Somatic Psychotherapy & Counselling – Working with Adolescents: How to deal with Anxiety and Fear?

Anxiety and Fear are common feelings experienced by today’s adolescents. 

Research has shown that their fixation on digital technology has led to an increase in social anxiety with many young people missing out on learning vital relationship and social engagement skills. Furthermore, social media appears to have worsened the situation, fostering further isolation, cyber bullying, or FOMO (Fear of Missing out). Much research has been done on these phenomena over the last decade and can easily be accessed in other publications. This report will focus on HOW to work with the feelings of Anxiety and Fear in adolescents with somatic counselling or psychotherapy.

Firstly, I would like to distinguish the practice approach of counselling from psychotherapy. The focus in counselling is often on a solution or an integration of an issue. It’s usually a short-term approach and the counsellor will facilitate mindful awareness, psychological education, and empowerment techniques to transform the client’s issues into ones they can learn to manage.

Psychotherapy, on the other hand, is usually a longer-term approach, and one that is process oriented. It facilitates deeper awareness and transformation of the psyche. While Psychotherapy can be undertaken in only a few sessions, it does require that the person has already done some work into their psyche prior to the therapy. Now, I have provided a very simple explanation of these two modalities, which sometimes can overlap, but for the purpose of this paper, it is enough to be aware that there are different approaches to working with fear and anxiety that vary in time and depth. 

When working with adolescents, I mostly work using a short-term somatic counselling approach. Somatic counselling is a holistic approach of counselling that includes all aspects of our being: the body, the psyche, the spiritual, the material, the social, time and space. This holistic approach of counselling can also be looked at as a dice model with six faces. We can start at any of the six faces with our inquiry because they are all interconnected. Somatic means body oriented, which means we include the body in the inquiry and often use it as a tool for processing emotions and feelings. 

So, if a young person presents at the clinic with anxiety and fear, I will first have an open and confidential chat about how they are feeling on an everyday basis and how those feelings are affecting their quality of life. I will also take a short family history to better understand context and environment. Next, I will start an inquiry regarding the resources they may have utilised previously and begin the process of developing more resources they can readily access to build-up their resilience. Once we have established some degree of safety and ease around the issue, we can start looking at the feelings themselves.

The exploration of feelings and emotions is usually done through a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness means to keep one’s awareness in the present by observing what is going on in mind, body and emotions. The young person is encouraged to build a somatic awareness of their feelings along with their triggers. Together we will go into the process of transforming these feelings, usually, with the help of the already established resources. This process is assisted by the building of awareness of the deeper parts of their being and the shift of perspectives that occurs between the deeper states and the more outer parts (possibly split parts) of their being. The process called “pendulating” between those two states allows the young person to create some spaciousness around their issue and see it for what it truly is. 

Further to this inner process, I would (as the therapist) work on strategies to effectively deal with triggers and how they can become aware of them early. The client will be empowered to find new ways to deal with states of arising anxiety or fear, like the use of breath work or by connecting to the vision of a safe space that has been established on a somatic level earlier. Both methods would calm down the nervous system and enable the person to disengage from their fear response. Of course, these strategies would look different for each person. 

Somatic Counselling and Psychotherapy offer a holistic approach with a great variety of transformative tools to deal with states of anxiety and fear. They help young people to make sense of their feelings, to integrate them and to find their confidence again to live their life to their full potential.

References:

Levine, P. (2006). Trauma through a child’s eye. Awakening the Ordinary Miracle of Healing. Infancy through Adolescence. North Atlantic Books.

Maurer, Y. (1993). Body-Centered Psychotherapy. A multi-dimensional, multi-communicative, process-oriented approach. IKP.

Ogden, P., & Minton, K. (2006). Trauma and the Body. A sensorimotor approach to Psychotherapy. Norton.

Siegel, D. (2013). Brainstorm. The power and purpose of the teenage brain. Penguin.