We won’t say: "Why did you turn to us with some nonsense?"
How psychologists help adolescents at Teen Friendly Centers
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The 16-year-old Katya (the name has been changed) came to a Teen Friendly Center (TFC) to seek psychological help. The girl complained about anxiety, tantrums and tears for no reason, rejection of herself, her body, frequent headaches and worries: if her boyfriend leaves her, she would not be able to live. Her mom didn't understand the problem. She thought that her daughter was just being lazy. She said the girl needed to spend more time studying instead of lying on the sofa scrolling through her news feed. Even though Katya studied well.
After diagnostics at the psychologist's, it turned out that Katya had clinical depression and high anxiety levels. Katya was referred to a psychiatrist, who prescribed her treatment and remedial sessions with a psychologist. Her mother cried and did not believe it: she did not even suspect that everything was so serious.
Teen Friendly Centers (TFCs) are places where adolescents can seek help confidentially, anonymously and free of charge. Including psychological help. Here, experts answer questions, offer ways of solving problems and help find a way out of the current situation.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Belarus supported the Ministry of Healthcare in establishing a network of TFCs throughout the country. Now there are 54 of them.
We talked with the specialist who helped Katya, Irina, a psychologist at the New Generation Center for Childcare in Svetlogorsk, about the problems teenagers seek help with, why they happen and how to understand that you need psychological help.
"Irina, did you manage to help Katya?"
"Yes, we managed to do it. Katya was attending our classes once a week for three months. During this time, she was able to accept herself, learned to cope with anxiety, stopped responding to barbs and depreciation from her mother. Katya became less anxious also in the relationship with her boyfriend, she stopped making a drama out of a possible breakup.
"We talked with her mother, told her the details about Katya's condition, and gave recommendations that helped improve their relationship. And Katya herself at our last meeting said: "I learned to enjoy life, to live here and now, not fear the future and relive the mistakes of the past."
"Are there many teenagers who seek psychological help?"
"There are many. My schedule is full. Teenagers actively come to us because they know us and trust us. Unfortunately, many do not want to contact a school psychologist, as they don't believe in their confidentiality. It is very important for children and parents.
"Specialists at our center always tell teenagers about the basic principles of work already at the first session. We explain that everything here is voluntary, friendly, anonymous, confidential.
"Sometimes a mother comes with a teenager. It is clear that the teen doesn't want to be here. They don't want to start a conversation. But after hearing about our working principles, they come here themselves. I explain everything in detail. And underline that I will listen to them but this information will not be passed on to their mother. This inspires confidence."
"Do adolescents come here more often alone or with their parents?"
"Both. Children are often more conscious and courageous. They understand that there is a problem and seek help. Many tell their parents about their condition. But adults are afraid. They have a lot of stereotypes in their minds. To share with a psychologist means to complain, "to wash dirty linen in public." They think that if their child is referred to a psychiatrist, he or she will definitely be registered and then won’t be able to enter any educational institution. They think it is not depression, but laziness or just some kind of distemper and that the child will outgrow it...
"And it turns out that children want, seek and ask for help, but their parents devalue their condition, are afraid and exacerbate the problem.
"Of course, it doesn't concern all parents. There are those who understand their children and are also looking for help. They are not afraid of anything, they follow all the recommendations of specialists and go for a consultation with a psychiatrist, realizing that the life and health of their own child is at stake.
"I want to emphasize: please do not underestimate the condition of your children. Treat them with respect and understanding."
"So adolescents have kind of a psychological culture?"
"Yes, exactly. Teenagers understand that visiting a psychologist is normal. They know that taking care of their mental health is just as important as of their physical health. Many of them are fond of psychology, practice mindfulness. They know the matter. I really like this generation.
"Sometimes children seek help because they have difficult relations with their parents. I tell them: "We can't change your parents, but we can change your attitude to the situation, we can teach you to react differently and, thus, solve the problem." Children work on themselves, go to classes with a psychologist. They are trying to understand their parents, and not vice versa. It is they who keep their temper when having a conflict with their parents. They are incredible!"
"What other issues do teenagers need help with?"
"The issues vary – rejection of themselves, rejection by peers, bullying. They often come with eating disorder (ED) problems and symptoms of depression, high anxiety levels. Anxiety is the curse of our time.
"The reasons for these conditions are different. Everything is very individual. It is a jigsaw puzzle with many pieces. If a piece is missing, the picture cannot be full. Let's take eating disorders: the main factors for its development are the attitude to food in the family, the attitude to the child, lack of love, criticism from others. Sometimes things that are not obvious at first trigger the ED mechanism. For example, the weighing of adolescents at school in the nurse's office is not always carried out correctly and behind closed doors. Children begin to discuss it, compare themselves to the others.
"When it comes to depression and anxiety, we must not forget that we live in a digital age, there is a lot of information that is not always positive. That adds up to typical teenage problems such as increased emotionality or rejection of oneself. Besides, the workload at school is big, the children don’t get enough sleep: after all, they also want to scroll their news feed on the phone or take a walk with some friends. Some people don't have the resources to handle everything."
"There are those who can pull themselves out of such a condition if it's not very bad. But it is better, of course, to seek help from specialists."
"How do young people most often sign up for a session? By phone or online?"
"Both. We have an Instagram page. You can send a direct message to make an appointment.
"You can get both an express consultation on Instagram and a full online one if you can’t come to class in person."
"Online means accessibility. It is always easier for children to text than to call. If they feel like asking for help, they immediately send a message, for example, in the middle of the night. Sometimes they write huge texts about their difficulties and problems. It is highly possible that in the morning many of them would not want to call because the problems won't seem that serious anymore.
"Those who went to therapy also write sometimes. They tell us, for example, what education institution they went to, what is going on in their lives in general. Online communication gives them some kind of warmth, it's great that now there is such an opportunity."
"When, do you think, should adolescents contact a specialist?"
"You need to listen to yourself, trust your feelings. If you don't feel well or comfortable, you need to seek help. Even if the parents say that everything is okay. The specialist will determine what help is needed. Or tell you that everything is fine.
"You don't have to devalue your feelings. Many people think that their problem is not serious enough to go to a specialist".
"And then they come to us in a very difficult condition. Don’t worry, we won’t say: "Why did you turn to us with some nonsense?" We will always support you."
Here you can find all the contacts of the Teen Friendly Centers.