This is going to be a more personal post than what I usually write.
I have been doing some reflecting on my personal journey as well as my work with teens and group therapy. I remember a time when I was genuinely afraid of working with teens and I was equally intimidated by doing group therapy.
In fact, I even told people that those were the two things I did not want to do.
In 2005 I was looking for a paid internship and I got an interview at a local residential treatment center (group home) for teenage boys. It felt risky, but I was drawn to this internship and to working with some of the most challenging kids. I took the position without really knowing what to expect.
Why was it scary?
Part of it was the kind of kids that I was working with. Some had a history of violence, drug or gang involvement, serious mental health issues or just defiant attitudes and problems with authority. I was signing up to work with kids who were not asking for help. In fact many were mad about being there from day one.
So I cooked and ate with them, played basketball with them, took them to church and spent countless hours in group therapy with them. I saw them struggle and battle with themselves and others and work through painful family issues. I also saw them learn, grow and find hope.
Somewhere along the path I joined in.
A surprising opportunity for personal growth
The truth is that working with teens brought up some unresolved issues from my own teen years. Wanting to be liked, feeling invisible and powerless, trying to figure out my feelings and wondering what I had to offer to other people.
In the midst of all this I discovered that I really enjoyed relating to these guys and supporting them through some really difficult times. They were amazing on so many levels, despite being diagnosed with ADHD, bi-polar disorder, depression or oppositional defiant disorder and labeled as “emotionally disturbed.”
To this day I still believe that I learn as much from my clients as they learn from me. It was through these experiences that I discovered my passion for working with teenagers. I also discovered the power of group therapy.
Group therapy. Yikes!
As an introverted person, I always shied away from groups. The thought of leading a therapy group was even more anxiety producing. I never wanted to be the center of attention and being in an authority role was a stretch for me.
Just as the boys I worked with took risks, I was compelled and inspired to take my own risks. I learned to use my humor, positive attitude and calm temperament to lead groups with my own style. I eventually moved on to another group home where I lead several different kinds of groups. We had groups on creative expression, coping skills, music therapy, setting personal goals and general support groups.
Of course, it wasn’t always positive vibes and group harmony. There were plenty of tough groups. That is for another post, but I could tell some stories.
Overall, I have had many good experiences. I feel fortunate for the opportunities that I have had to support teenagers and for the personal growth that has been invaluable.
I can definitely say that I am no longer afraid of teenagers or group therapy! In fact, it is quite the opposite. I am happy to be offering support groups for boys in my private practice.
Do you know a teenage boy that would benefit from group therapy?