When Helping Troubled Youth, The Importance of “Doing Together”

I am sitting by the window thinking about a meeting I was part of last week. A boy at the age of 16 came to our place some years ago.  He was described in terms of a psychiatric diagnosis, and he was prescribed medication. He was seen as a “huge problem” and the school refused to let him take part in ordinary education. Thank God he had a wise social worker who realized that the boy was not hopeless, but rather the problem was the situation.

To make a long story short, the boy came to stay in one of our family homes (in Sweden) for nearly a year and a half. He and his family were surrounded by his team, which consisted of the family home, their supervisor, and his therapist.

There have been a lot of meetings in different settings and a lot of struggling at times. Staff from his new school have been invited and taken part in the shared work. There have been a lot of situations when we have not known exactly how to do or how to manage, but no doubts that together we would find a way.

During the meeting last week, we shared with each other what was  most important during the time we worked together. How come it became possible for the boy to return to his family and continue his ordinary life?

When asking the question I was met by the same answer from all of the participants in the room, “We did this together and we never felt alone”. That was the answer said in different ways and referring to different situations. For example, the mother of the boy turned to the family home mother and said how important it was to not be dismissed, to be trusted as the mother no matter how hard it had been.

The father of the boy told how touched he got when he realized that the family-home father could not sleep the first week, after the boy had gone to the family home. He said that it made him feel less vulnerable and less alone to know that there was someone else caring for his son.

The family home father told about the importance of knowing that he could call his supervisor whenever he needed and how that made him feel less alone,  and also to know that there was a therapist for the boy, who would meet with him every week and, if needed, more often.

The family home mother talked about her wish to get to know the boy and how important it had been to know that his parents accepted her, without being worried that she would replace his parents.

The boy himself had a smile on his face and declared that most of the things we talked about were history, that he has a life going on now with friends, family and school.

When thinking about the meeting as I sit here by the window, I recognize the warmth in my body as I had the other week, and the joy together with a feeling of pride. This is not an unusual story. On the contrary, it is pretty usual to take part in stories of healing like this. How come?

I am very much thinking about that question, especially now when writing my doctorate thesis since it is about my many years of work together with lots of other people at our Family Care Foundation. What is most important for me, both as a human being and as a psychotherapist?

I have no definite answer yet, will maybe never get a definite answer and maybe that in itself is a part of the answer. Maybe there are no definite or final answers, but a lot of moments and situations with possibilities. Maybe that is what life and psychotherapy is about, to try together with others and one’s self to deal with all that which is a part of being a human.

Far too many young people I meet in work have been defined as very “special” in the meaning that they are not as they should be, and they behave in a way they should not behave.  They have been analyzed and categorized. Far too many young people describe themselves as being not ordinary, as being “sick”, as having “something in their brain”, which has to be fixed with drugs.

Instead of creating a place where it is possible to talk, collaborate, argue, discuss, find out and care for each other, there is a tendency to search for “the method”, to try to find out the “right diagnosis” and to subscribe medication as it is called.

I get upset nearly every week when meeting young people who have been prescribed medication for anxiety, depression, ADHD etc… without telling either them or their parents about the side effects and the risks. Without giving either to them or their parents the possibility to work things out, but instead telling them this is something you need to live with.

When I started to work many years ago it was very seldom that children and young people got either psychiatric diagnosis or medication. At that time it was seen as nearly impossible to give a diagnosis to a child or a young person since it is a time in life when much happens, both inside and on the outside. It is not like that anymore, and today nearly all children and young people I meet have at least one psychiatric diagnosis and medication.

From experience my colleagues and I know it is possible to meet people, children and adults without using either diagnosis or medication. We also know it is not done without effort and collaboration and a personal responsibility, from each of us. Meeting people, children and adults always touches something in me, it always influences me and my own beliefs, history and life. It always involves a lot of feelings and thoughts. It is sometimes very painful,  but most of time it brings joy and excitement.

Thanks to my education, my own therapy and lots of professional contacgts, I have become a psychotherapist with an awareness of things I had maybe not been aware of otherwise. Still, my professional identity has to do with me and those around me. If that space is not good enough, it will be terrible difficult to “be there” for those who search for my time and my knowledge.

There is a need for a different focus, a different perspective. Instead of searching for the diagnosis and the right “treatment,” we ought to look at ourselves and those around us, involving family as well as organization. It is very high time to do so and a lot of benefit to be gained from this approach, especially for all of those who now get a diagnosis, medication and a feeling of being not ordinary human beings.


  1. If a teen doesn’t respond positively in one program don’t lose hope because there are tons of programs out there that can help him. Before we choose a program for our teen we should at first hand know what is wrong and what he wants, in that we way we can find a program that can provide what he wants or that can provide a program for his/her condition.

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