Madara Hall - Marinela

ACT for adolescents: a different approach to tackle the same problems

Young people’s suffering is not greatly different from adult’s suffering. And the problems young people have to deal with nowadays are not that different from the problems they had to deal with 20 years ago, even if they have different faces: rejection, frustration, conflicts, challenges, etc… It all goes back to cope with painful thoughts and feelings that show up while they are trying to live their lives the best they can.

Funny enough, adults tell adolescents what they should do in their lives – to study, to have friends, etc. - but no one tells them what to do when inner experience gets in the way. Or if they do, it is only to tell them to do the impossible – get rid of inner experience: “don’t thing that way”, “don’t be sad”. As if adults could do that themselves… Then, thoughts and feelings become the enemy to be feared and avoided… Although it is perfectly understandable why anyone would want to avoid suffering, it is also well know that this will hardly work when applied to our inner world.

In helping children and adolescents cope with these old problems, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can be an innovative quite useful approach. Rather than targeting the content, frequency and form of inner experience, ACT seeks to change the relationship with these phenomenon to decrease their behavioural impact. This represents a counterintuitive alternative including the acceptance of thoughts and feelings as they are (just thoughts and feelings), to take time to attend to them with curiosity, and to carry on with life guided by what is most important.

We all teach children and adolescents many things about many things but seldom do we give them the opportunity to learn about themselves, their thoughts and feelings and how to deal with them. They need to know what it means to be human, what all human beings have to face and struggle with just because they have a mind. And to learn how to use the mind instead of having the mind using them. ACT will give them this opportunity: the opportunity of learning to deal with the mind (and related inner experiences) and stay focused on what really matters; to use their strengths and live their lives guided by what is really important instead of letting thoughts and feelings decide for them, even when these thoughts and feelings are really stormy and try to get in the way.

There is growing support for the use of ACT for adolescents. The aim is still to foster psychological flexibility, and the preferential use of metaphors and experiential exercises may be particularly suitable for this developmental phase.

In this master class these and other issues will be addressed as well as the therapeutic process and some strategies to help adolescents live their lives according to what matters.