February 12, 2021

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

Mental health professionals deal with range of life issues

David Bethuram

Parenting teenagers is no small feat, and it is natural to be mystified by your teen’s behavior sometimes. It may seem like anything and everything can set them off. Yet, the situations that seem to push your teen’s buttons, often called “triggers,” can have patterns.

A “trigger” can be thought of as an event, a feeling or a situation that precedes an emotional response. Helping your teen become more aware of those triggers is central to stopping the out-of-control behavior. Sometimes it is a matter of observing your teen’s behavior to notice patterns.

Triggers can be a precursor to an angry outburst, but triggers can be precursors to many responses. Common situations and feelings that may “push a teen’s buttons” and trigger an outburst include being told “no,” bad news, being left out, being bullied, being criticized, not knowing what to do, being ignored or overstimulation. Of course, just as every teen is unique, your teen’s triggers will be unique as well.

The first step to helping your teen be aware of triggers is observing and being familiar with the situations that make your child restless, frustrated or upset. Pay attention and be aware of warning signs of triggers and look for patterns and connections.

Jacob was a 13-year-old teenager who struggled to handle his emotions, often losing control and becoming aggressive toward others. He was referred to Catholic Charites Mental Health Services to help with the transition into a pre-adoptive home. At the time of his arrival, Jacob had a significant history of verbal aggression, anger management issues, lack of problem-solving skills, and intrusive thoughts and feelings which often led to disruptive behavior. The young teenager was previously removed from two other pre-adoptive homes due to aggression with adult family members.

Jacob and his new pre-adoptive parents often struggled to have effective communication. Catholic Charities’ team worked with Jacob to help increase self-awareness by pointing out strong emotions that were occurring due to various triggers.

Prior to coming to Catholic Charities, Jacob’s pre-adoptive parents often struggled to fully understand his triggers and behaviors, and communication was a core issue. Staff worked with Jacob’s pre-adoptive parents to better understand and respond to Jacob’s behaviors. His parents also learned effective ways to actively listen to Jacob while delaying their responses when they became upset. The team used psychoeducation to tune them into the complex trauma he experienced, and helped them increase their awareness to some of the effects of that trauma.

Using enactments, such as games and sports, Jacob learned ways to self-regulate and self-sooth while building and strengthening communication among all three family members. Communication significantly improved, and they strengthened their connection with one another. Jacob now has fewer verbal and physical outbursts, is better able to manage his stress and anger, and is more effective at solving problems.

Catholic Charities helped build community supports. They referred the families to additional mental health resources; arranged for a new, supportive school setting; and connected them to other social activities, such as 4-H and sports. By the time services ended, the family was moving forward with the adoption process.

Catholic Charities mental health professionals, in offices in Bloomington, Indianapolis and Martinsville, offer a comprehensive, integrated continuum of quality care for children, adolescents and adults struggling with a range of life issues.

Our practice is exercised with the highest ethical standards and innovative therapies to address anxiety, depression, family conflicts, grief and loss, life adjustments, relationship problems and stress. Our therapists are trained in innovative approaches to mental health care and are either licensed mental health counselors or licensed clinical social workers.

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at dbethuram@archindy.org. For information on Catholic Charities mental health services: Bloomington—cutt.ly/CCBloomington or 812-332-1262; Indianapolis—cutt.ly/CCIndy or 317-236-1500; Martinsville—cutt.ly/CC-IUMorganCty or 765-342-8383.)

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