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What You Should Know About Teens and Counseling

What You Should Know About Teens and Counseling

During the school year, my caseload includes a steady stream of teenage girls. (On average, I see around 20 clients a week: 1/3 individual adults, 1/3 couples and 1/3 teenage girls.) I didn’t used to like working with this population but in recent years, they’ve become some of my favorite clients!

Adolescent girls are a mystery to most everyone (including themselves) and I’m not saying I’m the teen girl whisperer, but for a variety of reasons, we often seem to be a great therapeutic match.

If you have an adolescent living under your roof, you really should consider getting her established with a therapist. You may be one of the few households that never experiences a “crisis of teen girl proportions,” but if/when it does, it’s great to already have a relationship with a therapist so you don’t have to start at ground zero in the therapy process. Perhaps even more importantly, a lot of situations that don’t necessarily meet the criteria for “crisis” arise weekly in the teenage world, and it’s beneficial to have another adult to be able to connect with your teen in the midst of these tumultuous years.

This is 2018. Counseling stigmas are a thing of the past. Gone are the days when only “troubled teens” needed therapy. “Great kids” benefit from therapy, too! Even well-adjusted, high-preforming, friendly teens could benefit from therapeutic support. (You’d be surprised at the level of stress being a “great kid” can bring on an adolescent!) The bottom line is: you’re never going to regret providing your teenager with another healthy adult point of connection.

Topics that I regularly address in counseling with my teenage clients:

  • Social Anxiety
  • School Stress/Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Communication Skills (communicating with peers and/or parents)
  • Managing a Bipolar diagnosis
  • Coping with ADHD and learning disabilities
  • Gender Identity Issues
  • Bullying
  • Sexuality topics…many and varied!
  • Suicidal thoughts and cutting
  • Strained family relationships
  • Sexual trauma
  • Stress associated with divorce and blended family issues

Here are a few other reasons you may have not considered as to why it’s good to get your teen in therapy…particularly with yours truly!

  1. I don’t know your family. I don’t have any loyalties to anyone. I offer a fresh pair of eyes to question long-term patterns of communication, secrets, expectations, etc. And your teen can speak to me freely about her family without fear of offending me or hurting my feelings, or concern that her disdain for MawMaw’s cookies will ever make its way around the family rumor mill. (Also…bring me MawMaw’s cookies! I’ll eat them!)
  2. I’m relatable. The window may be closing, but currently I still seem to pass for what the kids refer to as “cool.” Even yesterday, I had a new high-school aged client guess that I am 27 years old. (Which is to say, I now have a new favorite client.) It’s a great gift to your adolescent to provide a healthy adult voice (that still seems relevant) to help them navigate tough choices, discuss school stress and friendship drama, and begin to figure out who they want to be in the future.
  3. I don’t have an agenda. What should your student major in at college? I don’t care. Should your budding adult attend senior skip day? I don’t care. Should your 7th grader go to the dance with Person A or Person B? I DON’T CARE! 🙂
    What I DO care very much about is that your teenager is developing the skills necessary to connect with the part of herself that is her own compass, and make decisions that feel solid and good to her, all the way through her being. It’s not that I’m disinterested in what’s going on. I am simultaneously highly interested in my clients’ lives while maintaining a lack of worry or responsibility for their decisions. This is what (most) parents are generally unable to do, but it’s a stance that is really helpful for teenagers.
    Since I don’t have an agenda, you’d really be surprised with what all I’ll hear from your teenager. Giving your teen a relationship with another healthy adult will never be a bad thing. They may not open up to you at this point, but it’s definitely preferable if they can open up to someone. And, what is more, a person who is bound by confidentiality and a code of ethics and principles which will guide responses in a healthy and careful way.
  4. I’ve heard it all before. You can’t shock me. Many have tried. Few have succeeded. I won’t give examples here, because there are two distinct types of people reading this post: people who don’t need examples and people who don’t need their minds blown. 🙂 But suffice it to say, I’ve been counseling for over a decade and it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees when it comes to shocking disclosures, but there’s always a bigger picture that needs to be addressed carefully. I often help families navigate what just seems and feels like a big deal and what is actually a big deal needing extra attention.

I have offices in Walker, Louisiana and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I’d love to set up a time after school to discuss how counseling could benefit a teenager that you love! Contact me here to schedule an appointment!

FOOTNOTES/REFERRALS:
If you are reading this and you have a teenage boy under your roof, you may be thinking to yourself, “Wow…Allison sounds perfect for my teenage son! Does she see teenage boys or only girls?”
To you I say: Maybe. I see adult males all the time. But there’s something about teenage male sexuality that I find to be best addressed with a male professional counselor. My FAVORITE referral for male teenagers (and lots of others…he’s a great therapist): Joel Gilbert. Joel is an excellent therapist, very easily relatable and very wise.

For the record, I do see adult males for individual work. What a difference a frontal lobe makes!

If you’re reading this and you wonder if I see kids younger than 13, the answer is, “no way!” For kids, I gladly refer to an awesome therapist named Christine Varnado. She does amazing work and kids are obsessed with her!

When God Gives You Crumbs

A belief that is inextricably part of who I am is how, with God, nothing is wasted. This doesn’t mean that everything is intentional or planned, but that nothing will be without purpose to one degree or another.

I think we can go a little overboard on the meanings we ascribe to things, but just hang with me here: God is not random. Nothing is wasted.Sometimes in my life, and I bet I’m not the only one, God will plant a seed of an idea…it will have the hallmarks of the Father…but it goes untouched for years, often forgotten, until the moment that God resurrects it.

I had one such experience when my husband proposed marriage to me. Something quietly spoken over my heart when I was 13 and had just started getting to know God on my own, that I never told to anyone, was lived out right before me in the certain way he asked me to marry him. To me, it was this message of, “it’s always been me and you, and it’ll always be me and you, but I’m bringing you two together to follow me side by side.”

Another instance that’s happened to me lately was when I was asked to teach a class at a women’s prison. As random as this is, the little seed for this idea was planted in me nearly 20 years ago. I was in high school and we spent a whole semester writing an in-depth research paper. The topic was of our choosing. I couldn’t really decide on a topic but kept coming back to the issue of the importance of providing educational opportunities to people in the penal system to reduce recidivism rates. No one…and I mean No. One. saw this idea as a natural fit for me. My friends questioned me about it. My teacher questioned me about it. Even I questioned myself about it. Was there Any other topic I wanted to write on? Was this something I was passionate about and just hadn’t mentioned to anyone yet? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what possessed me to pick the topic other than to say that it was very clear to me that that’s what I was to write on. So I spent a whole semester researching the role education plays in keeping people from returning to crime and ending up back in prison. Random.

Flash forward all these years later and a friend asked me to teach a psychology and counseling college level class at a women’s prison. I honestly didn’t feel like I had the time to give to it. I went back and forth about what my answer should be. But ultimately I just felt the sense from the Lord that it was something to say “yes” to.

I agreed to do it and taught the class this summer. I poured out my best for the women and enjoyed my time doing so. I can’t say it changed my life or opened up this new calling of my life…nor was I expecting it to do so. It was obedience. I felt like God was glorified in my obedience, that I was used by God to facilitate growth and healing, and I happened to enjoy it, which is always a bonus.

It wasn’t until after I said “yes” to that opportunity did I remember that random paper from years ago.

I felt like the whole point of this little exercise in obedience was this sweet message of the Lord again to my soul:

“You’ve always heard me and followed me for a long time until now. This is another breadcrumb. Keep walking with me.”

What about you? Has God spoken something to you that you’re still waiting to see why or how it will come to fulfillment? Pray today for God to give you eyes to see His activity in your life. I challenge you to write down the things you feel like God has spoken so that you won’t miss the blessing of noticing God’s subtle leading over time.

As always…for further discussion on this or any counseling topic, I’m reachable here!

What Chip and Joanna Gaines Can Teach Us About Our Calling in Life

It’s May again and we all know what that means. ‘Tis the season of graduation. A time for stressing out and searching for God’s will for your life. (Jokes…kinda.)

Whether you’ve been out of school for a while or you’ve just crossed the finish line, finding your place in this world (yes, that was a Michael W. Smith reference) can be frustrating and confusing to say the least. It’s a crossroads of life that is so easy to over-complicate, over-spiritualize, and over-analyze. What if there was an easier way to get clarity? While some people have callings that maximize our weaknesses (think: Moses, the stutterer, leading a nation…before social media could disseminate a message in milliseconds), most of us will find that our strengths, our gut/instincts and people who care about us are God-given guides to lead us towards the way we can be most engaged in uncovering the Kingdom of God on earth.
Have no fear! Chip and Joanna Gaines are here! 
If you don’t know who this sweet couple is, you’re missing out. They are an uber talented construction/interior design duo with a plethora of other entrepreneurial endeavors, some great kids, a rich faith, and, oh yeah…their own reality TV show on HGTV. And while I honestly think that there’s nothing worse than being a famous Christian, they somehow seem to be handling it all in stride.
What can we learn about “calling” and finding our niche from the incredibly creative and hilarious Gaineses?
Take stock in what makes you come alive and figure out a way to make a living doing that. 
Chip and JoJo have found their lane. They know what they’re good at and what they’re not so good at. Taking inventory of your strengths and weaknesses should be one of your first steps in uncovering what your calling in life is.
Questions for reflection: What do you do that seems to be easier to you than most other people? What is it that you consistently get positive feedback on? What did you want to do when you were younger? What do you still like about that? Check out Strengths Finders if you’re still having trouble pin-pointing what you’re good at. (Pro-tip: Don’t buy it used, because there’s an assessment measurement code that can’t be reused.)
Work your tail off. Malcolm Gladwell sites 10,000 hours as the threshold for excellence in fine-tuning your craft. Do the math. That’s a long time! Chip and Joanna didn’t just stumble into their success. They’ve been honing their skills for close to 20 years, full-time, before their business exploded. Never under-estimate the season of life where you learn, learn, learn some more, try, fail, figure out what you don’t know, succeed and repeat. Not only are your skills grown and mastered in this season, your character is grown as well. Good character and hard work will always have a payoff in this life and in the one to come. Check out a post of mine about “How to Give A Rip” if you’re struggling in this area.
Find the spiritual in the mundane. What if the sacred/secular divide is totally made up? Q: If anything (legal) done to the best of your ability is an embodiment of the glory of God, what possibilities does that open up for you? A: Tons.
There are lots of ways to let the kingdom come near. Don’t over-spiritualize so much that you miss the obvious. Jesus did manual labor (carpentry) to the glory of God. That’s how the son of God spent close to 15 years of his life. Why? Because anything done to the best of your ability is an embodiment of the glory of God.
Chip and Joanna don’t do anything particularly spiritual for a living. They build and design to the best of their abilities, taking created elements and revealing their beauty…bringing order out of chaos and revealing the heart of God, the most creative one of all. Even if they didn’t hold a marriage discipleship clinic on the sly in their show (which is so awesome, by the way), they still reveal the heart of God to the world because they unveil beauty, creativity, form, function, design, ingenuity and all these elements that God so deeply loves. (For more thoughts on this topic of work in terms of the kingdom of God, check out John Mark Comer.)
The bottom line about finding your calling is this: don’t stress out about it. God knows how to communicate with you. He made you. He’s just as intentional about what he reveals as what he withholds. God gave you a lot of practical tools to discover what makes you come alive and anything done to the best of your ability brings glory to God and advances the kingdom. Enjoy the ride, as it’s the journey, not only the destination that counts.
I absolutely love talking about career counseling in therapy session! If this is a topic that interests you or someone you love, or it would be helpful for you to talk through the topic with an uninvolved third party, please contact me and let’s set up a time to meet together at my office in Baton Rouge, Walker, or Denham Springs, Louisiana.

How to Be Awesome at Transitions

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I hate to break it to you, but just as soon as you get settled into a rhythm in life, something is probably going to change. Life is full of transition points. In fact, in reflecting on the people in my personal life, I know more people currently undergoing life transitions than those who are not. Receiving a promotion at work, first-time parenting, taking care of elderly parents, dealing with divorce, returning to work after maternity leave, sending kids off to college, transitioning from student to full-time employee, getting laid off from work, being diagnosed with a disease or illness, pursuing a dream, marrying for the first time, dating after divorce, retiring, losing of a spouse, winning it big in the lottery.

All of these are major points of change; some positive, some negative. (Alright…I don’t actually know anyone who won the lottery. But if you do, I’d be happy to help you through your tough time of transition.) We don’t always get to pick these life transitions. Some happen to us yet others are more of our making. One thing is for sure: your ability to handle these transitions well can determine a lot about your happiness in life.

Here are a few things that will keep you grounded in the midst of life transitions:

  1. Stay flexible. In my opinion, flexibility is one of the secret keys to success in life. The more you train your mind to be flexible in how you view your role as a human, the easier points of transition will be. You are first and foremost a human. Over the course of your life, you will wear many different hats. Not allowing your identity to be too wed to any one role, and expecting things to ebb and flow over time are both important components to flexibility in transition. The opposite of flexibility in a transition is rigidity. Hunkering down, digging in your heels, fighting the transition. It’s not good for you, and it’s certainly not good for anyone around you. What do you say we skip that part, take a deep breath and just strive to roll with the changing of the roles
  2. Acknowledge the grief/loss. As mentioned above…whatever you transitioned from had a degree of expertise associated with it. You knew what to expect. You were good at that role. And stepping away from that “safe zone” is a loss. Even if it’s a great transition, like adopting a baby or getting engaged, there is still a sense of loss associated with leaving behind the familiar, especially if you were rocking it. It’s totally normal. Don’t feel bad about having a little twinge of sadness about leaving your old role behind. Take some time to reflect and appreciate the things you loved out of the role that you’re leaving before you jump head-long into the new transition. Doing some journaling in terms of chapters and phases is great for this.
  3. Have reasonable expectations. Most transitions tend to mimic learning to drive a manual transmission. Lots of lurching forward, awkward starts and stops. What I would call “spurty.” Whatever role you transitioned from, you probably enjoyed some degree of expertise. You looked and felt like a pro, but this new role feels weird and unfamiliar. Don’t expect to operate at optimum level right off the bat. Cut yourself some slack. You didn’t start off feeling like an expert in your old role either and nobody transitions like a seasoned professional. Just keep your head down, learn the basics, and you’ll find your rhythm soon. You’ll know where to find the best coffee and secret bathrooms before too long.
  4. Keep the lines of communication open. Regularly check in with yourself to assess how things are going. Then, schedule a meeting for a few months out to check in with someone else. Who you need to have that conversation with depends entirely on your new role. It may be a boss, your spouse, your parent, your doctor or your counselor. This type of check-in proves invaluable when it comes to feeling successful in mastering your new role…and helping you seem like you “give a rip.”
  5. Find a Yoda. You’re going to need someone with the inside scoop that has been in this role for a while. Find a Yoda who is further down the road than you are and just watch. You’ll learn tons! If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to ask questions. Most importantly…say “yes” to Yoda. Lunch? Yes. Special event? Yes. Seemingly inconsequential errand? Yes. Yoda will help you become strong in the force…I mean, get established in your new role.

While life transitions are inevitable, your ability to transition well is largely a choice and a skill set. Learning to roll with the punches can really determine your happiness in life. Whether good or bad, changes can throw you off your game for a bit. Transitioning well means less anxiety, frustration, depression, irritability, and isolation. You owe it to yourself and those around you to learn the skills of transitioning well.

Any time you need to process any of these types of life changes, give me a call!

How To Give A Rip: Part 1

Very rarely is there one thing that can change that really benefits you across every aspect of your life. Most small shifts in thinking or perspective work at home but fall short at work, or vice versa. But over the next few days, we will discuss one tip that can truly add value and usher in successful outcomes in every role you play, be it spouse, parent, employee, boss, student, friend, adult child, etc. I’m not much for the idea of “one and done life hacks to revolutionize your life,” but when it comes to this tip, it truly can change things at a foundational level that can impact your life across the board.

Here it is: Figure out a way to give a rip about whatever is in front of you.

If you want to be awesome at whatever is in front of you, you must figure out a way to give a rip about it.

The first time I ever thought about this concept was in high school. Our principal, Mr. Grimmer, stuck his head into our geometry class and gave an impromptu speech to the effect of, “Here’s the truth: unless you go into the advanced math field as a career, you’ll truly never use geometry except for when you’re figuring out how much paint or carpet to buy. But that’s not the point. You’ve gotta figure out a way to take on this challenge and do a good job in this class anyway because making a good grade in here will unlock the next door to the future.”

I recalled that lesson a few years later, sitting in an undergraduate classroom, not at all caring about one of my gen ed requirements. My disinterest in Western Civilizations was standing in the way of me moving on to classes I would be more interested in, namely, my major classes in organizational communications. I had to figure out a way to get interested so that I could move on to things that would be more fulfilling for me and that seemed as though they would actually apply to my life.

Flash forward a few years later after graduate school, in the midst of the very common yet awkward transition from full-time student to full-time employee, I found myself stuck in the monotony of a specific task that my boss wanted me to accomplish but I felt had little value to my actual responsibilities. I remembered that truth again: you’ve gotta find a way to get interested in this, because there’s value in being a good employee. Indeed, there is value because it can mean an increase in job security, but there is also intrinsic value in the character it takes to be a good employee.

In my current phase of life, there are times when my husband is passionate about things that I wouldn’t naturally be interested in. And while I do fully support the idea of spouses having some individual hobbies that they can do by themselves or with friends, when it comes to passions, I think it’s important to figure out a way to become interested so you can be more supportive. So yes, I am now more versed in abstract art and the local artist community than I would have ever expected myself to be and at this point, I can honestly say I really enjoy it.

So what about you? What do you need to get interested in so that you can become a better friend, partner, parent, employee, volunteer, etc.? What’s standing in your way between here and where you’d like to be? Could a shift in attitude help unlock that door?

Join me over the next few days as we unpack the question of “HOW” to figure out a way to give a rip about whatever is in front of you. I fully believe that there are better days ahead than anything we’ve left behind. Let’s figure out how to get there together!

And, as always, if any of this brings up anything you’d like to discuss in a counseling or coaching session, you can reach me here. Offices in Baton Rouge, Denham Springs and Walker, Louisiana.