I have a natural proclivity towards working with 16-year-olds, which stems, in part, from my years as a lecturer in further education, as well as perhaps, my own experience as a confused and misunderstood 16-year-old. It’s the age group I find most rewarding to work with and the one I think is most maligned. 

Teenagers are frequently labelled as drama queens, attention seekers, angsty or hormonal. Ordinary expressions of emotion are pathologised as depressive, anxious, obsessional or avoidant. Gender, sex and relationship statuses are dismissed as just a phase. Adolescents might well be dramatic and hormonal, anxious or sad and preoccupied with sex, but reducing these developmental feelings and behaviours to labels shuts down thinking. Every behaviour is a communication, and my role as their therapist, is to work out with them what it is they are trying to say. 

Given my accidental niche, it made sense to me to dedicate a book to 16-year-olds. Stop F*cking Nodding is essentially a collection of short stories about fictional 16-year-olds in therapy. The themes are real, but the characters took on a life of their own. I loved getting to know them as I developed their stories, just as I love getting to know 16-year-olds in real-life therapy. I share the process of how I make sense of their presentations with reference to psychodynamic theory; but hopefully I’ve done that in a way that’s accessible, no matter what your professional orientation, or even if you’re not trained as a psychotherapist or counsellor at all. I wanted to tell it like it is. I want people to know what 16-year-olds are really like, what they really think and feel, what they’re really getting up to, what brings them to therapy, what they talk about and how I (and you) can help them to make sense of that.

Themes of sex run through many of the stories I share, reflecting the reality that sex is a significant theme for 16-year-olds and usually presents in some form or other in their therapy. There’s a chapter about a boy who’s been accused of sexual assault; one about a girl with low self-worth, who sleeps around; another about a young person grappling with their gender identity and what that means for them in terms of sexual pleasure and one about a boy with a compulsive sexual fetish. I’m comfortable talking about sex with young people and so they’re comfortable talking about it with me. I also talk (and write) about self-injury and suicidal ideation, perfectionism and messing up, gangs and drugs. All the realities of being 16 and working it out in therapy are laid bare, and I hope that everyone who reads the book will see, hear and take a 16-year-old more seriously as a result.

Read an edited extract in Noticing being noticed, Therapy Today

Jeanine's book is available from PCCS Books