Sandra & Ethan White

Adolescent program helps troubled teens cope, connect

From the day she took her little boy out of a verbally-abusive home, Sandra White struggled with raising her son. At first, there were tears. Why didn’t his daddy love him? Then he closed up, stuffing his emotions inside. Breakdowns and panic attacks marked his early grade-school years. And then the anger arose.

“I really didn’t know what to do any more,” says Sandra, a single mom with no family nearby for support. Her son was fighting with bullies at school, and his principal was calling with news of suspension. “I’ve got to work, and my son’s getting in trouble. And he was just really depressed. I was at the end of my rope.”

But then her son’s school administrators suggested the Adolescent Behavioral Health Program at The Medical Center of Aurora, and for the first time in eight years, Sandra and Ethan feel less alone. The program, launched in July 2016 and mirrored after two other successful TMCA
programs catered toward adults and seniors, helps steer kids ages 11 to 17 down a better path.

“We are really trying to help kids learn to manage all aspects of life,” says Jeff Johnson, the program’s director of outpatient services. Coping with teenage emotions and issues is always hard, especially when compounded by a trying childhood or a mental-health issue. “And today, with social media and cyber-bulling, there are so many other triggers for them going on now,” he says.

The physician-led program involves a diverse team of experts - from music therapists and licensed social workers to behavioral therapists and mental health counselors - who use evidence-based therapies to develop individualized plans for teens. Families, working with HealthONE experts, can consider in-patient and out-patient options.

Ethan, whose mom struggled with getting him to go to school, began a two-week inpatient program at TMCA and was hooked. “I had no problem getting him up to go to group,” Sandra says. “He always looked forward to it.”

Now, Ethan’s back in school and taking part in TMCA’s after-school out-patient option. Individual and parent-involved sessions are part of the
program, but therapist-led group therapy makes up its core. Sandra believes those peer-supportive talks are key to Ethan’s success. “I think he’s seeing that other kids have similar issues, and he’s connecting with them.”

Recreation time, class time, and skill-building practices focused on teaching teens ways to handle everyday issues round out the program, which uses a holistic approach focused on physical and emotional health. “Our goal is to fill up each participant’s toolbox with as many skills,
strategies and techniques as we can so that when life throws them a curveball, they can manage it,” Johnson says.

Sandra says she can already see a difference in Ethan. “It’s really helping him with learning how to cope. He doesn’t get as angry as fast. He’s becoming a different kid.” For both of them, the program came just in time, she says. “I did not know what to do anymore. It’s just me and my son. It pretty much provided me a Plan B, and he’s making a connection with other kids and realizing he’s not alone.”