Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Working with Adolescents Part One

This past week, I have spent some time preparing for an interview to work with adolescents in residential treatment, which is something I have done for work and in my first year internship, so I feel about as okay going to this interview as one can feel going to her first post-grad interview. Behaviorally, I have prepared for this by reading Contemporary Art Therapy with Adolescents by Shirley Riley and I am glad I did, because it's super useful plus it takes a social constructionist view of working with adolescents which I can get behind, plus "social constructivism" is a cool term to throw around to make your friends feel like you are smarter than them.

Mentally, I have been thinking about what I learned from working with this population in the past: assessing what worked and what didn't. My guess is that such a conversation could arise in an interview to work with adolescents.

So, that being said, please stay with me as I organize my thoughts on this topic. Not that I am an expert, but here is my perspective of skills useful for working with this population based on my short experience. If you have other ideas or comments, feel free to post them (especially pre-interview-Thursday).

1. Begin from a person-centered theory and keep it as an umbrella covering every other theory you might employ. Acceptance and positive regard is critical, because teens in care don't get a lot of that and genuineness is even more relevant, because adolescents have a high sensitivity for adult bullshit. 

2. Knowing stuff having nothing to do with therapy is super helpful. For example: card games, gaming systems, super hero characters, slang words for street drugs, how to play basketball, rap music. Staying in touch with your inner 15-year old and the interests of current 15-year-olds can get you places (but remember to stay genuine and don't force it). I don't like professional sports or the Twilight series and I refuse to pretend I do. I do like to play wii and I know who Lil Wayne is, so that works for me.

3. Be easy-going about what you will tolerate and upfront about what you cannot. Be prepared to back it up as fast and calmly as you can. If you allow your toes to be stepped on one minute, you might be trampled to death the next.

4. Be transparent about not knowing all the answers and don't assume you have a clue about how to intervene when you don't. Ask the patient/client. I worked with some pretty tough individual cases and one of the things that surprised me was that they knew what they needed to work on and could name their goals as well as I could, if not better. Sometimes their solutions needed some tweaking and sometimes just support. Remember you're just a  tour guide in the land of options, not a magician.

5. When it comes to groups, be as flexible as possible. Go in with a plan, but if you can get away with turning the group into something relevant to the moment within a minute, do it. That's what makes art therapy awesome, by the way. " Hey, I'm hearing a common theme of feeling 'locked down.' Draw about freedom vs. constraint.".. or whatever.

6. If you do groups, figure out which teen is "the leader" and plan your groups for him/her while allowing for the needs of others. If you can "catch" the leader, it is suddenly super simple to do an amazing group with teens, because at least in my experience, they'll feed off the enthusiasm of the leader.

7. In my teen groups, check-ins at the beginning of group often got out of hand: too long and worse, led to arguments. If given the choice, at least with my particular group, I preferred a specific question to open check-in. What kind of weather pattern would you be right now? Mark and label your degree of whatever mood you're feeling on this thermometer, etc.

Part two will list my favorite directives for this population.

And... as a visual person, I am disappointed by the lack of art to go with this post, so allow me to introduce my latest sock creature:

Real Name -- Janice Finkelstein, Street Name -- Spike
(Her bio will be available on etsy.com once I get around to re-establishing my shop.)

1 comment:

  1. Good luck with the interview, according to GI Joe, "knowing is half the battle." That means something. Being genuine with teenagers is easy enough so long as you can demonstrate the 'been there done that' without using those words. Perhaps your experience has different but my retna/inner ear bones suggest to me that the teenagers themselves are full of shit. Just me. Good luck!