How Cognitive Therapy Saved My Teenager

Nikodash: GettyImages-812460764-

My son has had a rough year. Somewhere in between turning into a man and leaving some of the things he used to love to do as a child in the rear view mirror, his father and I decided to divorce. We held on for as long as we could for our children, but in hindsight I’m not so sure it was the right decision. I’ve heard time and time again divorce is really hard on your teenager. And if you have an empathetic, anxious teen like I do, it can almost be unbearable.

He was clearly asking for more help and attention by breaking rules at school and disrespecting me at home. Still, I never failed to believe he was a good kid. I had to let go and realize I wasn’t enough for him; he needed some outside help I wasn’t able to give him.

I’d first heard about cognitive therapy from a friend. It’s an action-oriented approach and a form of “psychotherapy in which negative patterns of thought about the self and the world are challenged in order to alter unwanted behavior patterns or treat mood disorders such as depression.”

This kind of therapy can help your child understand how their thoughts, feelings, and physical reactions interact. Certain things in their life may trigger stress and anxiety, even if they don’t know what’s causing it. So even though my son doesn’t exactly want to talk to a stranger about his feelings each week, I thought cognitive therapy might be a good fit for him because it would focus more on potential triggers and the cause and effect of certain behaviors.

Cognitive therapy seemed like it would give him the tools to cope, as well as explain to him the reason why he was feeling the things he was feeling. And it has worked wonders. I truly believe it saved him from going down the rabbit hole even further because it gave him things I couldn’t.

According to Anna Prudovski, a Psychologist and Diplomate of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy, cognitive therapy is “evidence based and very effective” because it helps people learn how to develop more “realistic thinking based on facts.” It’s been known to help things from behavioral issues to depression.

Through cognitive therapy, my son began learning meditation and breathing exercises, and his therapist was able to explain things to him — like why getting enough sleep and eating the right foods affect his moods so much — and my son was able to understand and wanted to take his advice.

Sure, I’d had these discussions with him before, but coming from his therapist, he was able to take the information in and listen in a way I wasn’t able to provide. Most teens think their parents don’t know anything and he is no exception.

Not only did he take his therapist’s advice about eating healthier and more often, and going to bed earlier, he felt more empowered because he made these decisions on his own after his therapist showed him what was happening to his brain when it wasn’t getting enough sleep or food. The therapist also explained the impact of spending too much time on his phone or listening to disturbing music on his mind.

Since my son started therapy, he has felt more in control over these triggers. Because he knows they are affecting him in negative ways, he can set limits for his own well being. He was wondering why he was feeling so angry and irritable, and his therapist was able to paint a picture for him he could understand and gave him the tools to fix it.

It’s been months since I’ve had to remind him to eat regularly and put down his phone. He has reaped all the feel good benefits of proper breathing and taking a few moments before he reacts so he doesn’t want to go back to his old, impulsive ways.

Even aside from the benefits for my son, his cognitive therapy has benefited me as well. Our kids aren’t going to change over night. They aren’t going to be perfect and even if they have the tools and the knowledge, they will have slip-ups. But even so, cognitive therapy has been of the best parenting tools for me. When we know what is causing our feelings and emotions, and we are given certain tools to cope, it makes us stronger because we feel in control and can help ourselves. And our kids are no different — they want to know how to make things better and advocate for themselves, too.

And this was a damn good way to help my son understand himself, and I’d even go so far as to say it was life-changing for us both.