Emerging adults, between 18-24 yo, have become one of the most vulnerable populations to mental health struggles. My 18yo son came home from classes and said he was suppose to ask me what one thing I thought was necessary to have when leaving high school. I told him, “resilience”. He was expecting something more along the lines of good study habits, the ability to communicate well, time management. However, I have worked with young adults for over 25 years and have watched as their involvement in activities has increased, their access to college level courses has broadened, and the expectations our schools have put on them has exploded. In order for families to support all of this, we have tried to take the burden of suffering away from them so they can be “successful”. While teens and young adults have relished in their opportunities, they have floundered in their use of coping skills, often turning to alcohol, drugs, or sex just to get some relief from all they carry on their shoulders.
As a therapist, you may be seeing an influx of emerging adult clients. They may be gifted yet not showing up for class. They may have had the leads in high school plays but now spend their evenings alone, playing video games. Maybe they have always struggled with anxiety or depression but now they feel so overwhelmed with the responsibilities of young adulthood that they can’t get out of bed.
How can you help? Anne Marie Albano, Ph.D. and others are paying attention and developing programs to help emerging adults develop the skills they need to be independent, in other words: resilience. We have found that it is important to treat multiple systems with emerging adults. You will need to work individually with these clients using good CBT strategies including identifying what they value by making a list of things they would like to be doing, now and in the future. You will need to work with their peers so they develop healthy, age appropriate relationships and social activities. Peers will also expose them to experiences that will help them develop independence. Finally, you will have to work with the parents to teach them how to allow their children to struggle while gently guiding them toward the skills they need to get to the other side.
Treating emerging adults using cognitive behavioral therapy and systems therapy can be extremely satisfying. There is nothing better than watching your clients develop the confidence to navigate their way in the world.