Getting Real

Getting Real

Candor and Connection with Adolescents

By Janet Sasson Edgette

September/October 1999

Carl was a 17-year-old client of mine whom I always hoped would stand me up. Ten or twelve minutes into a scheduled therapy session, when it seemed clear that he had given me the slip, I could actually feel the knot in my stomach begin to uncoil, my shoulders soften, my jaw unclench. Ahhhh, I'd sigh inwardly. Safe for another week.

Hands down, Carl was the most provocative and aggressive kid in the caseload of unruly, strung-out teenagers that comprised my first real job as a psychologist more than a decade ago. These emotionally and socially troubled kids had been sent by their families or their schools or their state's youth departments to live for a year or two on a rolling, grassy campus in suburban Philadelphia, where it was hoped that massive infusions of structure and therapy and benevolence would somehow work magic on their weathered souls. These were sad, tough, angry kids. Mostly, they treated everyone around them with belligerent, mocking scorn. At times, though, they could be funny and caring--real buddies to one another.  There were moments--granted, not many--when I could imagine them fitting in anywhere.

Carl, however, had trouble connecting with anyone, even briefly. Oh, sure, he thought he was funny, a real crowd pleaser. But his jokes were often cruel and crude, and few laughed--except those who were afraid Carl would catch them not laughing. Raw-boned and brawny, this menacing man-child seemed to thrive on making other people…

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