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Dec 01, 2016

Treating Adolescent Angst with CBT and ACT

As the weeks progress and I work with various adolescent clients with a variety of issues, and then return home to my own adolescent children, I find myself completely immersed in the adolescent world.

Recently, during the holiday I was reminded of my immersion, as I was extremely frustrated with an issue my daughter is facing at school, namely politics in her high school theatre. The positive side of this experience is she is learning at a very young age about the realities of life, and especially in the creative arena. 

My brother’s reaction to this dilemma at first, was very adult. He could not figure out why this was a big deal? He’s got adult issues like a business to run, etc. Why would we be getting all worked up over the political (dare I say, drama) of high school theatre? 

This was my cue to gently remind him of all the stressors related to being a teenager in high school, otherwise known as a microcosm of angst. Once I did this, his response completely turned around. With just a simple gentle reminder, he immediately recalled trying to navigate being older, but still young, girls and friendships, parents and future plans, not to mention school responsibilities and preparing for college entrance exams. Throw in hormonal imbalances and morphing body parts, and it is suddenly easy to see why so many of us would prefer to not go back to that time and relive that part of our lives.

But nevertheless, most all my adolescents clients feel like it is supposed to be “the best time” in their lives. Some of my clients wonder what’s wrong with them and can’t figure out why they aren’t having this “epic” experience? Why do they feel like crap, stressed out and exhausted all the time?

When I give them my little speech about high school being great in some respects, and some people having the time of their life, I also remind them that not everybody has that kind of experience and it’s okay, because lots of people find after high school to be the “epic” moments of their lives. 

As much as I can say this to my clients, I know it is impossible for them to see what I see. So I simply reassure them that things can always be worse and things can always get better. This is where attitude and a lot of attention needs to be paid to thoughts, emotions and how those can negatively or positively impact a person’s state of mind. (If you think you’re hearing CBT and ACT that would be correct). 

I’m grateful to have those methodologies to pass onto my clients and my own children. Coping with high school is fertile ground for coping with the realities of adulthood, which is why it is so difficult at times. None of us are ready for adult realities as teens, but sometimes life hands us very adult issues to deal with. So I’m thankful for all the pioneers in our field who have given us treatment methodologies to help our clients deal with life challenges, whatever stage of life they are in.
Shari Brady is a counselor-in-training at PEER Services, Inc., an agency located in suburban Chicago, dedicated to the treatment and prevention of substance use disorders. She is also an award-winning author who has a passion for adolescents and the struggles they face. You can read more about her and her books at

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