We met Ashley four years ago when filming “The Secret World of Recovery,” and were impressed with her then. Now she is a teen specialist and I’ll be interviewing her again for our PBS special “The Silent Majority,” which will be seen nationally in the fall of 2014. Ashley will also join our team here at Reach Out Recovery talking about teens and their issues. Ashley, Teens are at risk more than any other population. What can we do about it?
Interview with Ashley Le Grange
TALG: Making healthy choices and using good judgment are the major challenges for teens today. They don’t have a uniform code of behavior to follow, so almost any influence can lead to unsafe decisions and behaviors. Prevention means teaching coping skills.
LG: What are your qualifications?
ALG: I’m a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, National Certified Counselor, and Licensed/Certified School Counselor. I just opened my own organization, Stand UP Foundation/Women Making Waves and Mentally Fit Teens.
LG: Great name. What do you do?
ALG: When I became a counselor I knew I wouldn’t be able to “fix” young people, but I knew educating them could make a difference. Specialize in teenage girls. When they’re educated about substance use, bullying, food, and other behaviors, they can make better-informed decisions. My role is not in the decision making component, but instead on the process that happens before that, leaving the decision ultimately up to the client.
LG: So you don’t tell them what to do?
ALG: Not at all. I’ve created an all girls’ leadership retreat to encourage confidence, wellbeing, and health. The retreats focus on everything from body image, media literacy, self-esteem, bullying, friendships, conflict resolution, communication styles, drugs and alcohol education, learning and studying strategies, stress reduction, and safety with technology/social media.
LG: Sounds like something every girl needs. How did you get started?
ALG: I studied mental health counseling and school counseling in college and got interested in researching teenage girls with all that they face in the world today. I know from my own personal obstacles navigating as a teen was confusing, fun, scary, and full of experimentation on the mission to find myself—whatever that meant.
LG: How did your teen years go?
ALG: I struggled in many different arenas, but believe many of them came from lack of confidence, security and anxiety. I was an anxious, perfectionist from the beginning. My family was wonderful and supportive, so my troubles were definitely in no way attributed to them. At the time this made things even more confusing; how could a child with so much love, guidance, open-mindedness and support feel empty, scared, and lost? From these experiences and learning more about others I wanted to help teens navigate through this very turbulent time, and parents to understand what their children were facing and how to best encourage and communicate with them.
LG: And what did you find?
ALG: When I became a school counselor at an all girls’ school in Miami, Florida I was able to study and really learn about teenage girls, their world, issues, and how to not only solve these, but how to prevent some of these “catastrophes”. My experience in the education setting and then mental health, made me a very a unique therapist, with teaching and prevention as my primary modality.
LG: How did you do it?
ALG: I designed and implemented a developmentally appropriate curriculum, I directed students when faced with the challenges of modern life, and was very active with consulting with the faculty and parents. I wanted to help each student learn how to advocate for themselves to get all their needs met, whether it was related to education and learning, friendship struggles, communicating with parents, or learning coping skills to prevent unsafe experimentation. I also worked at a prominent eating disorder treatment center for women and an adolescent outpatient program for both girls and boys. I saw many similarities. Regardless of gender, socio-economic upbringing, intelligence, or the people we were friends with; we all struggle with stress, anxiety, peer pressure, the pressure to be a part of/accepted, and/or concerns about grades/school. We all are concerned about judgment, how people feel about us and tend to make decisions based on our perceptions of this; even those perceptions are false.
LG: And that brought you to focus on health and emotional issues.
ALG: Yes. By teaching the truth about drugs, alcohol, stress reduction, anxiety coping skills, just to name a few, everyone is given the opportunity to make better choices and hopefully have a better perception of what is going on around them (instead of believing everything they hear from friends and music as fact). My approach is to promote wellness, and work with many clients that already are making healthy decisions. We work together to explore early warning signs, such as high anxiety, stress, and pressure, to gain healthy coping tools to bypass addiction, eating disorders, or other mental health concerns.
LG: I look forward to our interview on camera this week. Welcome to the Reach out Recovery team!
ALG: Thank you. It’s great to be with you again.
Fun Fact about Ashley:
In addition to being a prominent adolescent therapist, Ashley has presented at the Florida School Counseling Association Conference (FSCA), to the school counselors of Miami Dade, and to general audiences speaking on the topics of substance abuse, eating disorders and developmental growth of young women between the ages of 10-18 (covering the full array of cognitive, emotional and social growth).