Clients in their late teens and early twenties increasingly report a sense of paralysis brought about by not knowing their passions. Without such insight, they believe, it is difficult or impossible to move forward in their lives.
Behavior change that is consistent with personal values is the purpose of psychotherapy. As teens begin to identify what’s important to them and take steps to behave in ways that move toward those things, they will experience internal events that may be intense or challenging. These are things they’ve spent energy avoiding in the past, which have in turn steered them further away from their values.
Values clarification is a critical part of any psychotherapy session. It may be more challenging for some teens than others, to get in touch with what matters to them. For those who struggle, clinical psychologist Sheri Turrell, PhD, and social worker Mary Bell, MSW, suggest a number of options.
In general, praising talents can lead to two problems. First, it can make us cling to the idea of being talented. We want to be aware of how talented we are all the time, and we become afraid of doing anything that might make us think negatively about ourselves. We might even avoid challenging situations. But when we don’t challenge ourselves, we don’t grow.
It isn’t surprising that we’re under the illusion that we own our time. People tend to talk about the future as if it’s a physical thing, something promised to us. Adults tell young people that what they’re doing in the present is simply preparation for an outstanding future career. Studying helps them get into the right university, volunteer work looks good on a résumé, and extracurricular activities will show a future employer that they’re well-rounded.
One of the most devastating beliefs young people can have is that nothing they do will improve their life; this is sometimes referred to as learned helplessness (Maier & Seligman, 1976). The term comes from rather cruel animal studies (before the days of rigorous ethics reviews) that involved shocking dogs and then either giving them a way to avoid the shock by pressing a lever, or removing all means of avoiding the shock. The dogs in the latter group eventually gave up trying to escape the shock.