"Developmental Dementia": The Stage of Adolescence
Developmental Dementia: The Stage of Adolescence
L.T. Force, Ph.D.
As I tell my students, if you decide to explore the opportunity of engaging in psychotherapy and you ask the Therapist about their training, interest and/or area of specialty - and they say: “Not an issue….I handle everything’ - my recommendation is to run”. Why? Because no one can handle everything. In fact, if a Practitioner presents themselves as equipped and able to help and address all issues and patterns across the lifespan - they are doing a disservice to you, themselves and the art and practice of psychotherapy. You see, it can make sense to have a broad background that covers the history and systems of psychological theory and practice - however, it also makes sense to have: “areas of specialization”. Why, because when mastering certain areas of life-stages….coupled with mastering certain dimensions / issues / concerns within those life-stages - you can be of a greater benefit to the clients you serve and the students you teach.
For me, early in my training - I had always envisioned the: “Developmental Path” would be my journey - looking at issues from across the life perspective. As I continued my studies and practice - I claimed a presence in Adult Development - with a focus on the latter part of life. My interests, studies and practice focus on: caregiving and family systems, addictions and recovery in later life, Alzheimer’s disease, Intellectual Disabilities and End-of-Life Care. These are the areas where I have developed a sense of familiarity and expertise in. These are the
areas of the lifespan - where I have an interest and training in. In fact, if someone asked me about treating them or a family member regarding childhood issues or adolescent development - “I would Thank them” and then I would refer them to someone who has an expertise in those areas. Why, because I don’t have an interest, training or experience in those stages of development, therefore it makes sense on a practical and ethical level to refer - and not to act as though I can be of significant assistance. (As we all know, there are individuals in our helping field that provide the words and/or aurora signifying competence, skill and training that they not necessarily hold.) The other reason for a referral, with specific focus on adolescence - is not only do I not have interest, training and expertise in working with that developmental stage - but I am also taken by the: “magical thinking” that accompanies: “adolescent thought patterns”.
Years ago, I was working with a married couple in family counseling. They were experiencing conflict within their own interpersonal exchanges - but also difficulty within the family system (they had two daughters and an in-law living with them). In one session, they brought their 14-year old daughter. I will never forget how I felt in witnessing and being part of the exchange between the daughter and her parents - when she loudly and clearly stated to the Parents:
“If you both don’t like the way I am living....get me my own apartment!”
And there I sat, highly trained in psychological techniques and intervention skills....but more importantly…. there I sat as a Parent of now - 2 adult children - thinking: “You have got to be kidding me!” To me, her actions were such a violation - to the way I think and do business as a Practitioner - but more so - to me as a Parent. I still remember sitting there and thinking once again: “You have got to be kidding me - you are 14 years old - what Parent is going to underwrite and support you in your own apartment - when they are so against the way you are behaving and acting? It’s not going to happen”. I do remember in attempting to: “reality-base” everyone in the session with a theme of common sense and good judgment - as she continued to tantrum in front of her Parents with these demands.
That clinical episode, and others along the way - coupled with stories from friends and my own personal experience in helping to raise adolescent children - brought me to the realization that: “parts of adolescent thinking resembles the cognitive patterns associated with dementia. For me, the patterns of adolescent thinking, and "Brain Function", are very similar with the patterns of dementia, i.e., fragmented, cloudy, not clear or guided by insight and good judgment”.
Dementia is a collective term used to describe various symptoms of cognitive decline. Here are some common characteristics of dementia:
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks
4. Confusion with time or place
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
8. Decreased or poor judgment
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
10. Changes in mood and personality
Sure sounds similar to components of adolescent thinking....a fragmented and non-ordered or unorganized process (like the images in the picture above). In fact, "Developmental Dementia" can be defined as: "not having the cognitive ability to process the obvious....not because there is a loss of cognitive functioning....but rather because crystallized cognitive functioning hasn't yet arrived or developed in adolescence cognitive functioning".
So, the question: “Is the Stage of Adolescent Thinking a: “Developmental Dementia”?
For me, based upon experience and observation - the answer is: "Yes!" For my friends, who are raising or have raised adolescents....their answer is a resounding:"Yes!!!!" From the perspective of Adolescents.... just ask them what they think about this question - they will tell you loud and clear:
"we don’t know what you are talking about....why are you bothering us with these types of questions - and Oh, by the way…. when are you going to start paying rent on my new apartment?Just asking….".