Martha B. Straus (PhD)Professor
Department of Clinical Psychology
Adolescent Girls in Crisis
Intervention and Hope
2007 book by Martha Straus, W. W. Norton & Company
Millions of adolescent girls today are in a crisis of rage and despair. They disappear through starvation, get pregnant, run away from home, self-mutilate, attempt suicide, and abuse drugs and alcohol. Less severe but equally troubling, many hide weeping in their rooms, bully and endure bullying, feel afraid, lonely, and unloved. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this crisis is that adults—parents, researchers, teachers, therapists, the very people who care about adolescent girls—have remarkably little insight into just how they feel, how they spend their days, how they are facing this crisis of rage and despair, and what they are doing to cope.
Programs, experts, and interventions abound, with seemingly little impact on the collective distress of adolescent girls. For every success in turning a troubled girl around, there seem to be new, even sadder cases to take its place. As veteran clinician Martha Straus explains, the list of reasons for our failure are complicated and varied, much like the girls themselves: weak, fragmented interventions; overwhelmed institutions with inadequate resources; unaware, busy parents; overcrowded schools; riskier-than-ever experimentation; an increasingly violence-saturated society; marginalization of girls in the press and on the Internet; a backlash against feminism—the list could go on.
With 25 years of clinical experience treating this challenging population—and several more years of personal experience raising her own two teenage daughters—Straus writes from the trenches, delving into the world of adolescent girls, setting the record straight on what’s going on, and providing clinicians and caregivers with better information and real, effective strategies to help.
Adolescent Girls in Crisis begins by exploring what Straus terms “the culture of rage and despair”—the insidious ingredients that can lead to disturbed behavior and feelings, including stress, sadness, anger, aggression, self-doubt, defiance, and anxiety. By examining the adolescent passage, the role of consumerism and the media, developmental stages, and aspects of school and home life, Straus lays the groundwork for the practical interventions presented in the second half of the book. Targeting specific problematic behaviors—affective and anxiety disorders; eating disorders and self-mutilation; attachment and trauma problems; ADHD and oppositional-defiant disorder; sex and conduct disorders, and substance abuse—Straus goes on to provide concrete strategies and treatment methods for helping girls overcome their distress and climb out of crisis. Additional chapters on drug treatment, hospitalizations, and other out-of-home interventions are also covered.
Adolescent girls face more hurdles to healthy, safe development than ever before, with greater-than-ever risks. Though they need us know more than ever, taking on the responsibility of helping them is unarguably challenging and frightening. However, as reflected in Straus’s final chapter, “Ten Reasons for Hope,” we are in the midst of important changes in how we understand girls, adolescence, the life course, and the impact of culture. Highly practical and compassionate, Adolescent Girls in Crisis guides us in this understanding, showing us how to make effective, lasting changes in lives of our teenage girls.