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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Teenagers and Depression: Their Families and Psychotherapy

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: May 27th 2009

 Even though teenage depression is a significant problem very few of them are referred to psychotherapy. There are great dangers associated with adolescent depression. Among these dangers are: 1.c Drug and alcohol abuse, 2. Pregnancy, 3. Risky and dangerous behaviors, especially with automobiles, 4. Poor grades in school, 5. Likelihood of dropping out of school early, 6) suicide. This is not a complete list.

According to the June 2009 issue of the Journal of Medicine, one of the major barriers to adolescents receiving help for their depression lies within the family. According to the article, depressed teenagers report that they do not go to their family to ask for help because they a) fear ridicule, b) do not want to be stigmatized, c) doubt their parents can understand, d) believe parents cannot pay for psychotherapy, e) want to keep things private from parents.

Teenagers depend upon parental cooperation for psychotherapy. For example, they need to be driven to appointmens and be provided with money to pay for sessions. Because of their age, parental involvement is important for the therapeuric process to succeed. Parental involvement means that there will be joint sessions with the therapist as well as separate meetings with parents. Many parents are reluctant to get involved because they fear being blamed for their child's problems and because they have younger children at home or are too tired after a long day at work.
In my experience in working with teenagers over the years, parental attitude and cooperation makes a big difference in whether or not the treatment is successful.

I have witnessed a number of ways that parents can sabotage psychotherapy:

1. Failure to make the car available to the teen or failure to drive them to the appointment.
2. Failure to pay for sessions.
3. Refusal to attend family sessions.
4. Defensiveness for fear of being blamed.
5. Hostility in the form of blaming the teenager for everything.
6. Rejecting depression as a real medical problem and blaming the teenager.
7. Attempting to hide a history of child abuse.

Even the most highly educated and sophisticated parents do what they can to either prevent psychotherapy or bring it to an early end.
Among these people have been parents who were medical doctors, lawyers, teachers and college professors. Family pathology has nothing to do with wealth, social status, race or occupation.

However, it is important that all parents be aware of the importance of teenage depression and the need or psychotherapy. There are multiple numbers of factors that can cause our teens to become depressed and many of them have nothing to do with the family. Today, children are growing up in a world that is complex, dangersous and uncertain. In addition, their learning to cope with the opposite sex can become complicated. Breaking up with a boy or girl friend can cause grief and depression. It is a mistake to not take this seriously.

Because adolescents can be impulsive and quick to act without thinking of consequences it is vital that both families and medical doctors make themselves aware of what is happening so that they can intervene and help with their children, including getting them psychotherapeutic help.

Your comments and questions are always welcome and encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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