When to seek help for troubled tweens, teens (column)
Love in the Mountains
It’s never been my specialty — or more so what I see as a gift, to work with adolescents. My comfort is in helping their parents. But as my practice has expanded, and as couples voiced their concerns for their growing adolescents, I saw the need in the Vail Valley to provide services tailored for teens.
Let me introduce you to Gertie Breffle, a fantastic therapist who has that gift to therapeutically connect with tweens and teens. When my path crossed with Gertie and she expressed interest in coming to Vail, I may have literally jumped up and down. I was thrilled to offer comprehensive support to families through an evolving range of specialized services at the Vail Relationship Institute (www.vailrelationship institute.com).
Breffle carries an impressive background serving families and adolescents on the Front Range. She’s a wilderness therapist with certification in multisystemic family therapy. She has a deep understanding of addictive behaviors in both adults and adolescents, while bringing compassion (and not pathology) into her work.
I sat down with Breffle to talk to her about what it takes to deliver high quality care to adolescents, and to explore why your family might want to work with someone who carries her expertise when addressing adolescent challenges.
JESSICA HEANEY: What’s different when working with tweens and teens?
GERTIE BREFFLE: Teens just want to connect. They, honestly, don’t want you to be their therapist. They want you to be real, vulnerable and a human being whom they can rely on to connect with. Teens have no interest in “opening up” to someone who is going to ask them things such as “how does that feel?” My approach with adolescents is to be more like a mentor to build a trusting relationship. Then once they feel safe and connected, they’ll share what’s going on and what they are struggling with.
JH: You say that working with teens is your passion. Explain what that is.
GB: Working with teens is gritty, real and straight to the point. It requires me to be authentic and dropping any therapist persona, which is freeing for me, too. I find it deeply important that teens have as many positive mentors in their life as possible, to assist them in finding their interests, their style, way of being and developing their authenticity. If I can be part of that journey, then that’s an awesome gift. It certainly takes a community to raise a teen and the more positive mentors they can have in their life, the better.
JH: What role do you see parents taking when their teen is in counseling?
GB: Parents play a crucial role in their adolescent’s counseling. A teen lives in a family system and is directly supported by their relationships with their parents. Bringing parents into the work helps strengthen, repair and deepen their connection with their child. Plus, counseling provides a perfect setting to come together, to look at the family’s structure, rules and communication. Parents need to be the leaders of the family pack and the way they express their emotions sets the stage for everyone else. Honestly, everyone in a family responds to the emotional state of the parents. So, clearly parents have a lot of influence in their teen’s healing process, and their participation in the work can have a tremendous impact.
JH: When should a parent seek out counseling for their adolescent?
GB: Counseling is a great option when teens are showing signs they may be hurting or struggling. Some signs may include a sudden behavior change, such as extroverted to very quiet and introverted, isolating a lot, changes in emotion regulation such as anger, anxiety and shutdown to the point that it is disrupting their life. Destructive coping signs that indicate they may need extra support are: addictive behavior patterns with drugs, sex, self-harm, etc.
Learn more about Breffle at http://www.vailrelationshipinstitute.com and contact us to set up an appointment. We’re here to help because we believe relationships matter most.
Jessica Heaney is a certified emotionally focused therapist in Vail. She specializes in relationship dynamics, helping individuals and couples strengthen and repair their relationships. For more information, visit http://www.jessicaheaney.com.