Please Note: Only COVID-19 vaccinated adults and children over 5 can attend the Clinic.

Understanding Adolescents Inside and Out

Family therapists are familiar with worried parents presenting a young person as the ‘problem’. They may be highly anxious, depressed and expressing suicidal thoughts or at bitter war with their parents. This can be challenging and highly charged work which requires practitioners to understand ‘inside’ individual issues and ‘outside’ broader social and relational factors that contribute to the challenges of this life stage. 

The Bower(method) Metraframes 

Bower(method) comprises four metaframes through which to explore, understand and intervene in any presenting problem. Understanding the issues presented at this life stage requires consideration of space, the ‘inside’ brain functioning of the young person and the ‘outside’ socio-relational world.  

Space – Inside 

Adolescence as a developmental and temporal life phase refers to a transitional time between childhood and adulthood which is marked by the onset of puberty at about 10-12 years old. It is a period of skills development and risk taking when the brain is wired to be hypersensitive to the environment as the young person learns to be an adult. Such attentiveness brings with it greater responsiveness to stress and emotional reactivity as the world impacts more forcefully. 


Laurence Steinberg, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Temple University in Philadelphia, USA, refers to adolescence as ‘both a cultural and biological phenomenon’,  which ‘begins in biology and ends in culture’ when the young person transitions to their society’s conventional roles. Emily Emmott, a biological anthropologist contrasts the passage for young people in hunter-gatherer societies with those in contemporary western society. In the former the emphasis is not on greater freedom but rather a time of replicating adult activities, skill development, risk taking and training. In the contemporary western world, the role is much more ambiguous with the young person neither child nor adult. This lack of clarity and the question ‘Who do I want to be’?’ and What do I want to Do? is experienced as much more stressful. Additionally, the responsibility for supporting young people differs across cultures. Parents in the western context find themselves primarily responsible and parenting intensified as compared to other societies where this is a collective activity.  

In Conclusion 

Understanding the spatial dimensions of the issues that bring young people into therapy is helpful to them, their parents, and the practitioner. Despite its challenges this remarkable life phase is also the time when the emerging generation has the courage, flexibility, and audacity to address the most difficult challenges that previous generations have created. 


Material for this Directors Note was drawn from 

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