Therapy helps teens mature, achieve independence

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Therapist Liz Van Ryn has started a private practice, opening her doors to struggling teens and parents.

With 20 years of experience in the mental health field, Van Ryn knows there are many different ways to address a variety of problems so she tailors the therapy to the individual. At Creekside Therapy, sessions can be conducted on a comfy couch, on the porch, during a walk or snowshoe, even through art therapy.

In the case of teens, Van Ryn said the process usually beings with a phone call from a concerned parent. After meeting with the teen and the parent, the initial goal is to try to come to a mutual agreement of what the problem is, that is the first step.

It could be behavioural problems, trouble with the law, lying or substance abuse that prompts that first call. Van Ryn said she sees problems emerging in Grade 7-8, with more serious issues erupting in high school.

“Kids who are struggling will show that to you in a number of ways,” she said. “Their marks may drop, you will have trouble getting them off to school, the number of anxious texts they send you may increase, or they may spend more time on screen. It is the tip of the iceberg at this stage.”

At Pine River Institute, a youth residential treatment centre near Shelburne where Van Ryn works as director of family programs, she embraced the maturity model.

“I believe that the primary issue to address is maturity. Adolescence is a time of rapid development and it is not unusual for some kids to fall behind their peers in the maturation process, which leaves them scared and confused. The behaviours you see are flawed attempts to solve their problem. I work with kids to grow and mature, and I teach parents how to help their kids get through these tough times,” said Van Ryn.

“When things really fall apart you will see kids dropping out of their extra-curricular activities, changes in friend groups, lying and stealing, school refusal, substance use, and self-harming behaviour. These are kids that are not feeling equipped to deal with life and they are looking for ways to avoid it.”

Behavioural issues can be the result of dependency, lack of maturity and a misguided attempt to be independent.

With youth, the conversation could be about their maturity relative to their peers and looking for pieces that may be missing, how to gain independence and solve their own problems.

“The parent piece, and perhaps the more difficult piece, is to teach children how to become mature adults and develop resilience,” said Van Ryn.

She said it seems the more affluent we become as a society, the more opportunity we have to provide things for our children and less attention is being paid to becoming independent.

Driving children to school, doing their homework, paying for a lost cell phone – helicopter parenting traits – are all examples of stunting their independence.

“There is an increase in anxiety in children,” said Van Ryn, “but the more we help them the more we enable their anxiety.”

Through therapy, parents and teens can develop strategies to gain maturity and independence. For example, if a youth is required to earn money to pay for something they want, they value it more and ultimately feel better about themselves. Van Ryn said building self-esteem is not achieved through praise as much as independence. She said it’s all about balance and not assigning blame, but allowing for real consequences that are tied to their actions.

Van Ryn is a registered psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She earned a master’s degree in couple and family therapy from the University of Guelph in 1996. As part of her private practice, she sees teens, individuals and couples. She is also starting a support group for parents meeting every other Wednesday. To start, Van Ryn offers a free phone consultation. Call 705-351-1285 and visit, creeksidetherapy.ca.

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