Teen, adult, and couples therapist in Orange County
Adolescent brain growth is defined by four traits: novelty-seeking, social engagement, increased emotional intensity, and creative exploration. Teens are in a season of exploring who they are, what their values are, how to connect with others, and what brings them joy and fulfillment in love. These are positive, healthy, and normal developments, but oftentimes the outgrowth can cause conflict with family or lead to some concerning behaviors. As parents, it is important to ask if your teen’s behaviors are normative experiments with gaining independence and learning important life lessons (sometimes easily, sometimes “the hard way”), or if there are more serious concerns about rebellious, danger behaviors (substance use, skipping school, getting in trouble with the law, unsafe sexual behaviors) or emotional health (depression or anxiety that is difficult for your teen to manage, even if they are a high performer.)
Life is always filled with the transitions, but the transitions seem to be unstopping for those in their 20s and 30s. While every person’s journey and situation is different, common life transitions for young adults are moving out of their family’s home, attending college, starting full-time work, changing careers, getting in and out of long-term relationships, becoming parents (or deciding not to have children), marriage, divorce, and taking care of aging parents. Mixed into these life events are often struggles to come to terms with one’s religious or faith background, sexuality, dynamics in one’s family of origin, and beliefs about how to have a meaningful life.
Oftentimes it is not until people are in their 20s or 30s that they begin to unravel how unhealthy family dynamics in their family-of-origin impacted them — sometimes this is not brought up until adults become new parents and are resolute to raise their own children differently, but find themselves slipping into patterns that are familiar. It is also common for young adults to begin processing how sexual, physical, or emotional abuse that they experienced as a child or a teen impacted them — sometimes this is brought up due to entering into an intimate relationship and discovering emotional or sexual barriers. Struggles with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse or other forms of addiction are especially common for adults in their 20s and 30s, even for very successful and accomplished individuals.
Using alcohol or drugs in an excessive manner is rarely about “making a poor choice” or wanting to hurt loved ones. Rather, substance use often serves as an attempt to fill a very real need or to cope with a difficult struggle. This can be loneliness, stress from work or home, feeling inadequate, difficulties interacting comfortably in social situations, feelings of sadness or worthlessness, effects of trauma, or even simply liking oneself and one’s experiences more when using than when sober.
When treating substance abuse or dependence, the underlying issues and needs MUST be addressed alongside one another in order for there to be real change and healing. We cannot ask people to give up their primary coping while leaving the root problem untouched. This is why therapy can also be beneficial to those who are in recovery, even if they have been sober for some time.
The most common way that children communicate is through their behaviors. Infants have no other way to communicate that something is wrong or bothersome except to cry. As children grow older, they find other ways to do so. They might tantrum, become dominant or oppositional, become aggressive, attempt to please, seek affection, or act scared and avoidant. In school-aged children, we often see struggles with academics or behavioral issues in the school setting or with peers. This is why it is important to view children’s behaviors as windows to more — when a child is acting out, it is almost always due to something bigger going on. We want to always be on the lookout for the underlying issues, and our goal is to help children use their words to communicate and to seek help.
Children are especially sensitive to transitions, difficult bodily experiences, and heightened emotions in the adults around them. The good news is that due to their rapidly developing brains, children can make progress very quickly, especially when they have supportive, consistent adults in their lives. Therapy with ages birth to five and their parents can be surprisingly effective, especially with evidenced-based practices such as Child Parent Psychotherapy (CPP.) Play therapy is an effective method for toddlers up through elementary-school-aged children and occasionally young teens. Play therapy allows children to express themselves and their experiences through play with a therapist. The therapist can help the child explore alternative methods of coping through their play, and the child can work through difficult emotions through feeling heard and seen in play. Children receive messages through play therapy that it is okay to address unspeakable fears and that adults can help children understand their feelings. They learn how to assert authority and to feel safe without using aggression. This is why play therapy is renowned for resulting in decreased anxiety and improved behavior at school.
Every person goes through ups and downs throughout the course of life, but depression is more than sometimes feeling sad or experiencing a slight mood shift during a difficult life season or following a loss. Depression is powerful and colors the lenses of the person experiencing it. Life can feel meaningless and one might feel worthless, inadequate, and like a failure, despite evidence that indicates otherwise. It is common to have decreased energy, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, increased anger and irritability, little interest in previously enjoyed activities, increased isolation, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of death or harming oneself. As much as we all (and most of all the affected individuals) wish that they could just “snap out of it” and think positively, this is often an unrealistic task for one truly experiencing depression.
In the lives of those experiencing anxiety, anxiety has almost always served a purpose as a survival function at some point. Some anxiety can even produce desirable results, as it can motivate individuals to complete needed tasks, to perform at their best, or to recognize safety risks. Most successful, motivated individuals have likely had some degree of anxiety that helped them push themselves to where they are now. Anxiety becomes a problem when it is pervasive, distressing, or leads to inhibiting behaviors, likely due to an altered perception of the world. This can look like consistently worrying about the same issues despite no evidence to support the worries (worrying that one has cancer despite being healthy, worrying that one will fail graduate school when one has high grades, worrying that one's partner will suddenly die), being on high-alert and having distressing, intrusive recollections following a traumatic experience, or sometimes experiencing stress in the body through trembling, not being able to get a full breath, sweating, heart palpitations, or unexplained muscle tension.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), phobias (including social anxiety), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and panic attack disorder are all anxiety disorders that people seek treatment for.