so it was really important that you constantly be evaluating, "Am I good enough to be in this tribe? Am I pulling my weight? Am I looking like the other people that are around me?" because that was a survival technique.

Fast-froward this to today, and we're constantly evaluating ourselves as right, or wrong, or good, or bad in an effort to belong.

One of our values at the teen support center is to really help each of our teens learn to shine uniquely for who they are rather than to try to dim their light to make themselves belong with other people. 

What's more, with social media and the ways we're all so connected makes it super easy to compare yourself to others, and it completely increases our fear of being rejected and not being good enough.  We're constantly reminded that we're either not being included, or we look different than other people, or we have different things than other people. Again, while long ago this brain function kept us safe, in today's world, constantly looking around and feeling inferior makes us feel more alone. 

What helps?  What we work with teens on is a goal of accepting their emotions and being able to cope with them. This means that we need to actively work to dispel the myth that we are always meant to be happy and instead help our teens to gain the tools that they need to manage life's ups and downs. 

This also means that you too, as a parent, have a responsibility to be curious about your teen's emotions rather than punitive about them. When you see your teen getting tense or angry, or sad, or slamming a door, don't automatically rush into punishment but instead get curious about what's behind that behavior. We always look at behaviors as a means of communicating an emotion. I want you start to get curious about what is it that your teen is communicating via their behavior.

Accept, Observe, Describe and Communicate 

This 4-step process helps our teens understand their emotion and effectively communicate it to others.  You can help your teen learn to actually become aware of and put their emotions into words too!

When you notice an emotion arise, don't jump to comforting them or trying to make it go away.  Instead, lean into the emotion by asking your teen:

  • What are the body sensations that come with it?
  • What are the thoughts that we have in our head?
  • What's going through your head when you're feeling this way right now?
  • How big is this emotion?
  • Can you put a number on it from zero to 10?
  • Does it have a color or a shade?

When you can commit to holding the space for your teen's big emotions, you're communicating the message to them that you trust that they can handle the emotion (and that you can too so that they come to you when they feel overwhelmed.)

4 Skills to Instantly Calm Intense emotions

When your teen is OVERWHELMED and agitated, it may be hard for them to actually use their everyday coping strategies and reminding them typically leads to them feeling even MORE frustrated... then you both feel upset and disconnected.

Watch this video to learn the 4 strategies that we cover in our groups this week that TIP the scales in the direction feeling calm and capable of coping.

5 Steps to Emotional Balance

Self-care is the foundation of feeling good emotionally and building the resilience necessary to manage life's ups and downs. 

Often times teens feel out of control of their emotions. and like there's nothing they can do to change that.

What's important to note is that the way we take of ourselves physically 100% impacts how we feel emotionally.

Think about it...

When you don't eat, you get cranky.

When you get poor sleep, you're more easily irritated.

The DBT Skill PLEASE is an acronym that teaches teens how to control the physical aspects of their depression and anxiety so that they feel like they are contributing to all around wellness, rather than a victim of their circumstance.

Use the following 5 strategies to take care of yourself physically and ensure that your emotions stay in balance.

#1 Physical Health


Go to the doctor when you're sick.  Get rest and don't push yourself too hard.  Take your medications as prescribed.  Drink enough fluids.


Eat balanced meals and ensure that you're getting enough to eat!

Don't restrict yourself from certain food groups and focus more on adding in the healthy than taking away the unhealthy.  This will help you build a positive mindset around food.


While we understand that experimenting with alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes are a part of normal teen development, we don't condone these behaviors and encourage teens to be mindful of how these substances impact their overall mental health.


Aim to get between 7 and 10 hours of sleep per night and keep names to a minimum of one hour or less per day.


Plan to get 20 to 60 minutes of exercise daily.  Balanced exercise help with almost any symptom of your emotional health. Join a sport.  Take a walk with a friend, walk the dog.  Find ways of fitting in extra activity into your day like parking further away from a store or taking the stairs.

DBT Emotional Balance

It always starts with mindfulness! 

Helping your teen become more aware of their current self-care habits and attitudes (without being critical or nagging) is the best starting point.  Ask your teen to assess their current habits, then together you can work on ways to improve upon their current routines so that they can move forward healthier and happier with self-care strategies that stick.

3 Steps to College Success (Even when you have senioritis)

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It's the last semester of senior year

It may be "crunch time," but senioritis has set in.

Your teen has  already been accepted to college and now they're giving themselves permission to coast a bit.

“It’s senior year,” they say.

“I’m going to enjoy it,” they say.

But with the senior project work piling up and the assignment on top of assignment that every single teacher is throwing their way, they're beginning to feel like they've dug a hole that they'll never get out of by the end of May.

You worry as a parent that your teen's lack of worry has led to fudging that awesome GPA they worked their whole high school career to achieve.

There’s a nagging concern in the back of your mind that they could actually revoke that college acceptance if they don’t pull it all together.

But now that they cycle has started, you both feel a lack of control.

Where do you start?

How do you pull yourself out of this now?

How does your teen even find the time to get all the past due assignments done when school and activities just keep on going on top of it?

When work piles up, it can be easy for your teen to give in to paralysis and the belief that they will start doing better once they get to college because they'll care more then.

We hear it all the time…

I’ll be paying for it so I’ll care more…. Lie

I’ll only be taking classes that I like, so I’ll be more interested in school…. Lie

These are examples of magical thinking at it's finest. And they’re the lies that many high school seniors 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.)


Here's how...


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.



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.



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.

If your teen is a high school senior, there are 28 weeks between them and college.  Get out that agenda book and start making a plan!  

And, if your teen needs support overcoming the barriers between high school and college success, we’re here to support you.  

Our therapists have opened up 5 spaces to see high school seniors in the second semester so that we can fully support your family in going from overwhelmed and “over it” at school to having the practical plan for coping with stress NOW so that your teen can navigate college and beyond in the happiest and healthiest way possible.

Click HERE to apply for a complimentary parent call so that we can connect and explore together the next best steps for your high school senior.  We look forward to speaking with you soon.


3 Phrases to Build a Positive Mindset + Boost Self-Esteem in Your Teen


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It's human to give more attention to pain and difficulty than to positive experiences.

Your teen likely has neutral or positive interactions and experiences in the majority of their day, but if one person gave them a "look" or said something critical, it becomes the ONLY thing they can focus on for the rest of the day.


And, this becomes a tailspin of negative self-judgments, self-loathing and harsh criticisms too.


Your teen begins to believe that they aren't good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, fit enough or talented enough.


And these comparisons become a dangerous foundation for basing our worth on other people's opinions of us... something that can create stress, illness, avoidance, procrastination and perfectionism... and ultimately depression.


The good news is, that when we can help our teens focus on the fun, encourage positive interactions, highlight strengths, show gratitude for effort and give attention to the work in progress, it helps teens to feel good enough for exactly who they are while still working on improving.

Because we're all a work in progress, but it doesn't mean that we can't love ourselves at every single step along the way.


Here are some phrases to help you get started in supporting your teen's self-esteem and shifting them into a more positive frame of mind:

"Thank you for taking the trash out.  I appreciate you remembering to pitch in and contribute."  

Even if it's an "expected" chore, attention and gratitude ensure that it's acknowledged and increases the likelihood that your teen will do it again without being asked.


"I'm super proud of how hard you worked in studying for that test last night.  You really put in a lot of effort and focused for a long time."

Notice how you're praising the effort and NOT the grade or outcome here.


"I love how kindly you spoke to your friend when she was upset in the car on the way home last night.  You're a good friend."

In this example, you're highlighting your teen's strength or positive quality in an interaction or situation, not the outcome of how they made the other person feel.


The more you can pull out and highlight strengths that you see in your teen and share them together, the more your teen will internalize these ideas and begin to think them too!


Finally, be sure to help your teen focus on the FUN in every situation.  Help them find joy.  Encourage them to take breaks and talk to friends.  When all you focus on is outcomes and responsibilities, not only will your teen see you as an adversary, but they will learn to focus on difficulties without prioritize self-care and life's positive moments.


It's all about finding and encouraging the balance so that your teen can navigate the hard times while still holding space for what makes life worth living too.


If your teen is having difficulty finding balance or seeing the good in life, there is hope.  We'd love to connect and explore the next best step in helping your teen find happiness.

Reach out to apply for a complimentary parent consultation call here:  www.creativehealingphilly.com/free-parent-call