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Nobody understands us

Adolescence: From Crisis To Coping, Edited by Janice Gibson-Cline, Butterworth-Heinemann Pounds 14.99

This 13-nation study began in 1988 at a meeting of the international Round Table for the Advancement of Counselling. Over six years, an international team of 23 leading figures in the field carried out studies in their own countries and met regularly to collaborate on the analysis and presentation of the findings. So much energy was expended on the work that they refer to themselves as the "Energetic Research Team" (ERT).

The rather strange list of countries in the project obviously emerged from the people at the meeting in 1988 rather than as the result of an attempt to establish other criteria. The countries were: Australia, Brazil,China, Greece, India, Israel, Kuwait, The Netherlands, The Phillipines, Russia, Turkey, the United States, and Venezuela.

More than 5,000 13 to 15-year-olds gave statements about problems and how they coped. They were chosen from within somewhat weakly established categories of "advantaged", "non-advantaged" and "poverty".

The researchers are critical of the traditional psychoanalytical theory of adolescence as a period of storm and stress. They argue that such a view should be balanced by a psychosocial approach that sees adolescents adapting to other people in the same way as people of all ages.

The findings of the project were remarkably similar across the countries, with differences often greater within countries as a result of material circumstances. Generally, the bulk of problems related to schooling, family and identity. Young people appeared to be able to cope - seeing friends, and then family as the main sources of help. Adolescents in poverty were coping assertively but with more acute problems. The researchers suggest that poverty may create cultural norms that are stronger than those associated with national backgrounds.

The schooling problems related to the fact that all the countries were experiencing crises in education, and families were increasingly unable to offer support. These factors, rather than "individual psyches", emerged as the dominant causes of the problems faced by adolescents.

The research also explored the problems facing adolescents in minority populations. In a postscript, the ERT note that as more families seek to better their lives, migrants will need to adjust to their host community. Failure to do so will produce violent disruption and lead richer societies to erect higher fences against the rest of the world. Their call for professionals across the world to recognise and practice multinational and multicultural counselling is the most powerful message of the book.

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