The Boomerang Teen


I am dedicating this to all the parents who have kids home tomorrow either due to snow, teacher workdays or other various reasons.  Find yourself a few free moments and read a post or two. Laurie

As has been previously mentioned, I work with many adolescents.  I work with them both in high school and beyond. One population that I have had nice success with is the college kid who, for a variety of reasons, has returned home for a semester (or more).  I have worked with several kids who have become very depressed and/or anxious while away at college which has necessitated a medical leave of absence.  The schools’ counseling centers have been very supportive in such a scenario and huge advocates of the student taking the time off to heal.

Bringing your child home from college for mental health reasons is terrifying.  Many parents have shared their fearful trip of driving to the college to pick up the pieces of their child’s lost semester; kids so depressed they haven’t left their room in weeks, have fallen behind on all of their school work  and become so anxious about academic failure that the cycle becomes a virtual tornado whirling inside the poor kid’s soul.  After being dismissed from the mental health center and packing up the dorm,  the families find themselves in uncharted territory.  Our child is home, our child is really struggling, our child won’t get out of bed, our child has no peers around.  How can we make it right?

Enter Laurie Levine. When I  get the frantic call, I schedule the assessment for as soon as possible.  Usually the parents come in for the first session and I never see them again (they are left to pay the bill, contain the worry and get a vague update every few months).  That is good, that is how it should be; the teen establishes a nice rapport with me and begins to delve into his presenting problems in an independent and adult-like manner.

What went wrong at college? How is it that so many students are able to make it work in what appears to be a seamless manner when others find themselves back in their childhood beds struggling with mental health issues, legal charges or or sometimes somatic symptoms brought on by stress?

Each kid has his unique story.  Be it a predisposition to depression, an uncomfortable roommate scenario  triggering despondency or an over arduous academic load.  Sometimes college or this specific college is not a good fit for a specific student.  That is okay, it saddens me though, that to find the right fit there are often periods of despair and worry both for the student and the family.

I work with the teen on the initial complaints until she is feeling stabilized. Sometimes a referral to a psychiatrist is necessary when medication is indicated, other times weekly therapy isn’t enough and we bump up the intensity for a short time.  Usually, the crisis period is short lived (weeks to a  month) and then the task becomes identifying and processing deeper core issues to avoid a relapse back to the  malfunctioning  behaviors.

Meanwhile, there are many hours per week that the client is not in therapy.  Lying in bed should not be tolerated for more than a day and  half.  Family discussions about employment, local schooling and household chores can cause conflict especially when the teen is still feeling low.  I always encourage structure in one’s day, especially in the case of depression, he needs to get up, shower and have a reason to leave the house.

I am happy to say that the kids that I have worked with have  had good outcomes.  One student took a semester and a half off and then returned to his original school.  We did Skype sessions upon his return to school and then terminated after his first semester back because he was doing so well.  Another student struggled with such depression that after coming home, it was a struggle to just get her in for her session. After a year of good therapy and the proper medication regime, she found her calling in another field and attended a certification program. She is now working in her chosen career  and has not received therapy in over a year.  I’ve worked with several students that have settled in to some classes at Northern Virginia Community College during their time at home.  Most of them have had very positive experiences which has afforded them the time to work on their mental health challenges while also continuing with their education.

You are probably thinking: “Thanks Laurie for sharing your professional experiences with us, but what can we do to avoid being the next boomerang family on your caseload?”  I will fully oblige with such recommendations in a Part 2 to this post.  Give me a few days to collect my thoughts and I will be back here with brilliant (?) suggestions.


What may really be going on with your high school senior


He got in to ________.    She was deferred from ___________.    He was rejected from ________.   Two more applications to submit.    Anyone know how to fill out the FAFSA?

This is what I have been hearing from seniors in high school and their parents for the past couple of weeks.  The SATs/ACTs/ABCs, the essays, the waiting and that email (in my day it was a thin or thick letter) that elicits exaltation or deep sadness within one click of the mouse.  And, these are just the ones that applied early or rolling admission – this will continue over  the next few months until the big push in April when all colleges will have admitted their incoming freshman class.

I have worked with many seniors in high school.  It is such a pivotal time. In some ways it is a ticket out, a ticket to freedom and a move towards independence.  In many ways it is a very scary time.  As much as the  seniors are flexing their muscles to be on their own, there is something to be said for home cooking, clean clothes and mom and dad lurking around to ensure that life tasks have been checked off, paid for and handled.

Early in my career I worked in high schools and observed the precarious nature of that status of “senior”.  The seniors were the leaders of the school, captains of the teams  and enjoyed privileges of the upper-most upperclassmen (definitely the best parking spots and lunch tables). And yet, in my office they presented as anxious and vulnerable. Would they get in to a college? Would they be able to handle the work load, the transition and the independence?

It is normal to feel apprehensive.  I continually reassure my senior clients that they are not alone in these fears.  They have been under so much pressure since junior year jumping  through all of the “get into college” hoops that they have barely had a moment to ponder what it all means.

Enter second semester senior year, also known as “senioritis” or “senior slump”.   The applications have been submitted; some have heard from schools and some are still waiting.  Grades matter, but not as much as  before.  There is time again to pause, reflect and realize “HOLY COW – I AM GOING TO GRADUATE”.

Seniors may experience this as a sudden shock, a slow building of anxiety or depression or  via other symptoms like withdrawal from friends or a drop in grades.   Some of my clients have suddenly brought home D’s and F’s after a high school career of A’s and B’s.  I talk to them frankly about self-sabatoge; if they have anxiety about graduation and leaving home, a handful of F’s could easily upend that plan without having to admit “I’m nervous about the next step”. It can be easier to crash and burn through that last English credit than have to face the reality that this graduation thing is actually going to happen.

We adults often forget how emotional and challenging this time can be.  Teachers, parents and other adults act as  cheerleaders raving about graduation and the exciting changes that are coming. But the awareness of these trepidatious months can be really helpful;  attend to your seniors, acknowledge that this is a big time of transition and it is okay to feel uneasy or anxious.  They may just appreciate it enough to stick around for dinner one night this week.

SLOPE it up

Happy New Year!

Sorry it has been so quiet around here. I guess it’s been so quiet around here  because it’s been SO. NOISY around HERE.  The break was great – two weeks really felt LONG, but a good LONG.  When I had little ones I was very excited for them to go back to school; they were needy and hyper and whiny.  Now, I have big kids and they are fun and funny and still sometimes needy and whiny, but not so much.  Anyhow we had fun, had friends visit, ate out and too much, laughed a lot, cuddled and nuzzled and played and rested.

And, now it is 2014;  alarms went off way too early this morning and the yellow buses came and shuttled everyone away.

I got a really nice email today from an old client.  I have asked and received permission from him to share his kind and insightful words here on my blog.  I feel they are helpful to anyone thinking about therapy and also for all of us who become caught up in our emotions in the heat of the moment:

Hi Laurie-

I can’t believe it has been almost 6 months since my last therapy session with you and I still think about the things I learned with you almost on a daily basis.  I am very honored to tell you that my wife I are doing great and we have improved our communication tremendously.  Our daughter is also doing great.

I wanted to share this with you because after an argument the other day with my wife she mentioned that when I’m in a “panic” or in a situation where I lose myself I don’t listen. So we came up with a “code” word for her to use so that I can snap out of that zone and listen.  The word she created for me was
SLOPE.  As in the slopes of a hill where I go snowboarding 🙂
Slow your pace
Lower your voice
Open up to listening
Process the moment
I found this to be EXTREMELY helpful because I have associated this word with an instant snap back to reality and a sign that I’m not doing things right.  I thought about sharing with you in case you have other “loco” patients like me that could make  good use of a code word like this :):)
Thanks again for a wonderful 2013….
I love his word. I have a sticky  note on my bulletin board at my office that says PAUSE.  It delivers the same message as his SLOPE, but is not as creative and thought out. I had written it years ago after discussing the process of PAUSE and LISTEN with a client who was having challenges with conflict resolution.  I found it to be helpful for not only my client, but for myself as well and I put it on the board to remember the importance of the PAUSE.
As we enter a new year with hope and goals let us not forget to PAUSE and SLOPE and pay attention to those with whom we interact on a daily basis – we may find less conflict and more connection as we learn to slow down, listen and process the moment.
Happy 2014 to all!
Who doesn't love this bumper sticker on my bulletin board?

Who doesn’t love this bumper sticker on my bulletin board?

My post-it note

My post-it note