Roughly 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. Every day, families split up and go in different directions, with most blending and becoming new families. Working as a marriage and family therapist, I see clients come in with a variety of issues, ranging from mental health impairment, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, to victimization from bullying, abuse, trauma, and navigating through major life changes.
A high percentage of adolescents and their families are dealing with issues related to divorce and assimilation into their new blended families. Warning signs that a teen may be struggling with these changes are depression, prolonged mood swings, defiance, withdrawal, excessive worry or anxiety, lying, skipping school, or any major shift in their regular routine. Scheduling therapy, whether it’s individual or includes the whole family, is one of the most important things a parent can do.
Adolescents need to be able to process what they’ve been through. Therapy can help them feel safe so they can begin expressing feelings such as confusion, sadness, and loss. They can be extremely angry at their parents, which can bring up feelings of guilt. Therapy can normalize these feelings and help them learn to process their emotions. It can also aid in the development of positive coping skills so they can better adapt to change, leading to a better quality of life.
Another aspect is what happens after a divorce, when new families are created through blending. Every family member begins to take on different roles and responsibilities, and new expectations are placed on the blended family. These changes can increase anxiety levels and stress, which can cause an escalated level of conflict. Family therapy can help with these tough transitions as family members are brought together to talk to each other about their expectations. It’s a place where new parameters can be set, expectations can be aired, and issues can be worked through together in a safe environment.
In session, communication patterns are identified, and family members are taught how to develop both their listening and communication skills. Family therapy also allows the members an opportunity to express their thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Whether the teen is dealing with family situations, academic stressors, social challenges, or substance abuse, during family therapy, members become part of the decision-making process. It’s a magical thing to witness members of a family begin to effectively communicate with each other, when previous interactions would end in yelling and tears.
I’ve witnessed some heartbreaking situations as a direct result of divorce, and I’ve also been fortunate enough to be a part of the growth made by individuals and their new family unit. Hope needs to be reinstated so people can heal and move forward. Therapy, whether it’s with the individual or the entire family, has the power to do this.
Tanya Wardner is a counselor at ReVISION Counseling