“HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M NORMAL?”
Your teen and young adult years are an exciting, and sometimes confusing time. Questions of independence, identity, dating, sexuality, relationships, academic and career goals, and knowing your place in society all come with the territory. The uncertainty about how you are doing in these areas is also part of the process. Still, you may find yourself asking, “How do I know if what I’m going through is normal?”
Being young today is, in many ways, different from what your parents went through growing up. The pressures you face to succeed in a fast-paced, constantly changing world are greater, and this can lead to significant stress. More and more, teens and young adults report problems with frequent worry, loss of motivation, sadness, anger, confusion, hopelessness, apathy, and isolation. Statistics show that as many as 20% of teens experience major depression by the time they graduate from high school. In college students, the rate jumps to 30%.
It’s normal to experience ups and downs on your journey to adulthood. With all of the changes in your life, stress is expected, and in some ways, can help you grow. So, how do you know when it’s too much? If you are frequently overwhelmed with feelings of self- doubt, sadness, hopelessness, confusion, anger, or numbness, you struggle to get through most days, find it hard to get out of bed, turn to alcohol or drugs to cope, family and friends tell you they are worried, or you have thoughts of hurting yourself, then it’s time to ask for help.
Sometimes, talking to a parent, grandparent, teacher, doctor, or supportive friend can be a great relief. Talking gives you a chance to get things off your chest, feel less alone, and sometimes get advice from people who’ve been there. If you are honest with others about what’s bothering you, and let them know how they can be supportive, you might be surprised at how well they respond.
When talking to people in your life is not possible, or doesn’t seem to help, it is a good time to consider therapy. Aside from helping you gain perspective on your problems and relieve difficult feelings, therapy gives you an opportunity to get to know yourself better, learn about your strengths, and can help you feel successful.
HOW THERAPY WORKS
In the first few meetings, I will get to know as much about you as possible. We will explore many areas, including your reasons for seeking therapy, relevant information about your childhood, relationships, school and work, achievements, values, life goals, health, hobbies, and anything else that is important to you.
What we do in our meetings will depend on a few things, including the nature of your problems, your goals, and your personality. For example, therapy is a place where you can freely discuss things that might be hard to talk about with others, or it can be used to practice skills to build confidence. I may sometimes ask you to do simple activities outside of our meetings, like taking notes, or behavioral exercises. This helps you to gain mastery over your problems, and can help you feel better faster.
Periodically, we will check in about how therapy is going, and might make changes. When you are feeling better, overall, we will explore the need to continue, may decide to meet less often, and will stop when you feel ready. Of course, you can always return in the future for check-ins, or if new issues come up.
WHAT ABOUT CONFIDENTIALITY?
As a rule, what you share in psychotherapy is kept private. In fact, your privacy is very important, and protecting it helps to ensure that you feel comfortable opening up.
There are some limits to confidentiality, however, as determined by the law. If you are under 18, your parents have a right to view your written records. Parents rarely request to see records, and are strongly encouraged to respect your privacy. On the other hand, it can be helpful to give your parents periodic updates about your progress. Any information shared with them would be kept general, without discussing details, unless you give permission.
No matter what your age, there are times when I am legally required to break confidentiality.
If any of the following concerns come up, I will make every effort to discuss them with you before proceeding:
You report having a plan to harm yourself
You report having a plan to harm someone else
You are involved in activities that could cause harm to yourself or others, even if you do not intend to cause harm
You report that you are being physically, emotionally, or sexually abused, or that you have been abused in the past
You are involved in a court case and a request is made for information about your therapy
You are encouraged to ask questions, or express concerns that you have about confidentiality and its limits at any time during treatment.
HELPFUL NUMBERS AND WEBSITES:
Thursday’s Child National Youth Advocacy Hotline
GLBT National Youth Talkline