For a couple of years now I have been proposing to training and seminar audiences that there is a relatively untapped therapeutic need in teen romantic relationships. Many teens are in romantic relationships and yet few therapists I know make use of these pairings as an opportunity to do couple therapy. Of course there are legal, ethical, and payment issues to be considered and managed. However, working with this young couples population can be a potential learning opportunity that has no rival.
I have had the opportunity, though only a few times, to work with teen couples. All parents agreed and paid for the therapy and rules of confidentiality were maintained. I feel now as I write this a similar excitement and hopefulness I felt as I worked with these teens who eagerly devoured any information about love and relationship and because it was live and with love interests present, the work was very powerful. These sessions were literally pre-pre-pre-marital, giving these kids a good jump ahead of their peers and probably even their parents. At least it seemed that way to me.
Teen patients are famously obsessed with peer relationships and those who are, however temporarily “in love,” seem very interested in getting outside help — as a couple — if invited to do so by a therapist.
Those of you who know my approach to couple therapy (PACT) also know that I use video recording for occasional patient playback but also for research. I think this could be a wonderful population to study in their couple configuration and that couple therapists (not simply specialists in adolescent treatment) could do a lot of early prevention work here.
Again, I tend to be biased toward therapists trained in couple therapy to do this kind of work because it is quite different from one-on-one psychotherapy with adolescents as it is with adults. However, biases aside, I think any therapist who specializes in adolescent psychotherapy should consider this option of inviting a patient’s love interest into therapy.
What do you think? I’d like to hear from you.
Copyright 2012 — Stan Tatkin, Psy.D. — all rights reserved