The teen mental health crisis: that suicide is the leading cause of death in teens, self-harm numbers are rising, poor access to psychology services in hospitals and psychologists’ long waiting lists, social media helping entrench cyberbullying and body shaming…it is not surprising that some parents of Canberra’s teen girls are feeling worried and helpless. 

I WORRY ABOUT MY DAUGHTER’S MENTAL HEALTH AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO

Graffiti image of a teen girl distressed

As mum to two teens I know that adolescence can be tough on both kids and parents. 

As a psychodynamic psychotherapist I also know that it is an important period in young womens’ lives when struggles with identity, a need for independence, burgeoning political interests, sexual feelings, body image politics, and basic questioning of gender identity and sexual preference take place. And that is a good thing: it is wonderful for your child to mature and explore, and a privilege as a parent to cheer them on from the sidelines as they transition from child to adult.

Family talking in front of a large rainbow curtain LBGTQ questioning is a normal part of adolescence

But the age appropriate increase in responsibility for teen girls along with academic pressures, neurodivergent conditions, and social expectations can create a situation where anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders and other issues can arise.

Psychotherapy can help.

MY TEEN HAS OUTBURSTS AND WON’T TALK TO ME

As I say to my clients, adolescence has all the tumult of the toddler years, just with better communication skills! Similar to toddlerhood, being an adolescent can feel freeing and yet overwhelming with choices and options. Sometimes a tantrum or outburst is the only thing that works to free you from that overwhelm, and dispel some of the pent up emotions and energy. 

Unfortunately tantrums and shouting or spending hours alone in your room can trigger self-doubt in parents who up until now felt competent and connected to their kids. 

Cover of WIld Thing by Maurice Sendak which talks to the need adolescents have to explore the world, knowing there is always a safe home to return to.

Communication breaks down, fueled by stubborness, clinging to the past, misunderstanding, and fear of crisis (in both parties).

Adolescence is actually a time to come together as family, not a time for parents to step away. There is an important psychological need for adolescents to be able to explore out in the world, knowing there is always a safe home to return to. 

Teen identity challenges: who am I?

Therapy can help. Here in Watson, Canberra at Empathic I offer initial Parent Work sessions (for parents of all genders) as well as ongoing adolescent therapy for girls and young women aged 14 years and older. 

DO I HAVE TO BOOK A PARENT SESSION BEFORE MY TEEN CAN ATTEND THERAPY AT EMPATHIC?

The majority of psychologists and counsellors in Canberra only see teens alone, apart from an intial appointment that parents and teen attend together. Parents are from then excluded from the therapy process while the adolescent has an opportunity to work through their concerns and issues separate to their home life and family life context.

At Empathic I do not generally work this way.

Monster tshirt - adolescents need their family’s support

I think seeing teens without parent involvement is an outdated model, initially designed to protect kids who are in potentially abusive families, by giving them their own space apart from family to disclose issues safely. In this specific abuse/crisis situation it can work. 

But for families who have been close or functioning adequately up until the teen years, this model of child-only therapy doesn’t help bring parents along on the adolescent developmental journey, and doesn’t bring the adolescent along on the parents’ developmental journey. 

It risks stagnating the kid’s therapy too, as teens generally aren’t empowered to make the changes that they really need if their parents haven’t been involved. And teen-only therapy also increases the likelihood that therapy will fail as parents tend to disengage and withdraw support when not involved in the therapy – apart from paying for the sessions, that is.

BUT MY TEEN REALLY NEEDS THE APPOINTMENT NOW

Yes, it can feel uncomfortably urgent, a crisis. We also know – due to decades of work and research at institutions like the Tavistock Institute and hospitals such as the Great Ormond Street Hospital child and adolescent therapy programs in the UK – that the most positive child and adolescent psychotherapy outcomes result from when Parent Work occurs alongside their child’s therapy. 

Indeed, in some instances, where teens have been reticent to even attend therapy, Parent Work therapy alone can initiate positive change in the family as a whole from the first session. 

This is why I ask that parents book the first session (see Bookings) and attend this first session without their teen daughter, and from that point on an initial adolescent session can be made, even in the same week. If you are unable to find a time on the secure Halaxy booking link that is suitable for both parents to attend, please send an email request.

Teen girls on packaging - the importance on nurturing adolescents

WHY WOULD MY TEEN LIKE US PARENTS TO ATTEND A PARENT WORK SESSION?

In my experience, when teens are unhappy and seek therapy, they know their mood is greatly affecting their family. They know that their unhappiness (or self-harm, anxiety, school refusal, acting-out behaviours such as drug experimentation, promiscuity, disordered eating etc) is not only deeply harmful for them but also destabilising the bond between child and parent. These kids know their parents are deeply worried and scared about the future. 

Kids know that their parents could also do with a safe discrete place to talk things through. This is why I offer Parent Work sessions – because I know it improves the outcomes for my adolescent girl clients.

Portrait of an adolescent girl

WHAT IS “PARENT WORK”? IS IT THE SAME AS INDIVIDUAL THERAPY?

When a single parent or both parents come for a Parent Work psychotherapy session, it is not for their own individual therapy as such. We are there to talk and make a team together supporting the young adolescent woman in therapy: to do Parent Work. 

As with my individual psychotherapy clients, I aim to support and contain parents: I don’t judge or blame or point fingers at parents. As an experienced therapist and an experienced parent I am here to work empathically with you, and your teen daughter.

I respect all confidentiality boundaries as requested – especially in subsequent ongoing Parent Work sessions where teens often give me a list of things to discuss with their parents, and the things they do not want discussed.

Parents are invited to talk openly, to take a problem-solving approach, to think and feel creatively and with empathy about what their daughter is going through. 

Big pink letters spell LOVE. for teen mental health work with families

APPOINTMENTS AVAILABLE NOW FOR ADOLESCENT MENTAL HEALTH

I have found this to be a wonderful heartfelt way of working, and adolescents report real changes going forward after Parent Work sessions. I have availability right now for both Parent Work and adolescent therapy sessions, More information is on the Bookings page, or click the link below to go directly to our secure Halaxy booking portal.

PLEASE NOTE: if you cannot find an available time that suits when you click the BOOK NOW Halaxy link, please email with your date and time request – I’ll aim to fit you in.