New Rules for Working with Adolescents

New Rules for Working with Adolescents

Getting Through

By Ron Taffel

May/June 2001

Adolescence has changed dramatically over the last two decades, and therapists will have to revise the way they work if they want to break through the wall that separates adults from teens. While the fundamental therapeutic skills--joining and motivating clients, listening actively and intuitively, clarifying issues and relationship patterns--are as relevant to successful therapy as ever, there are new applications for those skills that can make therapy more effective with today's crop of adolescents:

Find Out About Interests First, "Issues" Later-- First, without engaging the teen, there can be no therapy. My first question is not "Why are you here?" or "What is the problem?" but "What are your interests?" "What do you do when you are not with your parents?" I learn about the music, videos, films, magazines, computer games and websites the kids like. I ask them about their friends, and have them draw sociograms with themselves at the center and their friends all around. I ask for thumbnail biographies of the people most important to them, and whether there are any feuds going on in their social networks.

Find Out What's "Annoying" About Their Home Life --This word opens doors with modern teens, along with, "What are your gripes?" and "What kind of privileges do you wish you had?" I ask them to explain the major points of dispute between themselves and their parents, and who in the first family they would confide in if they…

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