Counseling center in Red Bank will offer teen anxiety group

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RED BANK – A counseling center in Red Bank is seeking to “normalize the experience of stress” among adolescents who may find it difficult to cope with anxiety.

“School is like the wild, or the movie ‘Mean Girls.’ If (teenagers) show a little bit of weakness, fear or anxiety, you are going to get eaten alive,” said Kristy Mathews, mental health counselor at the New Jersey Center for the Healing Arts.

According to the organization’s website, “It is the mission of the (center) to provide access to opportunities for the integration of  mind, body, emotions and spirit through counseling, medicine, complementary healing arts, educational resources, cultural and artistic expression, and the celebration of community.”

Beginning on Feb. 28, the center will serve as the host to the first session of a teen anxiety group. Adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 may register for a weekly program that will be held for a minimum of six weeks.

The program aims to abolish the stigma associated with adolescent anxiety and to help teenagers cope with academic, family and social stress, Mathews said. 

“Creating a space that is not at school helps teens understand it’s OK to show you are experiencing (anxiety),” Mathews said. “It’s OK to say you’re not having a good day.

“Essentially, the group is offering opportunities for peers to enjoy the joint healing of being together. A lot of teenagers I work with have experienced anxiety. They feel like they are the only one who feels (anxiety),” she continued.

Mathews, who works individually with clients and runs and develops counseling groups, said she “creates programs tailored to needs we are seeing.”

“I work with a lot of adolescents and quire a few experience a lot of anxiety. Anxiety seems to be the No. 1 topic. I thought maybe this group needs to be created now,” Mathews said.

Mathews said teenagers who join the support group will examine peer relationships and social anxiety. She said they will also discuss family dynamics and anxiety. Participants will learn anxiety coping skills and relaxation techniques.

Mathews said she hopes that at the end of the six-week program, adolescents feel “understood.” She said teens who take part will hopefully come to a “shared understanding” as the young adults relate to one another’s fears and anxieties.

Asked what she would say to break the stigma that can be associated with attending therapy, Mathews said, “Teens when they spend time together are not having a play date. They are hanging out. When you’re hanging out, what are you really doing? You are talking and sitting together. That’s what therapy is.

“There is nothing different. You want to talk about the drama that happened in school today … let’s talk about that here. We’re just hanging out. When you hang out with your friends, sometimes they say the wrong thing. The idea is that therapists are hopefully not saying (the wrong) things,” Mathews said.

Mathew said she encourages teenagers to visit the center to meet with a therapist before signing up for the program or other counseling sessions. She said “it helps to have a relationship before (teenagers) come in” for counseling.

The teen anxiety group will meet each Thursday for six weeks beginning Feb. 28. The cost is $35 per session. Some insurances may cover the cost of group therapy. Residents of all towns may participate. The program will be facilitated by Mathews and by Parker Hilton, a Licensed Professional Clinician intern. To register, call 732-747-2944.