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In the last section, we discussed four parenting skills for setting limits that can help a teen in a suicidal crisis. These four skills are develop clear rules, eliminate vagueness, be direct, and develop a joint language.
In this section, we will discuss four techniques available to parents to help foster independence in a teen undergoing a depressive or suicidal crisis. These four techniques are providing choices, problem solving, listening techniques, and active interest.
As you are well aware, a teen in a suicidal crisis may feel incapable of handling and solving problems. By providing a teenager with choices, and by teaching self reliance, a parent can promote independence in the teenager. By encouraging feelings of competence and self-reliance, a teen will feel more capable of solving their own problems when in crisis, which in turn may increase the teens’ ability to perceive options for crisis resolution beyond suicidal behavior.
4 Techniques to Foster Independence
I explain to parents that teenagers need to be allowed to make choices and to learn from the consequences of their choices. Of course, dangerous situations are exceptions, as in the case of escalating depression or suicidal behavior. But in cases of clothing selection, homework routines, or bedtimes, it is often beneficial for parents to provide a free choice, or a list of options, to a teenager and allow her or him to learn how their own decisions can improve or detract from their situation.
♦ Technique #2 - Teaching Problem Solving
Within the home, parents can instill this skill easily by being a model for the teen and by guiding the teen solving a problem on his or her own. I provide the following 5-step problem solving technique to the parents of teenagers in a suicidal crisis to serve as a model for problem-solving conversations.
♦ Technique #3 - Practicing Listening Techniques
In explaining active listening, I explain to parents that research estimates that nonverbal behavior accounts for 55% of the communication process. The vocal tone and quality account for 38%, and the actual words used account for only 7% of the communication process. I feel it is vitally important for parents to learn to pay attention to the teen’s nonverbal behavior during the listening process. A good joint technique for parent and teen working together is to have the parent listen to the teen for two to five minutes, making an effort not to interpret, become defensive, or angry while the teen is talking.
At the end of the set time, the parent repeats back as much as possible of what the child has said, using the teen client’s words and including observations of the teen’s nonverbal communication. The teen client then indicates whether the parent has gotten it right, or if something has been left out. Then the teen client and parent switch roles.
♦ Technique #4 - Take an Active Interest
Susan, 16, came home from a long-anticipated date looking obviously upset. Her mother, Diana, met Susan at the door and stated, "What’s the matter? What happened? Did you two have a fight? Are you OK? Why are you so upset? What did David do?" Susan responded by stating, "Nothing happened. I’m fine," and continued to use this response to all of Diana’s questions. An active interest conversation follows a different track. After I practiced active interest conversations with Diana, Diana reported the following later conversation between her and Susan following another date.
Susan again came home looking upset, and Diana stated. "Hi Susan. Gee hon, it doesn’t look like you had a good time at the party." Susan stated, "Oh, it was ok." Rather than asking probing questions, Diana showed interest by asking, "Could have been a little more fun, huh?" Susan responded to this invitation to talk openly by stating, "I’ll say. David was a real jerk. He acted like I wasn’t even there all night." "It’s not fun being ignored." "Yeah. All the other guys seem to pay attention to me." "Sounds like everyone but the one important to you paid attention to you."
Think of your Diana. Would practicing active interest in your next session help her or him improve communication and foster independence in a teen client undergoing a suicidal crisis?
In this section, we have discussed four techniques available to parents to help foster independence in a teen undergoing a depressive or suicidal crisis. These four techniques are providing choices, problem solving, listening techniques, and active interest.
In the next section, we will discuss guidelines for parents regarding intervention during a teen’s suicidal crisis in four situations. These four situations are, an emergency life threatening attempt, a non-emergency life-threatening attempt, possible suicide, and a low-risk situation.