For teenage girls, the high school years are incredibly complicated and often filled with turmoil. They are busy trying to position themselves in the social network of their school, solidify their identity, and gain independence from their families. The importance of normalizing their daily experiences cannot be underestimated. This is especially true for teens who have pre existing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, deficits in social skills, learning disabilities, or any other struggle that makes high school more formidable. How can we best support these emerging young women to not just survive, but flourish, during these very important years? Group therapy offers a powerful therapeutic combination, fusing the clinical expertise of a licensed psychologist with the feedback and empathy of a teen’s own peer group. On a practical note, groups are also significantly more affordable than ongoing individual therapy.
The most frequent complaints that bring girls to group:
- feelings of depression
- anxiety and/or panic attacks
- social problems or bullying
- body image and eating issues
- stress over academics and/or family
- history of poor emotional control or self harm
For the last two and half years, The Rice Psychology Group has offered an open ended process oriented group for teenage girls. The title “Reflections” is meant to capture the idea that group members are working to gain better insight into themselves and also recognize their own struggles in what their peers are sharing. The key to the group’s success has been providing a very warm and laid back environment where the girls do not feel they will be judged or looked down upon. In this confidential setting, group members are encouraged to share their challenges, successes, and questions with one another. Although the group is led by a licensed clinical psychologist, it is the girls’ own feedback to one another that is truly transformative and healing. Relating about heartbreak, depression, problems with one’s family, social isolation, or a myriad of other topics, helps these teens to cope and persevere. Through the use of art therapy, games, role play, and structured exercises the group teaches coping skills and builds self awareness and self esteem. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a well researched and documented therapeutic approach is also utilized and woven through many of the group “lessons.”
Benefits to teens in group therapy include:
- Improving social skills
- learning new ways to cope
- finding out they aren’t alone
- meeting people to talk to when feeling upset
- gaining a broader perspective of their problem
- learning what makes their problem worse
- reduction in negative and distorted thoughts and behaviors
- reduction in symptoms
Reflections is set up as an open ended group, so members come and go over time. There have been an eclectic mix of personalities and presenting issues over the course of the group, but we are always able to find common ground to maintain a very cohesive feel. Appropriate members would include young ladies who are relatively high functioning (making it to school and activities, free from active suicidal thoughts and gestures, and free from psychotic features) but struggling with some aspect of their life. Taking the brave step to come to the first group is often the most difficult part, and experience has shown us that a well run group can truly make a difference during these trying years.
Megan Sutsko, Psy.D.