Counseling Stuck Teens: Practical Strategies for Moving Beyond Resistance



Presented and developed by David Flack, MA, LMHC, CDP


Most teens enter counseling reluctantly. Then, we’re likely to engage with them in ways that may not be developmentally appropriate or especially effective. When they push back – like they often do – we declare them unwilling, oppositional, or resistant. These teens aren’t resistant. They’re stuck.

Stuckness is the unwillingness or inability to do anything differently. In other words, stuck teens lack the motivation or necessary skills to engage in the change process. Most often, it’s a mix of both. This stuckness is often complicated by a variety of exacerbating factors, such as biological vulnerabilities, minority stress, substance-related problems, learned helplessness, and insecure attachments.

The first half of this highly interactive workshop focuses on increasing our understanding of this stuckness, those exacerbating factors, and useful metaphors for exploring the concept with our teen clients. The second half of the workshop identifies practical strategies for to helping teens get unstuck, starting with therapeutic alliance.

Evidence shows that therapeutic alliance is the single most important contributor to positive therapeutic outcomes. However, cultivating rapport with stuck teens can feel overwhelming to even the most experienced therapists. With that in mind, we’ll consider three key elements of therapeutic alliance – trustworthiness, connection, and presence – and examine field-tested approaches for increasing each.

Next, we’ll explore useful concepts from Stages of Change, an evidence-based transtheoretical model that identifies five steps in the process of change. We’ll identify these steps and explore approaches for using this model with stuck teens. In addition, we’ll look at recycling, ambivalence, and risk avoidance – three common challenges in the change process, especially when working with stuck teens.

Finally, we’ll explore additional ideas for addressing attachment-related challenges, nurturing thoughtful choices, and holding teens capable. Our goal should be to help teens get unstuck – not force them into compliance, fulfill external mandates, or behave better. We can hope these things happen, but lasing change only occurs when teens move beyond resistance, get unstuck, and start making their own thoughtful choices.


Continuing Education (CE) Information


6 CEs


David Flack, MA, LMHC, CDP


David Flack is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and Chemical Dependency Professional (CDP), with additional credentials as a Child Mental Health Specialist and Sexual Minority Mental Health Specialist. He is certified by the American Counseling Association to provide trainings related to the organization’s current Code of Ethics.

 For twenty years, David has worked with individuals and families impacted by substance use, trauma, and mental health challenges – as a therapist, drug/alcohol counselor, and case manager. Currently in private practice, David works with teens and young adults addressing issues related to complex trauma and co-occurring disorders. Prior to entering private practice, he spent 15 years in community mental health agencies, primarily as an adolescent co-occurring disorders therapist.

In addition to his clinical work, David is an experienced trainer and workshop facilitator. He has regularly provided professional development and continuing education programs both regionally and nationally. He has also presented for non-profit agencies, county sponsored events, and over 100 times at international, national, and regional conferences -- including the American Counseling Association and Association of Experiential Education.




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