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  • Writer's pictureAlexa von Oertzen, LMFT

Decreasing Anxiety in Teens Using Narrative Therapy

One of the most transformative moments in the life of a teen is when they realize that inside them, they already have all the strength and ability necessary to solve their own problems. That realization gives them such a sense of empowerment that it immediately elevates their self-esteem and sense of well-being.

One way to help them see they have all of the strengths and resources inside of them, is to separate their problem from themselves. In Narrative Therapy, we call this “externalizing the problem”, where the problem is the problem and the person is not the problem. Once the teen realizes they are not the problem, they can use their strengths and expertise to deal with the determined issue bothering them, be it anxiety, anger, or negative thoughts. 

It can be very helpful to use images and metaphors to depict the presenting problem. Kids and Teens have a wonderful ability to use their imagination and really look at “anger” or “anxiety” as an actual independent entity that comes to pester them. 

We can take it a step further by helping the teen give the problem a name, making it even more removed from themselves. In this way, “anger” becomes the character, “Stripe” (from the Gremlins), and anxiety becomes “Boog” (from the movie Open Season), who like to come “visit” and many times attempt to control teens.

In counseling, problems that can be resolved in this way are numerous, from anger, performance anxiety, poor self-esteem, social anxiety, negative thoughts, depression, and bad habits.

In today’s cyber world, where avatars and virtual creatures are so personified and viewed with such importance, there is an ease for teens to envision this externalized entity and furthermore, communicate with it. Working with kids and teens, we give meaning to these problems and help them negotiate the best way to help them make peace with themselves despite their problematic parts.

As an illustration, I had one teen make friends with “anxiety”, because she realized that anxiety was there to warn her about danger. In that session, clinician and teen noticed how “Boog” convinced her to feel negatively and do things that weren’t useful. The teen then gave meaning to what “Boog” was trying to do, understood how and what it thought, and realized where it was wrong or weak. She realized that unlike him, she is strong and caring and that she could make “Boog” feel better by hugging him and making him safe, consequently healing them both. In this way, she completely eliminated her anxiety about that situation. When I asked her in the next session how her anxiety was, she just said, “Oh Boog? He only visits sometimes and now I know how to calm him down.”

The key to dissolving the heart of the problem is a technique called “deconstructing the problem”. Since the teen is the expert in their own life, deconstructing the problem down to its most detailed meaning helps create the best solution for that specific core issue. 

This is a non-judgmental exploration of the problem and how it relates to the many other parts of the teen’s life. The teen realizes that on one hand they have a fearful part, but on the other hand they also have strong and bold parts. 

Therapy can help teens learn how to use its strong and resourceful parts to help whatever parts were creating pain.  This creates an opportunity for children and teens to know themselves in a more positive light, increase their confidence, and promote real and lasting healthy changes in their lives.

If you want to learn more about how to invite lasting changes into your teen’s life, contact Alexa von Oertzen, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at 954-391-5305

Alexa sees teens and families at the beautiful, serene counseling offices at Bayview Therapy in Fort Lauderdale or through a secure online counseling portal. Call today for your free consultation. 


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