Child, Adolescent and Family Therapist Steve Mardell, MFT
  Encino Therapy Services  

Child, Adolescent and Family Therapy Services

Review our child, adolescent and family therapy services for those living across the San Fernando Valley including Encino, Woodland Hills, Westlake and Agoura Hills. Visit my Therapy Blog for more information.


Individual Therapy with Children

Meeting with children individually gives them an opportunity to present their difficulties—as well as the family’s challenges—from their perspective. Children, though, usually do not choose to begin therapy; most often, it is parents, relatives, teachers, clergy, etc., that have identified a need for therapy. The child’s motivation and interest is created through the development of the therapeutic relationship: rapport, trust, and safety are crucial, necessary elements for progress, growth, and healing. The challenge is engaging children so that therapy is not a boring, uncomfortable chore, but rather, can become a place of comfort and acceptance; or, a place where exciting and vital adventures in self-discovery can happen.
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Individual Therapy with Adolescents

I have a great deal of empathy for teens as they experience so much change all at once. Hormones trigger physical growth; academic and social pressures increase; expectations change at home and at school; dating and sexuality emerge; and a more cognitively, emotionally mature sense of self begins to develop. Adolescents are discovering their personal power for the first time, and often struggle with how to effectively use assertiveness to communicate their needs, resolve conflict amicably, and make beneficial choices. At the same time, parents have new demands placed on long-established roles, and often struggle to adjust their parenting approach. The entire family shifts as the adolescent develops and strives for autonomy, making for one of the most challenging stages in the life of any family.
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Family Therapy

Family balance is synonymous with family harmony. In the course of our lives as individuals, we aspire to stay in balance, and we make the needed adjustments as we try to achieve this goal. Families are much the same, though the family is a much more complex system to balance, as adults (as individuals/partners/parents) and children (as individuals/siblings) really need to work together. Whether as individuals or as a family, getting to a balance point is challenging, as competing needs and priorities fluctuate over time. A build up of stress and exasperation can result, creating problems in communication, and a chaotic or detached family structure. As support and empathy wane, one or more family members can develop emotional or behavioral problems that signal the distress of all.

If this sounds like your family, you are not alone.

Many families experience similar challenges, and come to an impasse where therapeutic help is needed. In my experience, the “good news” in all this is that working with the struggling family itself has proven to be a very effective, powerful means of reducing symptoms, restoring strength, and redefining balance. Combining family therapy with individual therapy can enhance results considerably. This approach maximizes the processes of interpersonal and individual growth, as well as the acquisition of new skills that are helpful in re-orienting the family, building mutual respect, and empowering each of its members.

Each family and situation is different, so family work will be based on the needs of each client.  Through family therapy, my clients have learned:

  • How to develop a defined yet flexible family model, providing both choices and limits to children and teens, while parent roles remain both supportive and strong
  • Communication skills that increase understanding, empathy, and motivation for change
  • Conflict Resolution skills that defuse negative interactions while constructively encouraging the child or teen to meet goals and expectations

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Anger Management

One of the more common themes I see working with children and adolescents is the inability to appropriately express anger and frustration. Anger can be the result of a child’s experiences of loss, trauma, or rejection, or accompany many of the difficulties that present with mood, family, or learning issues. Children and teens can manifest anger externally (through tantrums, destructiveness, hurting others, conduct problems, etc.) or internally (seen as depression, anxiety, self-destructiveness, or emotional detachment). Either form can be alarming, and can be disruptive to the child’s functioning at home, school, and in the community. Left untreated, anger problems can grow into serious mental health issues, lead to restrictive interventions at school, or provoke legal difficulties. Early and effective intervention can be a key element in preventing ongoing emotional distress and negative consequences.

A therapeutic focus on anger management seeks to:

  • Normalize and treat anger from a practical and developmental perspective
  • Identify the often hidden sources of anger, as well as stressors and triggers that maintain the cycle of anger
  • Develop healthy behavioral & emotional redirection of feelings, rather than use “control” approaches that hinder emotional expression and recreate frustration
  • Help parents model and reinforce successful use of positive anger coping skills

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Children and adolescents who have experienced divorce have unique needs. Even in relatively amicable circumstances, stress, conflict, and loss all happen at once, and this can become overwhelming for parents and their children. Parents struggle with guilt, fear, and anxiety as they try to maintain the provision of support, understanding, and comfort to their children. Children see the physical and emotional split happening between their parents, and then try to adjust to conflicting parental messages, disruptions in stability and consistency, and the possibility of blended family issues. It is common for children and adolescents to act-out or deteriorate due to misguided feelings of self-blame and guilt, or as a means to bring parents back together, heroically attempting to restore the lost family.  Parents need strong support and guidance as they make their own transitions into new individual and parenting roles.

Through a therapeutic focus on divorce issues, children and adolescents have learned:

  • To reduce feelings of guilt and to recognize, they are not the cause of their parents divorce
  • Positive coping and adjustment strategies to altered family roles and rules
  • Identify loss, sadness, anger, and fear in ways that promote healthy expression
  • To develop a sense of hope about the future and about relationships

My work with parents dealing with divorce issues focuses on:

  • Helping to develop consistent parenting at both homes, and avoiding child and adolescent manipulation and “splitting” dynamics
  • Helping move away from bitterness and blaming, and move towards practical problem-solving
  • Helping parents focus on nurturing and supporting their children despite their own relationship challenges

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Social Skills Training

Many of the clinical issues that bring children and adolescents into therapy can also disrupt their social functioning. The support, encouragement, and empathy they find in a therapeutic relationship can sometimes serve as a secure base from which to begin developing a new or rediscovered sense of their unique gifts and strengths as social beings. In addition, children and adolescents that are anxious, withdrawn, and have a negative self-image need to learn new skills that improve their ability to establish and maintain positive social relationships. Through Cognitive-Behavioral or group therapy approaches that utilize role-modeling techniques, as well as exercises that build self-esteem and friendship skills, young clients become socially engaged in ways that are fun, non-threatening, and rewarding. Children with special needs, such as Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities or Asperger’s Syndrome, can learn how to appropriately respond to non-verbal social cues, give appropriate contextual facial and vocal expressions, and improve social problem-solving skills.

Social Skills Training focuses on:

  • Helping shift unrealistic and critical self-beliefs that contribute to anxiety, social withdrawal, and negative self-image
  • Practicing comfortable ways of engaging others positively and with confidence.
  • Setting gradual, achievable social goals that reduce apprehension and reinforce success & hope
  • Finding healthy, positive peer groups and learning skills to combat peer pressure

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Substance Abuse and Dependency

Substance Abuse and other addiction problems remain an issue of utmost concern for all parents. Much like adults, children and teens use substances as a way to manage symptoms and/or escape emotional pain. Substance use and addiction issues appear so prevalently as part of other clinical disorders that they have been recently termed Co-Occurring Disorders. In addition to the obvious health and safety risks, substance use and addiction problems can affect every level of a child’s life and future, whether at home, educationally/vocationally, or in the community.

Through my extensive experience and training in this aspect of clinical work, I know this to be a most challenging problem area, but one that can be successfully treated. It is important that young clients have a safe place to learn how to tolerate and explore their painful feelings; to understand how substances deceptively appeared to help; and, perhaps most importantly, to develop and practice healthy coping skills. The provision of ongoing familial, social, therapeutic, and medical support throughout this process is a key element in successful, lasting Recovery. Clients identified as either at-risk for substance use, or those working on Recovery, respond well to a clinically-coordinated mixture of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), family interventions, group therapy, and adjunctive community-based supports such as 12-Step work. In this context, CBT focuses on finding new ways of coping with family and social pressures; on developing new and healthy peer groups; and on building relapse-prevention strategies. Family therapy can play a vital role in finding expression for deep, emotional sources of the addictive process, as well as providing the basis for rebuilding a strong, loving home foundation. Peer group and 12-Step meetings add a social dimension to the healing process by reducing shame, sharing practical wisdom, and reinforcing success. All play a crucial role in substance abuse treatment.

A clinically-coordinated treatment approach focuses on:

  • Assessment of current substance use and evaluation of appropriate course of treatment. Level of overall psychological functioning, degree of risk and harm (based on drug of choice/frequency of use/available supports and resources) are factors that determine appropriate treatment milieu and interventions
  • Providing structure and containment so that chaotic, destructive functioning is curtailed
  • Setting attainable and realistic goals. Harm Reduction Therapy has been proven to help reduce “all or nothing” thinking while moving towards sustained abstinence
  • Maintaining an ongoing treatment focus on sobriety, hopefulness, and creating a thriving future


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With offices in Agoura Hills and Encino, we provide therapy help to those across the San Fernando Valley. Call our offices at (818) 706-0040 for child, adolescent and family therapy services.

Child Therapist Stephen Mardell, MFT
Stephen Mardell, MFT
Agoura Hills Office
30101 Agoura Court
Suite 204
Agoura Hills, CA 91301
Tel: (818) 706-0040
Encino Office
5535 Balboa Blvd.
Suite 206
Encino, CA 91316
Tel: (818) 706-0040
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Agoura Hills - Encino Child Therapist
Agoura Hills & Encino Child Therapist