I meet with teens and emerging adults regarding a variety of concerns. However, I have four main speciality areas — depression in adolescent males, trauma, substance use, and LGBTQ+ topics. More about these can be found below.
DEPRESSION IN ADOLESCENT MALES
Depression is soaring among adolescent males. Unfortunately, these young men frequently go undiagnosed and untreated, often because they don’t seem depressed. Instead — after a lifetime being told boys don’t cry — they appear angry, oppositional, self-destructive, or maybe violent. Sometimes, they simply pretend everything is fine.
Depressed adolescent males hide behind these masks, doing their best to push away the world and hoping nobody notices they’re actually sad, lonely, vulnerable boys. In counseling I strive to help them remove these masks, explore the Guy Code, and resolve the Stuckness that often results from depression.
We can define Stuckness as an unwillingness or inability to do anything differently. In other words, the teen can’t or won’t change. Teens who can’t change lack the skills to do so. Teens who won’t change lack the motivation. In my experience, most depressed adolescents fall somewhere in the middle.
Sometimes, this Stuckness includes distress about Big Questions related to death, isolation, meaninglessness, and choice. In fact, this is quite common. Therapists and other professional helpers often shy away from these existential themes when meeting with teens. It seems to me there are two reasons for this:
- Big Questions don’t fit into the solution-focused, goal-driven approaches commonly utilized when counseling teens. There’s nothing wrong with being solution-focused, but not everything can be fixed. When we push away or ignore “unfixable” issues, we end up reinforcing the Stuckness.
- Some therapists seem to think depressed teens, especially trauma survivors or those with suicidal thoughts, are simply too fragile or damaged to explore these themes. This thinking suggests that acknowledging teens are stuck will make things worse. That’s just not true.
It is important to be thoughtful, of course. I firmly believe we must start by establishing rapport and addressing critical presenting concerns. However, it’s also important to hold teens capable of addressing the Big Questions. Doing so emphasizes their resilience, suggests the possibility of a life beyond Stuckness, and helps them move forward.
My approach to trauma therapy includes four loosely-sequential steps:
- Develop rapport.
- Explore ways trauma impacts people.
- Build skills for emotion regulation, impulse control, and mindfulness.
- Create a narrative of the trauma.
This approach is supported by significant evidence about what is effective with youth and young adults.
Many of the trauma survivors I meet with have experienced complex trauma –– which we can define as recurring trauma that is interpersonal in nature and has been perpetrated by someone who’d typically be considered trustworthy.
Survivors of complex trauma are often so focused on day-to-day survival that the emotional and cognitive resources normally allocated to developmental tasks are simply unavailable. These impacts can become especially evident when children enter their teen years and start addressing the main developmental tasks of adolescence — establishing autonomy and developing identity.
When developmental tasks aren’t successfully completed, it is likely both the person and their world will be disorganized or chaotic, resulting in a cascade of life problems — including mental health challenges, substance abuse, interpersonal difficulties, and school-related concerns.
Most therapists have some experience or training treating trauma, but few are specialists. Here’s my relevant credentials and experience:
- I hold a Post Graduate Certificate in Trauma-Informed Care and Counseling from the University at Buffalo.
- I am a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional, presented by the International Association of Trauma Professionals.
- I regularly present at international, national, and regional conferences on the topic of treating trauma among teens.
- I have 20 years experience providing trauma therapy to teens and emerging adults in a variety of settings, including outpatient, residential programs, and wilderness therapy settings.
SUBSTANCE USE IN TEENS & EMERGING ADULTS
Nearly half all teens and emerging adults with a mental health diagnosis also have a substance use disorder. Most often, they’re using — at least in part — in an attempt to manage difficult feelings or distressing symptoms. This may work in the short term, but ultimately substance use just makes things worse.
Helping teens and emerging adults get and stay clean requires effectively breaking this cycle, by addressing both their substance use and mental health challenges. Unfortunately, very few mental health therapists have any training in substance use disorders. Even fewer drug counselors are qualified to address mental health issues.
Here’s my credentials:
- I’m both a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and certified Substance Use Disorders Professional.
- I’ve been treating substance use, mental health, and co-occurring disorders in teens and emerging adults since 2003.
- I regularly present at international, national, and regional conferences on the topic of substance use disorders among teens.
If someone doesn’t get effective help for their mental health challenges, then lasting sobriety is unlikely — not necessarily because they’re an addict or unwilling to change, but because they don’t know what else to do. With that in mind, I strive to help substance using teens and emerging adults develop the insight, skills, and motivation to get unstuck and start moving forward.
LGBTQ youth and young adults do not inherently warrant counseling. However, even in a socially progressive area like western Washington, LGBTQ youth and young adults face unique challenges. Counseling can definitely help.
For some LGBTQ youth and young adults, counseling can be extremely useful for addressing issues related to coming out, self-acceptance, bullying, and gender transitions. For others, sexual orientation or gender identity may be exacerbating mental health concerns and substance-related problems. Either way, a therapist with experience and specialized training in LGBTQ issues can be useful.
Here’s my relevant credentials and experience:
- I’m both a Sexual Minority Mental Health Specialist and a Child Mental Health Specialist.
- I’ve completed a post-master’s certificate in LGBT-Affirmative Psychotherapy from the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists.
- I’ve been working with LGBTQ youth and young adults for over twenty years and in a wide variety of contexts — including clinical settings, drop-in centers, street outreach, adventure therapy, and summer camps.
- For several years I was part of the planning committee for Saying It Out Loud, an annual Seattle-area conference focused on the human service needs of LGBTQ individuals.
I offer both clinical experience and an affirming, non-judgmental space for LGBTQ youth and young adults, where they can effectively address challenges they may face on the journey ahead.