The Thriving Adolescent
(Louise Hayes and Joseph Ciarrochi)
This is a version of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy designed specifically for adolescents that is grounded in an understanding of the developmental stages of childhood and adolescence. This programme is based on the DNA-V model, with DNA standing for ‘Discoverer,’ ‘Noticer,’ and ‘Advisor.’ The V stands for Vitality. The idea is that as young people learn how to build their DNA skills, they start to experience more vitality in their life. The ‘Noticer’ and ‘Advisor’ are based on the mindfulness practices of learning how to simply observe feelings in our bodies as they arise, and observing thoughts as they arise, without any attachment to them. The name ‘Advisor’ is used because the young people learn that the thoughts they have are not necessarily the literal truth and that they can choose to follow these thoughts or simply let them go and reconnect with the present moment; they learn to differentiate between helpful and unhelpful thoughts i.e. good advice and bad advice. The advice is considered helpful if it brings them more vitality in their lives, and unhelpful if it reduces their sense of vitality. Young people are often still figuring out what their values are so their learning is based on connecting with experiences that make them feel intrinsically good; values are often developed from here. The Discoverer pertains to the young person trying new things, despite thoughts or feelings that might otherwise prevent them from doing so, and discovering for themselves if it was an action that brought more vitality into their lives or not. Enhanced ‘Noticer’ skills also relate to being able to connect to the world around us at any given moment by using our five senses. This is a skill that can help young people to get out of their minds if they are feeling trapped by thoughts, as well as to remain grounded despite whatever emotions they may be feeling; noticing the breath is also part of this practice.
So often as a parent, we simply react automatically to our children’s behaviour yet it does not always align with who we want to be as parents. In this workshop, we begin by determining our ‘Valued Direction’ as a parent and then we look at the obstacles that get in the way of this i.e. the things that trigger our automatic reactions and lead us away from our ‘Valued Direction’. We learn about the neuroscience behind this e.g. ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’ and then learn how to use ‘mental rehearsal’ to rewire the brain and consciously choose how to respond to triggers that align more closely with our Valued Direction. This includes some mindfulness practice, as the more awareness we have of the thoughts and feelings that arise that lead to our automatic behaviour, the more able we are to slow down and respond instead of simply reacting. We also learn some ways that we can respond, with a particular focus on emotional coaching strategies, namely using a model called P.A.C.E. (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy). This enables us to support our children through their emotions by accepting whatever they are feeling (bearing in mind that this does not mean accepting their behaviour) and being curious with them about why they might be feeling this way, as well as communicating empathy for what they are feeling. This helps children to feel heard and understood which in turn helps them learn how to process their emotions better. We also look at some of the neuroscience behind this too based on ‘whole-brain integration’ (Dan Siegal). This is one of the most powerful gifts we can give our children, as they will gain a greater understanding of themselves because there is often a more vulnerable emotion beneath the expressed emotion and being able to connect with this is a skill that will serve them well throughout their lives. We also look at Relationship Repair, as there are always going to be moments when we stray from our Valued Direction and revert back to our old automatic behaviour but these moments can create the opportunity for beautiful connection to occur through mutual empathy and understanding. We also promote the importance of self-compassion and self-care.