May 2012

In Full Bloom - Counseling Helps Adolescents Blossom From Within

Author: David Tobias

Myra Gasser and Joy Lauerer certainly don’t look like farmers. But the two describe themselves as seed planters, gardeners, waterers, cultivators and nurturers when it comes to issues and challenges of adolescents and their parents. As Bloom Within Counseling, Gasser, the firm’s owner and a licensed counselor, and Lauerer, a psychiatric nurse practitioner and full-time professor of nursing at USCB who joins forces with Gasser two days a week, gently tend a field of youngsters with emotional, psychological and sometimes psychiatric needs.

It’s not an exclusive specialty—Bloom Within also provides counseling care to individuals, couples and families—but these days addressing the needs of adolescents in particular seems to be a growth industry and priority.

Theirs is a holistic approach with special emphasis on staying positive, acknowledging a spiritual component, offering yoga teaching and resorting to medication when necessary. They specialize in a process that engenders trust, develops a therapeutic relationship and produces results that benefit both adolescents and their parents.

Anyone who’s ever been a parent—or a child—knows how difficult adolescence can be. When you’re the child, teenager or young adult, trying to manage the angst is just so darn hard, because everything seems to be happening all at once (some sage once said that the reason God invented time was so everything didn’t happen all at once). As a kid, trying to understand physical and emotional changes, balancing a full plate of home, school and extracurricular demands, you just don’t have the skills or experience to deal.

As parents, it’s like pain—difficult in the moment, but hard to remember—and with some distance, it doesn’t feel so bad. But if you’re a responsible parent, while it isn’t even your pain, you sense when something is wrong, and you wonder when it’s time to intervene. Coping with all of it, from every angle, sometimes takes professional help.

The professional and personal experience of Gasser and Lauerer is sort of the perfect yin and yang. Gasser, as the lead therapist, mixes her experience as an elementary school teacher and counselor with her background as a therapist at an inpatient treatment facility for adolescent girls and her certification as a yoga instructor to offer a colorful and complete palette of expertise. Lauerer, as nurse practitioner, can write prescriptions for complete evaluations to see if there’s perhaps a chemical imbalance or if medication might help to stabilize a situation before talk therapy can be applied.

Needs addressed by Bloom Within include ADHD, eating disorders, teen substance abuse, grief and loss, stress management, personality disorders, sexual abuse and more. It’s a wide range of needs with a wide range of services that are holistic and tailored to each client. The delicacy of some situations demands diplomacy, grace and patience under pressure. Both Gasser and Lauerer have all that, operating out of a peaceful suite on the south end of Hilton Head Island with calming views of live oaks draped in Spanish moss.

“The most important thing in a therapeutic, confidential relationship is that the client feels comfortable with you,” Gasser said. “The most critical thing is trust. That’s why sometimes I get my yoga mat out from behind the chair, pick out some meditative music and say now just close your eyes, it’s going to be okay. I promise.”

It’s difficult to promise “okay” when the issues that confront young people these days are so complex. Gasser says that times have changed and Lauerer concurs.

“This is a totally different time to be an adolescent,” Lauerer said. “I think the culture has changed completely. There’s really early sexualization, and there’s a push for these kids to be technology driven. They can get a song in a minute, whereas we had to save money to buy it. They can get anything at the touch of their phone, so there’s not a lot of delayed gratification. We see a lot of kids who are just used to getting everything now.”

When all that takes the form of uncomfortable or inappropriate behavior in school, in public or at home, those are warning signs that indicate it may be time to consider Bloom Within Counseling. Signs may include learning or attention problems, episodes of sadness, social withdrawal or isolation, mood swings, signs of alcohol or drug abuse, a significant drop in grades or any of a dozen other indicators.

Scheduling an assessment is the first step in making progress toward resolution, according to Gasser, and the actual process of the assessment and review of its findings often may be important in and of itself.

“I believe in the power of intention,” Gasser said. “I think if you bring people in, calm them down and talk about what’s right with them, getting focus off some of the negatives, you can start to lift them up. I like to focus on the strengths.”

Success in Bloom Within’s business takes the form of what Gasser calls “coping skills” for both parents and their kids, but it’s most important, she says, for adolescents. “I want to be able to teach them things I wish I’d known at their age,” Gasser said. “We can give them coping skills they can use for the rest of their life that can impact and change their life. Self-talk is a lot of what we do—cognitive therapy. The approach is to provide skills so you can self-manage and become more self-aware.”

Lauerer says a critical piece of that is to help kids to slow down. “They are racing and running so fast it’s almost unconscious, and when you ask them their feelings, a lot of kids can’t tell you,” she said. “We want to help them build their autonomy and self-esteem—help them get quiet and get centered.”

In most instances it’s not a quick fix, but it’s not necessarily therapy for a lifetime either. “Some people may shy away from care because they think it’s going to be a long process,” Lauerer said. “I think, realistically, if you come up with the right diagnosis and the right treatment plan that’s efficient and accurate, we can make rapid progress.”

Working with adolescents is of particular interest to both Gasser and Lauerer since both are parents of 16- soon to be 17-year-old girls. Their awareness of issues they see every day (sometimes over a bowl of cereal at midnight) is professional and frequently very personal. Gasser said she finds working with adolescents most gratifying because they’re resilient and because “one person validating that child can make a difference.”

That difference can take the form of personalities flourishing and growing like healthy flowers and plants in a properly tended garden—blooming from within, if you will.

Bloom Within Counseling is located at Southern Lifestyle Center, 7 Office Way, Suite 207, on Hilton Head Island. For more information, call (843) 422-2041 or visit bloomwithincounseling.com.

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