My experience in counselling young people
One of the best aspects of my therapy career to date has been the 10 years I spent working in and managing a charity-based counselling service for young people aged 13 to 25 years of age in Brighton & Hove. I never cease to be amazed at the resilience that many young people can muster to get through difficult life events when provided with the right kind of support at the right time. In my private practice I currently offer a particular focus on working with young people and young adults aged 15 to 30 years of age.
Facing changes and stress
Young people have to cope with more change and stress in their lives than anyone else. At no other point in the life of an adult are we expected to manage the upheavals that young people have to go through. A major transitional point is the move from primary school to secondary school at the age of 12, where young people go from the smaller, more cosy, environment of their local primary school to the larger, more impersonal, secondary school with its greater emphasis on school work, homework, the stress of exams and a greater emphasis on discipline at a time when young people are naturally impulsive and thrill-seeking.
It's natural to feel confused
At the same time young people are battling a major hormonal overload that is changing the shape of their bodies, playing havoc with their moods, their skin, and which changes them from being an uninhibited child to being a self-conscious and image-conscious young person who can feel very sexy and very frumpy all at the same time and without really knowing what any of it means. Relationships are made, and fail, and the world often feels as if it is unjust, punitive and cruel.
Exams and life choices
The unfathomable burden of revising for exams at age 16 is followed by more change and upheaval. For most young people this involves leaving school either to study at college or to find employment or vocational training, or perhaps being unemployed. The cycle of saying goodbye to long-term friends and the need to find new ones begins again at age 18 or 19 when young people leave the relative safety of school or college to move forward with the next phase of their life – further study at University or full-time employment if they are fortunate.
Young people are managing the stress of exams, being frequently tested, huge academic workloads, changes of friendship groups and environments, peer pressure, social media overload, and the impact of raging hormones without the cognitive and emotional maturity of an adult. It can be confusing at best and crushing at its worst.
Mental health difficulties
If there are additional difficulties in a young person’s life, then the impact can be catastrophic. The Mental Health Foundation estimates that around one in 10 young people experience mental health difficulties, including depression, self-harming behaviour, eating disorders, generalised anxiety disorder, suicidal feelings, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Family relationships are often cited as the main emotional difficulty facing young people, usually from conflict within the family, or from parental separation and/or divorce. It is by far the most prevalent issue that impacts on young people’s mental health. Other very significant issues that young people seek help for include low self-esteem, feelings of loneliness and isolation, sadness and depression, abuse and self-harm.
How counselling can help
As with adults, therapy can be incredibly helpful in providing a safe environment for the young person to explore and understand what they are feeling and to get help with managing their feelings, and get back on track with the kind of pursuits and life-goals that will enable them to lead a full and productive life. It is vital that young people and young adults seek therapeutic help from someone who has experience in working with this age group and who understands the emotional developmental stages of children and young people as they move toward adulthood.
Young adults in their late teens and 20s may hope to find themselves on the threshold of moving forward with their lives and making plans for the future. Often it is at this time that uncertainties can arise. These uncertainties may manifest as low self-esteem, depression, or a sense of feeling ‘stuck’ and unable to move forward, or a concern that there is no meaning or purpose to life.
Childhood difficulties may surface at this time, without it being obvious that the experiences of the past are impacting on the young adult’s ability to make headway with the present and their future. I have worked with young adults aged 20-30 years old for more than 10 years with a focus on helping them to overcome the barriers they feel prevent them from fully participating in a fun and fulfilling life, in their education and work, or in relationships with their families or friends.