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All change: Therapy in Adolescence

Posted by [email protected] on September 30, 2016 at 11:10 AM Comments comments (0)

All change: Therapy in Adolescence

As bodies, relationships, feelings and expectations change it is surprising perhaps that most young people traverse the rough terrain of adolescence with no more than bruised shins and bloody knees.

Whilst in the midst of changing relationships, educational demands and negotiating the gap between childhood and adulthood there are physiological, psychological and social upheavals to be managed, and as the adult in that child’s life, parent, carer or teacher, it can be difficult to know how best to assist, at a time when your suggestions and advice seem under-valued and peers are most influential.

The science-in brief

Neuroscience research has confirmed that whilst the ability to create and adapt new brain pathways (plasticity) in adolescence presents an opportunity for transition, change and growth, it also effects decision making and risk taking behaviour because these developing brain networks change at different rates. So whilst the ability to think and make connections prepares the youngster for “going it alone”, their ability to understand and control their emotions may lag behind which can lead to risk-taking behaviour. The scientific evidence points to this as a hazardous time when ability and judgement are out of sync and interestingly is leading scientists to re-define society’s definition of adulthood from 18 to “emerging adulthood” between the ages of 18-24 years when the brain appears more “balanced”.

Help and support

So besides brain structure and physiology what else are adolescents up against? Even with a seemingly solid and caring family behind them there may be times when the well- supported and previously untroubled teenager needs help. Perhaps negotiating friendship and peer groups feels too much, moving onto a new stage such as GCSE or 6th form, questioning sexuality, or when there is an obvious life event- separation, bereavement, or relationship breakdown.

Young people who have had disrupted early attachment either through adoption, being in care or because home circumstances were less than ideal, are most likely to struggle in this turbulent period. Those given excessive or inappropriate responsibility as children grapple with what is expected of them as they head towards independence without a secure foundation of nurture to fall back on.

If adolescence is a period of great internal and external conflict and of greatest potential for change then logically this is a period when therapeutic input can be most effective. Therapy at this point may prevent the development of mental health issues in adolescence and their persistence into adulthood.

It can be hard for the young person to ask for help especially at a time when feeling different or being different is the last thing they want to acknowledge, and when those around them appear to be finding it all so easy. Similarly as a parent or carer it can be difficult when your child stops turning to you for support and hard to accept that you may not be the person who can fix how they feel, even when it has been something that you have always tried to do.

Talking to a therapist can help a young person to clarify their thinking, challenge and explore their core beliefs and improve their relationships with those around them. It can help parents and carers to support their child through a turbulent time and nurture a relationship which will sustain into adulthood.

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Psychotherapy, dieting and food- stepping off the roundabout

Posted by [email protected] on September 23, 2016 at 6:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Food is a complicated issue yet so many of us get stuck in the fight to control what we take in; balanced with the energy we burn through exercise. The diet industry takes a behavioural stance- change the amount you eat and get the reward, change our shape and our lives. Changing thinking and behaviour can feel easy when we are in a weekly diet meeting and the pounds are falling. Yet often the weight goes back on as soon as we step out of that controlled, contained environment, and a cycle of loss and gain begins.

Eating disorders occur when the need to control the intake of food becomes too powerful, leading to the misery of bulimia and anorexia, overtaking life and threatening it at the same time. In the UK 1.6 million people are affected by eating disorders and it is estimated that 10% of sufferers die as a result of their disorder. The majority recover but may become locked in a battle with food, constantly monitoring their eating and exercise throughout adult life, without fully understanding what food means to them and their relationship with it. Though eating disorders are at the extreme end of pre-occupation with weight and size there are many who live with “disordered eating”, who may over-eat and binge, starve and deprive, with most alternating between the two in the pursuit of a body ideal.

Of course food is an important part of life; it is why we stay alive, but it is much more. Food can quieten a grumpy baby, bribe a “wilful” child, it can be a way of showing love, there can be too much or never enough. We might feel safe and secure whilst eating, yet repulsed, guilty and ashamed after binging.

Our relationship with food begins at the breast or bottle and our feeding as babies is often surrounded by family mythology. These stories describe us as “greedy” or “insatiable”, often “picky” or “awkward. There will also be those who know nothing of those earliest experiences even in the form of myth, only that their feeding was disrupted by adoption and loss.

Our complex relationship with food is influenced by our attachment to our earliest caregivers, their eating patterns, and the patterns of eating in our family and of our peers, our ability and inability to speak about the way we feel and the response of others to those feelings; the list goes on.

Psychodynamic Counselling and Psychotherapy can offer the space and opportunity to think about what food means to you, and to begin to understand the multiple functions food can serve in life. Along with this understanding comes the possibility of lasting change and a move away from pre-occupation with food and the roundabout that diets can become.

For more information about individual or group therapy contact Rachel [email protected]