New England School of Homeopathy

Treating Teenagers with Homeopathy:

Some thoughts and tips

by Dr. Amy Rothenberg from Homeopathy Today, November 2003

One of the things I love about my work is that I come into contact with people of all ages. Treating babies, children, teens, and adults gives me the chance to use all sorts of people and doctoring skills and help individuals at every stage of life.

Teenagers, like members of any age group, come in all shapes, sizes, and constitutional types, with all manner of chief complaints. In this article, I’ll share some general thoughts about treating teens based on my experience in practice.

A word about confidentiality
Unless I believe that a teen’s behavior is truly dangerous to themselves or others, I keep all information shared in the homeopathic interview private; this includes drug/alcohol use and sexuality. If I feel that it might help the teen to talk about these issues with parents or other adults, I may give that advice or ask permission to share certain information. If I believe that the patient is in imminent danger, however, then I will share this information. I tell parents and teens about my confidentiality policy before they begin treatment so that we are clear from the start. If they cannot abide by this policy, I have turned patients away, much as I’ve hated to do so.

Parents need support
I spend a fair amount of time talking to the parents of my teen patients about parenting issues such as limit setting and the shifting, yet essential role of parents during these years. Parents worry about many things; indeed, the stakes are higher nowadays with regard to some of the dire consequences that loom, should a teen choose to engage in certain behaviors.

With fewer community supports in place for parents of teens, these worries can mount. Some parents are working more, some are newly single, the camaraderie once felt at preschool drop-off is gone; parents may no longer know who their teen is spending time with. Parenting can become a delicate dance parents do with their teens, while feeling rather isolated. The homeopath’s office can be one place parents can turn for support and encouragement.

The homeopathic consultation
Younger teens often still want to have their parents join them in the visit. Older teens who are close with parents or who need help retelling medical histories may also prefer this. I do tell them that I might like a little time alone with each of them; there may be something one party wants to say without the other’s presence.

If the teen seems interested, I often take a minute or two to explain a little about homeopathy and how I am most interested in the details of their illness. Most will not have heard homeopathic-type questions posed before, and at the first visit, unless they are a very extroverted type (needing a remedy like Sulphur, Medorrhinum, Argentum nitricum, or perhaps Phosphorus), their answers may be brief or even unhelpful. Perhaps by the second or third visit, they will be better able to articulate specifics and modalities, because by then they understand what kind of information I am interested in.

Observing a teen’s behavior
Here are some things I look for when I see teen patients in the waiting room and in my office, which inform my understanding of them:

Interaction with parents. Some teens are still very much attached to parents, sitting close by, talking with them; they may seem insecure or still quite child-like. If I see this in a 13-year-old, it doesn’t mean as much as if I see it in a 17-year-old. When I see an overly insecure older teen, remedies come to mind like Pulsatilla and Baryta carbonica. I would not prescribe on such an observation alone, but it might lead me to ask questions about independence and confidence.

Interaction with siblings. Some teens totally disengage from younger siblings, some become automatic caregivers, some use siblings as constant sources of conflict expression, some are reluctant babysitters.

Interaction with office staff. An older teenage male might be flirting with my receptionist or another patient in the office, another teen might be chatting up the UPS delivery person, while another might be letting the parent do all the interacting with other adults in the waiting room. Some older teens come in by themselves and handle intake forms, payment, etc. All of these sorts of observations give me clues into remedy types and help inform the part of my casetaking about people-to-people interactions.

What they’re reading. This can give an awful lot of information. Did they bring their own reading material? Is it science fiction, non-fiction, biography, a romance novel, or something they’re studying at school? Or did they choose a magazine from our piles, and which one? This can give me some insight into passions and interests, which can help with conversational flow during the interview.

What they’re wearing. Lots of big clues here! Are they dressed creatively, provocatively, messily, grungily? Or do they seem to be dressed as their parents want them to be? Are they conscientious about small things or carefree? Is it all black or see-through and strapless? How high are the shoes? Are they dressed appropriately for the weather? Those teens who attend to every detail call to mind remedies like Natrum muriaticum, Thuja, Nux vomica and Carsinosin among others. This would not be sufficient information upon which to base a prescription, of course, and each remedy type is conscientious for different reasons, but such observations help guide my thinking and can give me information that dialogue may not always provide.

What they’re listening to. With the advent of personal music devices, I may have a chance to see what sort of music they enjoy listening to—and at what volume. Do they sing along, thump their hands, dance in their seat, close their eyes, or constantly switch stations or songs?

What else they’re doing. I also notice what else they might be doing in the office—drawing, raiding the lollipop container, sleeping, chewing gum, eating candy, arguing with their parents, self-grooming. If they are eating or drinking, I pay attention to what it is and whether they are doing so surreptitiously or with gusto, neatly or messily, sharing or in private. I recall one gal who was plucking her eyebrows in my waiting room. I found this very strange. She was brought in for chronic diarrhea. In the end, she responded well to Sulphur. I suppose, she really did not care what people thought about her public grooming!

Noticing physical appearance
Here are some other things related to the teen’s physical appearance that I am aware of and which may inform my casetaking questions:

Posture. Posture says a lot about physical strength, basic anatomy, and self-esteem. Attitude can also be reflected in posture and gait.

Skin. I look at the skin—is it smooth and baby like? Is there acne? Is there facial hair? Are they shaving?

Hair. I check out the hair—something within many teens’ control and often used as a form of self-expression and style. This includes the amount of hair (zero to a lot), the shape and style, the various colors, and whether it is groomed at all. I had an older male teen patient with a shaved head and tattoos along his neck, much to his mother’s horror. His problem was asthma; he did well with Medorrhinum, and the tattoo remains!

Makeup. I look for makeup. What kind and how much? Is it applied skillfully or just slapped on? Does it match the rest of the appearance?

Piercings. I look for piercings, which have become more and more popular. It is not unusual now for me to see pierced noses, navels, eyebrows, and tongues, as well as many holes on all parts of the ear in teens of any age. As an aside, I have had a number of patients with naval piercings who develop vague but constant abdominal pain that improves when they remove the jewelry.

Tattoos. I have seen teens with tattoos on the breast, buttock, ankle, back, wrist, arm, neck, and shoulder. Some do it to rebel, others to express themselves; some succumb to peer pressure while sober or under the influence.

Never act surprised
I have a policy in the office: I never act shocked at anything and I always ask about what I see. When did you do that? Did it hurt? Why did you do it? Would you do it again? That way I can get a sense of whether the teen has regrets or whether that choice is still reflecting something important to them.

So for instance, if a teen is dressed in many layers of clothing during warm weather, I ask whether they are chilly, are covering up, or just like to be cozy. I don’t take anything at face value. Every symptom, every outward manifestation of the person is context dependent; you have to understand the why just as much as you have to understand the face value. There is almost no face value without the context.

Attitude and the practitioner’s feelings
A teen’s attitude can be expressed by a whole range of things, many of which have already been mentioned. It may reflect how they feel about being in the office that day (e.g., what they had to miss in order to be there) or it may be a more general expression of their underlying attitudes about life.

Another big clue to their attitude has to do with how I feel about the patient. Some patients I feel sorry for, some I feel annoyed by, some I “connect” with, some I don’t. I do not prescribe based solely on my own feelings about the patient, but neither do I ignore them. I use any information I perceive via observation or by my kinesthetic experience to inform my questions.

Defiant teens
Everyone goes through a tremendous transition from childhood to teenager—for some it is more difficult than others. From a homeopathic point of view, some kids stay the same remedy type, going from a sweet Pulsatilla kid to a sweet Pulsatilla teenager, no doubt becoming a lovely Pulsatilla adult. Others experience the adolescent years as if a huge volcano is erupting inside and this manifests on many levels; they go through various remedy types within a few years. Some of these patients seem unrecognizable to their parents, friends, relatives, and homeopath!

I remember the first time I had this experience. I had treated a young girl for chronic earaches when she was seven to eight years old, and she had done very well on Calcarea carbonica, then Sulphur over the course of two years. I had not seen her for some time, when at the age of 14 she was brought in by her concerned mother for suicidal depression. When I went out to greet her (and mind you, she had been a ruddy, open-faced girl with a sunny disposition), I was met by a girl dressed entirely in black, including black nail polish, black eyeliner, and black lipstick. She was wearing a black t-shirt, ripped into shreds until just below the breast, and her hip-hugger pants were millimeters above her pubic hair. Her hair was greasy and completely covering her face, that is, the part that wasn’t teased up into a sort of dread-locked beehive. She wore six-inch black platform boots and towered over me as she walked (skulked) into my office.

I was overwhelmed. Where had that sweet little girl gone? Where was all that openness and love of life? I had to regroup quickly. Thankfully, she was tremendously helped with the remedy Medorrhinum and then Aurum metallicum and is now a graceful, worldly, college alumni.

Most teens that I have treated with these kinds of problems have come from families where there has been tremendous family stress such as divorce, death of a parent, parental affairs, a move to a new home during key years of friendships and courting, or serious financial problems. Of course, a history of depression or drug and alcohol abuse in the parents can also be a contributing factor. Even though parents may have been sober for many years, their children are more at risk for the same behaviors, much to the parents’ deep regret.
Occasionally I see a teen like this in which none of the above family problems seem to be an issue. This always leads me to the statement: we do our best as parents and sad to say, there are no guarantees.

That teenagers are expressing anger, rage, inappropriate behaviors, and downright acts of violence is not new. I truly believe, however, that the media is not helping in these situations, but rather tends to create a culture that is numb to acts of violence and to the impact of such movies, television shows, and advertisements—of which most Americans consume a steady diet.

For me, the most difficult patients are the ones who seem shut off from everything; I have to find some way in for these kids, especially if they really don’t want to be there and are getting into trouble at home and at school.

Sometimes I begin by bringing them back into my pharmacy and showing them all of my “drugs.” Some can relate. I try to loosen things up by talking about anything I know they may have some interest in or had some interest in (tipped off by parents). I try to name what I’m feeling because they’re probably feeling it too, for example, “It’s really a bummer to have to be here, isn’t it?” or “Let’s try to do this quickly so you can get back to whatever it is you’d rather be doing.”

Hope for the future
I have also had the immeasurable pleasure of treating teens who, though they may have certain physical ailments or psychological issues, have tremendous creativity and energy, compassion and vision, who give me every hope that the world is moving in the right direction. With successful homeopathic treatment, I am heartened to see passions ignited, social skills honed, and improved ability to synthesize information and experiences toward positive ends. I take a kind of vicarious pride in their strong curiosity about the world and their brave experiences and accomplishments, large and small.

It is not different treating teenagers, although it sometimes requires a bit more sleuthing and the willingness to see the patient as a full person with their own interests, passions, personalities, and quirks—maybe not quite what the parent had in mind. As homeopaths, we need to put the things we observe in proper context and perspective with the rest of the case, and prescribe from there. Enjoy! These are the future adults of your practice and our world!