Helping Teens to Start Therapy: 3 Ways Neurofeedback Can Help
As a parent, motivating your teen can seem to take up all your time, energy, and focus. You see their tremendous potential and worry your teen is not achieving at the level they are capable. You try and try to help them become motivated and see what they could achieve but to no avail. You may start to think if anything can help motivate your teen.
You have come to the conclusion that your teen could benefit from teen therapy. But, when you ask your teen if they would like to see a teen therapist, they refuse stating that they don't need a therapist and won't talk to one.
You become frustrated as you feel you have done all you can to help them and it hasn't seemed to help. Your teen also doesn't seem motivated to help themselves. Or, when they have tried to make things better, it was short lived and they returned to where they started.
The core issue seems to revolve around their lack of motivation. They struggle to get out of bed, do their homework, be kind and friendly, interact with the family etc. If they aren't motivated to do the basics in life, how can you hope to motivate them to see a teen therapist?
Let's first take a look at the reasons teen's may lack motivation. There are more reasons than what is listed below, but this will get us off to a good start. Below are the more common reasons for the lack of teen motivation that we come across in our teen therapy and family counseling sessions.
Reasons for Teen Lack of Motivation
If a person is going to experience depression, it usually manifests in the teen years. We talk with many parents in the Katy and Houston area about providing therapy for teen depression. Teen depression has increased 59% in the last 10+ years among teens and has become an epidemic within the pandemic.
Symptoms of teen depression include:
Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, helplessness, and hopelessness
Insomnia or hypersomnia
Irritability (and in teens, anger)
Loss of interest in things that the teen used to find fun
Change in eating habits
Persistent sad or empty feelings
Suicidal thoughts or attempts
It's not that your teen doesn't want to achieve, it's simply that depression has robbed them of the will and energy to do so.
Teen anxiety can be another reason why teens may struggle with motivation. Along with teen depression, parents are seeking out therapists for teen anxiety at higher rates. Teen anxiety is a persistent and relentless foe. Teen anxiety makes a person feel physically and emotionally that they are in danger. The intellectual brain recognizes that they are not but the emotional part of our brain feels threatened. A cascade of stress hormones and adrenalin are released due to this perceived danger.
Symptoms of teen anxiety can include:
Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
Increased heart rate
Difficulty breathing (catching your breath)
Trouble concentrating or focusing
Difficulty controlling worry
Feeling weak or tired
Having a sense of impending doom, danger, or panic
Constantly thinking about the thing that causes worry
The urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety or panic
These symptoms combine to create difficulty in the teen remaining motivated. The main symptom that decreases motivation in teens is "The urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety or panic".
Counseling for teen ADHD/ADD has become one of the more, known, common struggles that teen's face. Like teen depression and teen anxiety, teen ADHD/ADD has its roots in the brain.
Teens want to do well. They want to achieve and for their parents to be proud of them. They want to live their full potential. Yet, due to genetics, the brain may have other plans for them.
With teen ADHD/ADD, regions of the teen's brain are not keeping up with their chronological development. Some regions are smaller compared to teens of their same age and gender. As a result of these regions of the brain being smaller, symptoms of ADHD/ADD can emerge.
Teens with ADHD/ADD can often become quite discouraged. They want to do well. They try and try again without success. They don't want teachers to be upset with them. Parents to be frustrated and disappointed. As they try repeatedly without success, they can develop learned helplessness. This leaves them feeling like no matter how hard they try, they will never succeed so trying is not worth the effort. Their motivation drops and the struggle ensues.
Symptoms of ADHD/ADD include:
Low frustration tolerance
Difficulty with multitasking
Problems focusing on tasks
Difficulty managing stress
Excessive activity or restlessness
Teen Substance Abuse
Teen substance abuse is typically driven by another underlying cause. Teen depression, teen anxiety, teen ADHD/ADD, and other struggles are often at the root of teen substance abuse.
Signs of teen substance abuse include:
Change in friends or social group your teen hangs out with
Changes in personality
Changes in behavior: easily angered, withdrawn, isolating, sleeping more than usual
Willful breaking of family or parents’ rules
Loss of interest in things that they used to enjoy
Changes in daily routine
Poor personal hygiene
Bloodshot eyes, shaking, slurred speech, tremors, etc.
Increased need for money
The difficulty for those teens who abuse substances is the irrational beliefs that go with their substance abuse. Teens will rationalize their substance abuse in some of the following ways:
"It's not a big deal"
"It's only marijuana"
"I can quit any time"
"Everyone does it at school"
"It's a normal thing for teens to do"
"It's already legal in some states"
"It helps me focus/relax/be creative, etc."
The problem is, there is no concrete rule for how long or how many drugs a teen can abuse before they get addicted. There is no warning siren that goes off when the teen is approaching addiction. In 100% of the cases of teen addiction, they were not aware they were addicted until long after they had crossed that line.
Teen Trauma or Teen PTSD
Teen trauma and/or teen PTSD can have a significant impact on a teen's motivation. Tee trauma can come in many different forms. It can be difficult for parents to identify an event as being traumatic. What we may consider to be/not to be traumatic could be very different from our teen's definition of trauma.
Some trauma events that people experience are what we call Big T trauma events. These are experiences that bring real or perceived threat to one's safety or life. They can also be witnessing real or perceived threats to another person's safety or life.
Examples of Big T trauma are:
Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse and/or neglect
Being in a fight where one loses consciousness or other injury
Witnessing a fight where one loses consciousness or receives other injury
Being in a severe car accident
Witnessing a sever car accident
Some trauma events that people experience are what we call little t trauma events. These trauma experiences do not necessarily carry with it the criteria of being related to a life or safety experience. Yet, these little t traumas can cause significant disruption in a teen’s mood, emotion, behavior, and life.
Examples of little t traumas are:
Witnessing others being bullied
Being in a non-life threatening accident
Witnessing a non, life threatening accident
Breaking up with a boyfriend or girl friend
Losing a loved one
Losing a pet
Moving to a new school, city, state, or country
Friends moving away to a new school, city, state, or country
Traditional Talk Therapy & Neurofeedback: Art & Science
The ART in Talk Therapy
In teen therapy and family counseling, the teen therapist and family counselor is trained in approaches that are supported by research. These approaches have been scientifically studied and shown to be effective.
The teen therapist and family counselor who are trained in these approaches, rely on their experience level, skill, and talent to implement these approaches in therapy. This is where the 'Art' of teen therapy and family counseling comes into play. As a result, the quality of the teen counselor and family therapist can vary.
The SCIENCE in Neurofeedback Therapy
Neurofeedback therapy is also supported by research. Neurofeedback therapy has been scientifically studied and shown to be effective.
A neurofeedback therapist relies on the science and not the art. The software that that we use bases the training protocols on the most recent research on brain performance and mental health. The neurofeedback therapist interprets the brain map and through the software develops the training protocol.
Once the teen begins neurofeedback therapy, the neurofeedback therapist monitors the teen's brain waves (the EEG). The neurofeedback therapist does this to ensure the teen is receiving the optimal training and training conditions.
In neurofeedback for teens, the neurofeedback therapist relies on the science. This means that all the work in neurofeedback is complete in session. There is little art involved in the process which means the quality is not as dependent on the neurofeedback therapists experience, skill, and talent. As a result, the quality of the neurofeedback therapist vary little depending on the software that they use.
Ways Neurofeedback Can Help Your Unmotivated Teen
1. Neurofeedback Therapy for Teens Meets the Teen Where They Are At:
No In-between Session Work Required & All Work Done in Session
In counseling sessions, between session homework is a part of the healing journey. Whether it be formal assignments the teen needs to complete or simply practicing what is learned in therapy outside of teen therapy -- homework assignments are the vehicle for the change process to occur.
A reason some teens don't want to start therapy is the work that will be involved. As they are struggling with just maintaining from day to day, thinking about adding more work to their lives seems overwhelming. And, the homework assignments are in important part of the therapy process. Yet, we learn from the above that:
Teen depression robs a teen of their motivation
Teens with teen anxiety will avoid those things that trigger their anxiety limiting their motivation
Teen substance abuse steals their focus and attention on feeling good, not doing good
Trauma and PTSD overwhelm the system sending messages to the teen that they can't succeed so why try
There are some teens who, through the course of therapy, find that motivation to practice what they learn in their daily lives. But, we're talking about just getting your teen to start therapy. For those who are concerned that about the in between session homework and this is a reason they refuse to start, neurofeedback is a great way to help overcome that obstacle.
Neurofeedback: No In-between Session Homework
There is no in-between session homework, assignments, tasks or other work between sessions. All the work in neurofeedback takes place in the neurofeedback therapy session. In fact, I'm not sure that you what the teen does during neurofeedback therapy could be defined as work! In neurofeedback for teens, all that is required of them is to show up and we help them to be as relaxed and comfortable as possible. They literally sit back and kick their feet up!
Neurofeedback therapy helps train the brain to perform normally compared to other teen brains of the same age and gender as your teen. The best conditions for performance training for your brain is to be in a relaxed state.
That is why the neurofeedback therapy chair is the most comfortable chair in the office! Your teen will put their feet up on a foot stool and focus on relaxing and sitting still (which is a skill in and of itself).
The neurofeedback therapist will develop a training program to meet your teen's unique and specific needs. We use highly sophisticated software that provides the training. The vehicle through which we provide the training is in one of two ways:
1. Zukor Interactive
Zukor interactive develops software for neurofeedback therapy for teens that resemble a video game. As the teen has a cap on with 19 sensor that read his brain performance, when your teen's brain performs normally and without teen depression, teen anxiety, teen PTSD, etc. they can control the avatar on the screen. When the brain performs as depressed, anxious, with PTSD, etc., the cannot control the avatar on the screen.
The brain is a novelty craving and learning machine. As it is reinforced for performing in a way that controls the avatar, the brain starts to shift its performance to a normal, non-depressed, anxious, trauma, etc. way of performing.
2. ANI Streamer
The ANI Streamer operates under the same principles as the Zukor Interactives video games do. The difference is that the ANI Streamer uses movies as the vehicle for training.
In neurofeedback therapy for teens using the ANI Streamer, when the teen's brain performs normally, the teen can see and hear the movie. When the teen's brain returns to performing how the teen does not want it to perform, the teen can no longer see or hear the movie.
Over repeated sessions, the brain learns through the ANI Streamer to perform as a normal brain would, compared to teens of the same age and gender who do not have teen depression, teen anxiety, teen trauma, etc.
Though neurofeedback therapy relies on the science and thus there tends to be a more consistent rate of success in neurofeedback, the training of the neurofeedback therapist can play a vital role.
2. Neurofeedback Does Not Require a Teen to Talk About Their Struggles
One of the other obstacles that teens face in finding motivation to attend therapy is that they don't want to talk about their struggles. For many teens, the struggles they face are personal. Talking about them will cause a high level of discomfort and possibly embarrassment. As human beings, we are wired to avoid physical pain and discomfort. Emotional pain and discomfort are no different.
Neurofeedback is different than talk therapy as neurofeedback addresses the struggles where they originate -- in the brain. Through the sophisticated software and the training of the neurofeedback therapists, we train the brain to perform normally and greatly reduce or eliminate the symptoms at that level.
Talk therapy requires the teen to talk about the struggles to help the therapist know which treatment approach to use. Once treatment begins, they continue to explore the struggles and examine them thoroughly. This helps to resolve the struggles.
Your teen may be struggling with motivation to attend therapy because they don't want to talk about the struggles. If this is the case, your teen may be a great candidate for neurofeedback.
3. Neurofeedback is Consistently More Effective & Generally Quicker at Resolving Teen Struggles
Some teens are concerned that therapy won't work for them. They may also be concerned with how long they will be in therapy for. They don't want to go to therapy if it's not going to work and be in therapy forever.
Neurofeedback has a consistent track record of being consistently effective. The reason for this may be that neurofeedback therapy does not rely on the training and experience level of the therapist. Neurofeedback therapy draws on current research on the brain, emotional and behavioral challenges, and trains the teen with sophisticated software designed to alleviate or eliminate the struggles.
Neurofeedback therapy also tends to work quicker for teens than it does for adults. There are other therapeutic approaches that this is true for such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). It is not common that children, teens, or adults are in neurofeedback therapy for longer than 5 months and as short as a month and a half.
This all depends on several variables such as:
The struggles and challenges being addressed
The amount of sleep the teen is getting while in neurofeedback therapy
What the teen eats while in neurofeedback therapy. We are working with an organ in the body and the healthier the teen eats, the better fuel the brain will have to do the work.
The consistency of the teen attending neurofeedback therapy
Abstaining from drugs, alcohol, and over use of caffeine
Neurofeedback: A Great Alternative for Teens Who May Lack Motivation to Attend Talk Therapy
While neurofeedback therapy for teens can be highly effective, it is not a guarantee for everybody who participates. As mentioned above, there are several factors that are involved in the success of neurofeedback therapy.
Yet, neurofeedback therapy is a great option for those teens who otherwise would not take part talk therapy. It can help remove the barriers and obstacles that have been blocking the path for the teen to start therapy.
Jason Drake, LCSW-S, Owner and Lead Clinician at Katy Teen & Family Counseling, PLLC is a BCIA trained professional in neurofeedback. I use top tier software for neurofeedback therapy with teens. I provide the following neurofeedback therapy:
Neurofeedback for trauma therapy
Neurofeedback for PTSD treatment
Neurofeedback for anxiety
Neurofeedback for substance abuse
Neurofeedback to Increase Peak Performance for Students, Gifted Students, & Talented Teen Athletes
Neurofeedback can also be used for other things other than treating teen struggles. Neurofeedback can help the performance of teen athletes as well as students and gifted students. Peak performance training can help your teen take their academics and/or athletics to the next level.
I also provide:
Neurofeedback for peak performance for talented teen athletes
Neurofeedback for peak performance for gifted teens
Whatever the struggle that brings you into therapy, Jason has found neurofeedback to be effective for the teens he works with. Though teens may present with a wide variety of struggles, neurofeedback therapy has helped and can help your teen too.
Selecting a Neurofeedback Professional or Therapist
Depending on the software that a therapist purchases, because of its sophistication, there are therapists who buy the software and begin providing neurofeedback with limited training. Without the proper training, the therapist may not know how to differentiate between what brain wave readings are appropriate to select for training and which are not. Knowing how and what to select in the recorded brain performance will impact the quality of the brain map and training protocol. You want the neurofeedback professional who has the training and can provide you the highest quality brain performance reading and training protocol for your teen.