Is Your Teen Suffering From Grief?
Has someone close to your teen passed away or has he or she experienced another significant loss, such as the death of a pet, a major move or a parent’s divorce? Is your teen experiencing heightened irritability, easily triggered, engaging in risky behaviors or seem angry at everyone and everything most of the time? Alternatively, is your teen isolating him or herself, shutting you and friends and family out, insisting that everything is fine? Have you noticed a change in eating or sleeping patterns? Does your teen seem to have trouble concentrating or appear foggy? Is he or she suddenly struggling in school or with friends? Are you struggling yourself, trying to figure out what you can do to help your child cope with the loss? Do you wish that there was something – anything – you could do to help your teen open up and feel better?
Watching your child in pain – whether it’s expressed outwardly or internally – and not knowing what to do can make you feel helpless and sad. It can be painful to have your child totally shut you out. You know your child is hurting and your protective instincts make you want to do whatever you can to take his or her pain away.
Suffering a loss can be challenging at any age, but it can be particularly tricky during the teenage years. This is a time when your teen is charged with the difficult tasks of figuring out who he or she is and how to be in the world. Working on personal identity issues and trying to navigate a constantly bigger and broader social environment can be really hard. Add to that trying to understand and process a significant loss with a still developing brain and you can almost expect that your teen is going to behave in some unusual ways. Some teens act explosively as their anger and sadness need to be released somehow. Others, concerned with how they are perceived by peers (a big issue for most teens), may tell the world that they are fine even though they may feel broken inside.
Many Teens Experience Grief and Loss
Experiencing losses and the grief that follows is a fundamental part of the human experience. People die, move, and split up. Losses affect everyone – over and over again. During times of significant loss, it’s important that people – especially teens – feel supported and have an outlet to express feelings of sadness, anger and uncertainty. The adolescent years are tricky, too, because your teen – even if you have a solid and open relationship with him or her – is likely rebelling some and putting space between you both as he or she seeks independence. While your teen may not be able to open up to you or even to friends right now – which is very normal because of age-appropriate independence and social issues – a therapist, a non-threatening, non-judgmental and trained adult, can provide needed support and guidance.
Therapy Can Be Very Effective In Helping Teens Process A Loss
We heal in relationships. In order to fully heal, your teenager needs to talk – express his or her pain verbally. And, doing so in an energetic exchange, with another, is vital. Your teen is likely not talking to you, to school counselors or even to friends. Therapy can provide a safe space for your teen to cry, yell and talk openly about feelings that he or she may find difficult to share with others in normal, daily life.
Your highly trained, experienced and teen-focused BPS therapist can help your adolescent understand, process, and heal from the loss. In therapy, your child will have the space and time to talk about the loss – what he or she misses, fears and uncertainties about moving forward, and the painful feelings the loss created. Everyone – even your teen – wants to move on from the pain associated with a loss and heal. But, until it’s processed, grief can serve as an anchor. In therapy, your teen can learn that it’s okay – even necessary – to feel and express pain and related emotions. Rather than shut down or act explosively, your teen can learn healthy ways to process grief and move forward.
Your teen’s BPS therapist has deep experience in grief counseling for teens, and can help set the groundwork for future, emotional health. Right now, your teen is learning coping skills – healthy or unhealthy – that he or she will carry throughout life. Learning how to process complex emotions in healthy ways now can build emotional intelligence and create a depth and understanding for grief and loss, which your teen can draw from as he or she experiences future challenging emotions that are an inevitable part of life. Like the building blocks that your teen is assembling in his or her academic environment, the right therapist can help your teen construct a solid emotional foundation. The outcome of this early emotional investment can be priceless. With help, your teen can not only experience relief associated with his or her loss, but also use this experience to become a healthier, happier and more emotionally mature adult.
But, you still may have questions or concerns…
Time heals all wounds, right? In time, I’m sure that my child will work through his or her pain.
Like a physical wound, in time, your teen’s emotional wound can heal. However, how it is treated can impact the size of the scar. Therapy can help lessen the magnitude of the scar and the emotional pain identified with a significant loss. There is a big difference in the emotional outcome between shutting down and ignoring the source of pain and delving into that pain and processing it completely. If pain isn’t understood and processed, it can affect your teen’s long-term ability to communicate feelings of grief and loss and may even impact his or her capacity to fully connect with others in intimate and open ways. It can compromise quality of life. Alternatively, when pain is processed with another, in a relationship – like the one that your BPS therapist can provide – the capacity for healing and long-term emotional health can be remarkably enhanced.
My teenager won’t talk about anything associated with the loss.
The therapist/client relationship is different than any other we encounter in life. Once your child feels comfortable in a relationship that he or she identifies as confidental and non-judgemental, the amount of disclosure about complex thoughts and feelings shared can be extraordinarily surprising. While your teen may not be talking to you or to even friends – which is a very normal part of the teenage experience due to independence and social issues – your teen can experience great comfort in talking to someone outside of his or her normal life. The important issue here is finding the right therapist – someone who has experience working with teens on grief and loss issues and who your teen feels comfortable with.
Many people come to BPS having worked with other therapists who were not trained to work specifically with teenagers and grief and loss issues or who their teen couldn’t relate with – which won’t work. At BPS, we’ll conduct an initial assessment and match your teen with a therapist who is trained and experienced to treat these issues and whose personality is a good match for your teenager’s. Once you find that good match, the capacity to talk openly and heal and grow can be tremendous.
Although my child is acting a little off, he or she mostly seems okay. I’m worried that therapy will shine too much light on the problem and make my child feel worse.
Sometimes dealing with intense feelings – whether in therapy or otherwise – can make your child feel worse. But, in time and with proper support, your teen can feel better. Understanding and expressing pain is a critical component of healing. In doing so, your teen can not only feel better sooner, but also increase his or her tolerance for discomfort. Learning these emotional skills now can help your teen process future intense emotions in more appropriate and healthier ways. Although things may feel a bit bumpy at first, in time and with the right therapist, your teen can work through feelings of sadness, anger and uncertainty in a healthy and effective way.
We encourage you to schedule an initial assessment with Dr. Jan Hittelman. Jan will work with you to determine what your child’s specific issues are, if additional psychological testing is warranted, and ensure a good match between you, your teenager and a BPS therapist in terms of personality, style and expertise.
You can also check out our free, online therapist directory, which will match you and your child with a therapist who has expertise working with teenagers and grief and loss issues.