Eps 435: Lessons from the woods and troubled teen years with Ciara Fanlo

Episode 435

My guest today is Ciara Fanlo, and I loved every minute of our conversation!   

Ciara shares a detailed recounting of her own troubled teenage years and personal experiences with wilderness therapy and therapeutic boarding school.  We talk about what does work well with wilderness therapy and the challenges of integrating back to real life after treatment. Ciara explains the difference between just functioning versus being emotionally well and resilient.  I ask Ciara how she transitioned from these challenging teen years to now being a parenting coach & adolescent mentor, then Ciara shares her thoughts on how parents can get reluctant teens on board when they need help. We end by discussing self-harm as a coping skill, how parents can best broach the topic when their child is self-harming, and what teens wish their parents understood about it. 

Guest Description 

Ciara Fanlo is an adult who’s recovered from traumatic and challenging teenage years. She knows what works for teenagers. She knows what teens are going through. She knows what they really need. 

Ciara has spent years working with adolescents and families as a guide throughout their journey, and shares her story to offer others understanding and hope.

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Takeaways from the show

  • Ciara’s journey from troubled teen to parenting coach & adolescent mentor 
  • Nature as a part of therapy & connection to mental health 
  • The pros & cons of wilderness therapy 
  • Integrating back to “real life” after treatment 
  • Being functional versus being emotionally well 
  • How to get resistant teens on board when they need help 
  • Teenage individuation & autonomy versus being who your parents want you to be
  • Self-harm as a (poor) coping skill 
  • The importance of self-forgiveness

What does joyful courage mean to you

I was looking up the etymology of both of those words because I love doing that whenever I’m going into the roots of what a word is.  My own answer to this: joy, to me, has this depth to it, and it almost has this acknowledgement of all.  To me, it’s a very very inclusive term that has curiosity, fascination, and movement to it.  I think it takes courage to feel joy because I think a lot of people, sometimes, struggle in healing or recovery because they’re so scared of feeling joy or feeling good in some way and then losing it.  It’s almost like loss is more painful than ignorance.  So I think joy and courage go hand-in-hand.  It takes courage to be open to joy. 



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parents, teens, people, wilderness, kids, teenagers, experience, talk, struggling, learn, work, feel, home, therapy, hurting, real, self harm, rowan, totally, environment
Casey O'Roarty, Ciara Fanlo

Casey O'Roarty 00:03
Hey, welcome to the joyful courage podcast a place for inspiration and transformation as we try and keep it together, while parenting our tweens and teens. This is real work people and when we can focus on our own growth, and nurturing the connection with our kids, we can move through the turbulence in a way that allows for relationships to remain intact. My name is Casey already, I am your fearless host. I'm a positive discipline trainer, space holder coach and the adolescent lead at Sproutsocial. I am also the mama to a 20 year old daughter and 17 year old son walking right beside you on this path of raising our kids with positive discipline and conscious parenting. This show is meant to be a resource to you and I work really hard to keep it real, transparent and authentic so that you feel seen and supported. Today is an interview and I have no doubt that what you hear will be useful to you. Please don't forget sharing truly is caring. If you love today's show, please pass the link around snap a screenshot posted on your socials or texted to your friends. Together we can make an even bigger impact on families all around the globe. I'm so glad that you're here. Enjoy the show.

Casey O'Roarty 01:26
Hey everybody, welcome back to the podcast. I'm so excited to introduce you to my guest today. Her name is Kiera fan lo Kira is an adult who's recovered from traumatic and challenging teen years. She knows what works for teenagers. She knows what teens are going through. And she knows what they need. Kira has spent years working with adolescents and families as a guide throughout their journey and shares her story to offer others understanding and hope I'm so excited for you to be here cure. I'm so excited to hear more about your story. I'm most excited for the listeners to have the opportunity to hear from somebody who's really been through the trenches as a teen. So yay, welcome to the podcast. Thank you, Casey.

Ciara Fanlo 02:14
I'm so happy to be here.

Casey O'Roarty 02:16
Yes, I am so happy that you're here to and that we were able to make this work. So much of what I've read about your story on your website and having you on that same summit that I was on the moms of teens and tweens. Yes. So much of it reminds me of how I imagined my now 20, nearly 21 year old daughter felt and went through during her mid teen years. I know that you're sharing is going to give a lot of insights to the parents listening, will you tell us your story, tell us about what your experience was and what's really inspired you to do the work that you're doing? Yeah,

Ciara Fanlo 02:56
I'll give you the Cliff Notes version. Because I was I'm sure you know, I used to joke like every time I would go to a new therapist, I was like, I wish you to have like a pamphlet and it could be like, Here is everything you need to know. So I'll give you like the condensed version. So okay, you're speaking about my teenage years, which definitely those were the most intense. And that's kind of the crux of my story and my journey. But my challenges with my mental health started from a really, really young age. I remember I'd say it was probably about the time I was eight. And I remember just feeling this intense sadness and loneliness. And I started going to therapy around that time too, because I think my mom wanted to get me support because I was constantly talking about how sad and lonely I was. So I started therapy at eight. And then my parents got divorced when I was nine. And that was really hard for me. And we've been moving back and forth between two cities. So I was that same year at my fourth new school and four years, and kind of constantly felt like I'm an outsider always, like, I don't belong anywhere. And I started self harming when I was 10. And I started taking meds at 12. But

Casey O'Roarty 04:13
were the meds for like, depression. Anxiety, okay, yeah.

Ciara Fanlo 04:18
And ADHD to at that time, okay. Okay. But I was very functional at that age. Like, I was a really good student, I kind of figured out how to make friends even though I had been a really lonely and strange, younger child, and was involved with school activities. So even though I was still sad inside, I was doing okay enough to not raise any sense of alarm. But man, then I got to high school and it was just like, a disaster. Yeah, and it was like kind of a slow descent, but it's like everything is connected. So one part of your life is suffering. It's like it kind of bleeds into everything else. So in high school, you know, I started struggling with self harm a lot more, I stopped going to school, I was fighting with my parents all the time, and was really, really, in very, very dysfunctional patterns. And so first, my parents tried to help me with therapy and medication at home. And that didn't really seem to have much of a measurable impact, in fact, actually seemed to be getting like worse, like, every month, things were just getting worse and worse. And then I did an outpatient DBT program at home. And then I got sent to an inpatient residential hospital, right a DPT there as well. I came home from the hospital on something called a home contract, which is a common practice in the residential treatment community where you agree to certain conditions to be allowed to return home. And I remember at that time, like, I actually felt kind of validated when I first was sent to the hospital, because I felt so unwell. Like I felt like something was really wrong with me. And so when I first got sent there, I actually felt a sense of relief, because I thought, oh, other people also recognize that this is kind of a confirmation that there is something that matter. And that actually brings me a sense of relief and hope that maybe this is going to help. And it really didn't for me, I came home and I was had not really addressed any of the root causes of what was going on. I learned better coping skills, but I didn't feel fundamentally different.

Casey O'Roarty 06:30
Can I ask you a question? Absolutely did do you feel like it was the focus of the program that you were in? Or do you feel like it was just you as a teenager, and your willingness to go into those deeply rooted things? And I asked, and I'm sorry to interrupt you. And I'm so curious, because I remember with my daughter, you know, when things were so hard at home, and she was going to therapy, and she came home and said, My therapist that I can go to every other week. And I was like, really interesting. All of these external things that do not indicate that you're like, improving or getting it together. And so when I went with her to her next appointment, and I was curious, and I mean, Rowan would not lead somebody into her darkness. She needed a skilled practitioner. Yeah, to create a space where it felt safe for her. Yeah, to go there. And to kind of guide her there. Yeah. So what was your experience? Do you remember,

Ciara Fanlo 07:36
I think that's a really valuable point to make that, especially when someone is so and myself included, I was so steeped in my own kind of worldview. And I couldn't see what I couldn't see. Yeah. And so I really did need someone who was going to be able to draw my attention to kind of, because I think what's happening lot for teenagers that was 100% happening for me is that I was unconsciously forming these narratives and stories and not realizing that there were stories I was making up, like stories, like I'm not lovable, or people are always going to abandon me. Like, I wasn't consciously thinking, Oh, story, let me file that away. Right. It was just absorbing them. And they felt as real as like, the sky is true. They just felt. Yeah. And so I wouldn't have even known to kind of, on bring those up to unpack and look at, I don't even know, they were like stories in my head. I think also, there was something about the environment, too, because after the hospital, I got sent to wilderness, and that was really for me, the place where my healing sort of commenced, because that environment brought everything into the surface, like you could not avoid being stressed out or feeling sad, in the wilderness. So it was such an intense environment, like Yeah, I promise you, your stuff is gonna come out real quick. And in the hospital, like, you know, I don't mean to, I'm not a spokesperson for everyone, but people would joke the hospital that I went to was called Silver Hill. And people would jokingly call it either a silver pill, because for another thing was very medication heavy. So a lot of their kind of first course of action was like, we're gonna put you on meds. And if you're so absorbed, we're gonna put you on even more meds. And there wasn't actually a whole lot of investigation into the emotional piece. And the other kind of joking name for it was the silver Hilton because it was so like, comfortable, you know? And so it just felt like you could avoid Yeah, like it was yeah, you know, it was not a comfortable environment because I had no privacy. You couldn't leave there were plenty of uncomfortable rules and regulations like strip searches, for example, that were not, you know, commonplace if someone was staying at just a Hilton Hotel, but I was able to not go into stuff and it was not sure Learn to just like stay on the surface of things. Yeah,

Casey O'Roarty 10:03
that's so interesting, because I know there's more to your story. And but I just want to pause right here, because one of the things that I talked about, and that, you know, I'm a positive discipline trainer. So that's the foundation that I stand on. And one of the tools that we use, and that we share with parents is this idea of belief behind behavior. And a lot of us use the image of the iceberg, right? And that there's what we see at the surface, that so often, we want to like, make go away, we want to chip away at the surface. But what we don't see and what's oftentimes fueling, what's happening at the surface is what's going on underneath. Yeah, and so it's wild to think about, you know, your experience of being in this, like, it feels like a big deal, right? Like, you're impatient, you're in the hospital, and yet they're missing this opportunity for digging into what's going on under the surface. And I say that, and I know that there are really useful, skilled practitioners in the world, but just like this gal that Rowan went to, I mean, she had adolescents on her website, and I was like, What the fuck? Like you're missing everything here. And you're expecting my daughter who presents really well, for an hour for you? Yeah, yeah. Who at home isn't leaving the room? Yeah. Well go to, you know, as dropped out of school is using substances as potential eating disorder, like all of the shits going on? And you're like, let's go to every other week. Like, are you new?

Ciara Fanlo 11:40
Yeah, yeah.

Casey O'Roarty 11:42
So you go to wilderness? Where did you go? Where are you in Utah? Doesn't everybody go to Utah,

Ciara Fanlo 11:46
if someone ever tells you they went to boarding school in Utah, you know, they were in? Because Utah is one of the states that has the least regulations for for youth. So that's why there's a lot of programs there. It's also in the desert. So the one that I went to was actually in Colorado, so I was in the mine. Yeah. All

Casey O'Roarty 12:06
right. And so tell me more. Tell me about wilderness. So wilderness

Ciara Fanlo 12:11
was so like to this day like will probably be the hardest thing I have ever done. It was a bare bones program. So for people who are listening, if you are not familiar with what backpacking is like recreational backpacking, which is funny, as I do that now, for fun, it's basically you are hiking with all of your stuff on your back, and you're moving from one place to the next in this kind of nomadic style. And so wilderness therapy, uses that milieu, for struggling teenagers, it's a group of struggling teens with guides that kind of switch out every week. And we follow, you know, the protocols of like backpacking, so we would like move camp everyday with all of our stuff. And then therapy would kind of be woven into the experience. So there would be therapeutic groups that we would have, or maybe we'd have a group about body image, for example. But most of the therapy happens organically, like someone is on a hike, and they start having like a panic attack, because they're so hot, and they're not asking for help. And then it becomes this teaching moment. Okay, how can you ask for what you need right now. And because the environment is so intense, it kind of forced me to learn things really quickly, and see the impact of my choices in a very immediate way. So taking that same, a similar case study of that was, I would not ask for help for shelter building. And that was kind of my way of being like, screw you to the program. I was like, I'm not gonna make it to the Yeah, I was like, I'm not gonna take any advice from any of you. Well, like, I'm don't want to be here. And so I'm not going to ask for help. I'm not going to go along with any of this.

Casey O'Roarty 13:58
And how old are you at that point? I was 1717. Okay. Yeah,

Ciara Fanlo 14:02
because I had been struggling for a few years. At that point. I think for most families, wilderness or residential is like a last resort. It's not often the first thing so yeah, we would use tarps for shelters, we didn't have linens, and you just like tie a rope between two trees. So I did not ask for help with building my shelter. And I got rained on bad. And I woke up in the morning and I'm sitting in this soaking wet sleeping bag, all of my stuff is what you know, I like they come they bring me my shoes because they take your shoes at night. So you can't run away. They bring me my shoes and I go to breakfast. Everyone else is totally dry even though it was raining. And I realized like, I am being stubborn and not asking for help. And I just got rained on. Like I need to ask for help. I need to learn this skill.

Casey O'Roarty 14:48
That's so interesting. I was just in a conversation earlier today. And I think a lot of parents want to, like land this message of well when their kids are so stubborn around, whatever, and it's like, you are not hurting me, you are in yourself, yes. But the dynamic becomes one, where even as they hear the words, it's still the belief of the kid where it's like, no, I know this is more important to you. I believe this is more important to you than I am. And that hurts. So my way of hurting you is shitting all over this thing that's important to you, even as the parents like, but you're hurting yourself. You're not hurting me. It's like there's this piece of like, Oh, really? Yeah, I'm not hurting you. You're getting pretty worked up. I

Ciara Fanlo 15:39
used to care a lot for someone. Yeah. Not hurting you. Yeah, yeah. And

Casey O'Roarty 15:43
I love that. I mean, I can see that, like that opportunity that you had, where everybody's just peacing out having breakfast around the fire, and you're like, oh,

Ciara Fanlo 15:54
I'm like miserable. Like,

Casey O'Roarty 15:57
this is only affecting me. Oh, shit.

Ciara Fanlo 16:00
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And also, like there are my actions have consequences. Like if I don't ask for help and learn how to do this. I'm going to have another wet night. Yeah. And I think to, in that same vein of the lived experience, like talk therapy, I wasn't finding my way, I wasn't talking my way into confidence, or a feeling of power or competence. But, you know, after spending like weeks hiking and making fire with like, sticks and rocks, I was like, I'm actually building like, all of this counter evidence to these beliefs that I have about myself that I can't do anything. Yeah. And I think also just how healing is nature? Like just being in like, the rhythms of the earth? And, you know, seeing all the beauty around you and kind of having space from all the pressure and like noise that our modern world has?

Casey O'Roarty 16:56
Did you have that connection or relationship with nature before wilderness? Or is that something that you kind of fell into through that experience?

Ciara Fanlo 17:03
Oh, no, not at all. No, I grew up in a city. I have no connection with nature prior to going into wilderness. Yeah, yeah.

Casey O'Roarty 17:12
So how long have you there?

Ciara Fanlo 17:14
12 weeks,

Casey O'Roarty 17:15
12 weeks.

Ciara Fanlo 17:16
12 weeks without a shower.

Casey O'Roarty 17:17
And then what was it like to come out? Right, like we play so much, especially at that age, right? It's hard to believe that a change in environment. You know, like, what's alive for us is inside of us. Totally. Right? Yeah. Not in the external environment. Yeah. However, you just have this profound, extreme experience in the wilderness. Did you feel confident in carrying into like, quote, real life? Yeah. What you had learned and applying it and integrating it? What was that experience? Like?

Ciara Fanlo 17:52
I love that question. I think, Oh, my God, I'm like, you've touched on so many things that I think about often, which is the value of a different setting, a change in environment, and the lack of integration that I think most residential programs offer. So after wilderness, I got sent to a therapeutic boarding school, and I was there for nine months. And actually,

Casey O'Roarty 18:19
did you go to Virginia? Was it the one in Virginia?

Ciara Fanlo 18:21
No, it was in Massachusetts.

Casey O'Roarty 18:24
We'll sidebar that. Yeah.

Ciara Fanlo 18:28
I think actually know that what you're talking about, though, is very similar to that one, and I actually ran away. But, you know, I got sent to aftercare. And pretty much, I shouldn't say pretty much everyone gets sent to aftercare. Like once a teenager is sort of in this industry in this world. I think parents have a tremendous amount of fear about their child regressing when they return to the home or rent. And it's like, oh, all this progress is lost. And we don't want to risk that. And I think a lot of professionals who are in that industry, like Educational Consultants, advise the parents to kind of err on the side of caution and send your kid to another place, and then another place, and then another place. So I think that I really struggled when I came back to the quote, unquote, real world. And it's funny, like, when I was in wilderness, we called it the world of clocks, because they never told us the time when we were there. I don't know what the purpose of that was, I think maybe to keep us like living in the moment. But I also don't to give us any information so we could ever like plan an escape. Yeah. But it's like you're in this insulated, protected environment that has its own language and all of its own. It's like its own culture. Sure.

Casey O'Roarty 19:41
It's actually more real than I mean, we're seeing the real world and referencing like, outside wilderness, but there's nothing more real than survival.

Ciara Fanlo 19:52
No, Casey, I would say that exact thing because people would say like the real world and I'd be like, This feels like the real world like, even though we'll furnace therapy has many flaws to it. And it's like for most kids, like they're coerced into it, they're not there voluntarily, which is a huge issue. Living with a group of people and eating around a campfire and waking up with the sun, and just being in like the, you know, truth and expanse of nature that feels like the real world, the hospital did not feel like the real world and the therapeutic boarding school did not feel like the real world. But I think because of the proximity, actually, the immersion in nature, wilderness did feel very true and authentic. So anyways, yeah, it was very, very hard to come home, because I had been in this place that no one else would even begin to understand. Sure, sometimes I would, like mention a rule or something that I'd had in one of these places, and people will just blink at me like what, like, that's crazy. Like, I don't even and I was like, Oh, I didn't even like that was just how things were.

Ciara Fanlo 21:02
And I think coming home is so challenging, when you've missed so much that's been happening at home, like in wilderness, sometimes we would see planes fly overhead. And it would be this reminder to me of like, oh, the world is still moving, like I'm here. And I have no contact with the outside world. But like, my friends are like hanging out and going to prom, my family's like, you know, eaten dinner and like going to work and I have no idea what's going on. So there's a, I think, a tremendous grief that most people leaving feel of how much they feel that they've missed. And the integration piece is challenging, because so much of what teenagers learn myself included, was in like an artificial environment, a lot of the time, I didn't learn how to have how to kind of adhere to a structure or follow rules at home with the triggers of home with the challenges of home, I learned in a very different environment. So I struggled a lot with trying to maintain the progress that I had made. And I think that I was able to retain some of the really, really key pieces of what I had learned in wilderness, which was a knowing that things could be very different. So even when things got hard, I had a faith that they could change, and a belief in my ability to survive. And you know, sometimes it wasn't to thrive, but I could survive. Sure. And I think, a deep connection with the earth with God with a feeling of a higher power, that really buoyed me through challenging times. So

Casey O'Roarty 22:38
you got home from all of that, and you figured it out. And then you're all fixed, right?

Ciara Fanlo 22:47
Yeah, yeah. You just summed it up so nicely. Yeah.

Casey O'Roarty 22:50
And that's all you got to do. Parents just send them to the woods. Yeah. And like easy peasy, lemon squeezy. So you have this experience, you're trying to integrate what you're learning, you're realizing, ah, running away from the school getting home. All those triggers exist. Yeah. What was it for you? Because this is what I'm experiencing right now, as I listened to you, Kara. Yeah, I have so many clients whose kids are struggling. Yeah. Struggling big, with a lot of the things that you struggled with that you've been so generous with sharing. And I'm talking to you, and you seem to be a very high functioning, thoughtful, human. Yeah. Right. And I think it's so important that you're sharing your story. Because when you're in the gauntlet with your kid, it feels like it's never going to be okay. It's never going to get better. They're never going to be okay. Yeah. And you and I would say my daughter, and you know, and there's other examples too, but we forget about them, or they don't share their story as generously as you and Rowan is willing to share. And we forget that there's another side to the hard piece. So you get home, you're still finding your feet, right, recognizing that the triggers are still exist. So what does that look like? Yeah, how did you get from there? How old are you? Can I ask? Yeah,

Ciara Fanlo 24:18
you're I'm 27 You're just uh

Casey O'Roarty 24:24
you do have a fully developed brain? Yeah, I can rent a car now and not pay gratulations on that. Yeah. But I mean, so that was 10 years ago. Yeah. That you were in the woods. Right? Like, you know, what did 1718 So what did like 19 to 22 look like for you?

Ciara Fanlo 24:43
Okay, so I think, yeah, I want to draw a distinction between being functional and being emotionally well and emotionally resilient, and joyful. Yeah, as beautiful. I was able to be functional because the thing I'm getting sent back to treatment for me because the school that I was in after wilderness was horrific, horrific,

Casey O'Roarty 25:07
in what way just in poor systems and abusive and awful like Paris Hilton. Yes. documentary style. Yes.

Ciara Fanlo 25:14
Like that. Yeah, I'm sorry. I was like, I can't ever go back there. So

Casey O'Roarty 25:19
I'm sorry. You had that experience? Thank you, Casey.

Ciara Fanlo 25:22
Yeah, well, I got myself out of it. So yeah, good job. Yeah, I just knew that I had to at least keep putting one foot in front of the other. Okay. So I was able to, you know, that a job and go to college. But I wouldn't say I mentioned those just because I think that those are kind of markers or indicators that parents and people like focus on his indicators of success, like a function, like you've said, Yeah, I wouldn't be able to do that. But I still struggled with a lot of what I had at the beginning, which was just this really, really deep sadness, and feeling like I didn't belong anywhere, and struggling to feel connected, like actually connected to people. And I think something I struggled with a lot was like, how my, my beliefs about myself would kind of constantly be creating my reality, like thinking that I didn't belong anywhere, and sort of then, you know, when like, I was, like, 19, or 20, like, not going to things that I was invited to, because I had already decided I didn't belong there. And kind of manifesting this rejection. Sure, over and over again. And,

Casey O'Roarty 26:42
like negativity bias on hyperdrive. Totally,

Ciara Fanlo 26:45
totally. Yeah. And, you know, I'm sure I'm, like, trying to think back now to like, those times, I think, like, yeah, it was like functional. But I think I still struggled with a lot of the pain that I had from the time I was young. And I was like, still in those cycles of like, looking for relief and other people or experiences outside myself. And in some ways, like making up for lost time from when I was a teen because I had missed so much from being sent away. I was like, always wanting to be with people and always wanting to do stuff, because I was like, I spent so long not being able to do anything like I want to, I feel like I'm yeah, having to do everything now. And there's this primary feature of traumas, I mean, that's too much too fast, too soon. And I think that almost kind of ricochet the other way. And I was like, trying to do so much and drink in so much life and heal so fast, because I just didn't ever want to go back to where I had been. And then I think kind of 24 to 26, I found my way into a lot more balance, and not needing to do things so quickly, or kind of over function, or kind of healing from place of believing that I was wrong and something needed to be fixed. Hmm.

Casey O'Roarty 28:03
Well, in maturity, yeah. Yeah. Like, I love maturity, because it happens no matter what. Yeah, totally, totally. Just by I mean, it's the be all end all. But it's real. Yeah, right. And perspective. And I'm hearing you talk about you gathered experiences, right. And the you know, I think of a gift for kids like you and my daughter is the gift of these of the hard, really tough times and all this therapy, especially when you land somewhere where it's useful therapy. Yeah, is that your emotional intelligence is developed in such a deeper way than the typical, you know, like, run of the mill, developing teenager, the easy, the easy Teen that we all kind of hope we have. But there is something there, right? Like, that's what I see in my girl. And I'm wondering if you had this experience of because of what you went through and the depth, especially out in the wilderness, and really dropping in with people and really witnessing and being witnessed in your emotional development. Yeah, that if it did it feel when you came back and you were amongst your peers who never went anywhere and carried on that there was something lacking as far as like, the depth of relating to your peers? Did you notice that or am I just creating that in my mind, because I like that storyline.

Ciara Fanlo 29:38
I was like, that sounds like good.

Casey O'Roarty 29:40
Sounds good.

Ciara Fanlo 29:43
I would say that. I maybe felt that broadly. But I have always had a way of being able to find my people. Yeah, even when I was a teen like even but this is like something else that I struggled with a lot like in my adulthood, and I still struggle with this is like, sometimes outward evidence doesn't like penetrate my beliefs. So I can feel very, very alone and lonely, even when I have really, really close friends. And that's something I've had to really, like, look at, because it seems almost like the wounds that I had as a child I've been carrying my whole life. And I have to almost talk to that young part of myself and say, like, you're actually like, life is different now. Yeah, like this feeling was there. And it's real. And it's not current. It's like a very young feeling. So even though yeah, like I did, I would say, like struggle with feelings of loneliness, like I had even like in high school, like I did have friends who I felt very deeply connected to, I just don't actually think I was able to let that love in and really feel it.

Casey O'Roarty 31:01
But I love what you said around after treatment. That something you brought with you was that knowing that things could be different having faith that things could change, belief in your ability to survive. And, you know, when I lately thinking about teens and what they're moving through, and especially, it's so hard to be with that feeling that young teens have that just kind of the doom the gloom. But when you think about it, like if I've never experienced heartbreak, and now I'm sitting in heartbreak, I don't have an experience of, oh, I felt this before. And I know I'm not going to feel like this forever. Yeah, like all these first experiences are so potent and palpable, and big and messy. And I know parents want to like Yank me included, desperate to pull my kids out of it and help them see there's another side. So I'm really appreciating that piece that you took away that knowing you can do hard things, you can move through hard things that your feelings come and go. These are my words, not your words. Yeah. I mean, Kira, I could talk to you all day about your experience. And I want to, but there's other stuff. Yeah. Yeah. I also want to say so you've had this huge experience, you know, the last 10 years of your life growing into today. And you know, you've taken this work that you've done personally, and you've turned it into supporting teams that are struggling. And I just think that that is so incredible. So will you talk to us about what you do. And then I also want to make sure to talk about, like, I have so many clients who want their kids to get help be helped. And there's so much resistance, I think there's like almost a commitment to be in. Yeah, no, that's probably not the right language. But it might be Yeah, yeah, settling into the darkness, and resistance to help. So I want to know about your work. But I also want to know, like, as you talk about what you do, how can parents, like get their kids to come work with you and others and get the help that they need? So I don't know where you want to start? Yeah, that's where I want to go? Well,

Ciara Fanlo 33:28
I think the resistance piece I definitely want to speak to because I had a pretty illuminating moment about that. When one of the girls I was working with, she was going over basically horizon for a home contract that her parents had written up for her. And she was like, I want to do any of this. This is so silly, like they don't understand me at all. And I knew from previous conversations with her that actually everything on the list, she had identified herself as something she wanted to do. But it was coming from her parents, she had this automatic resistance to it. Mm hmm. And I remember that when I was a teenager, I had almost this like binary in my head of like, I can be myself or who my parents want me to be. But it's going to be one or the other. And because what my parents were encouraging was be healthy, be responsible, be accountable, be safe, I was like, Oh, I'm gonna do everything else. Because I gotta be me like this drive to be my own person. And to individuate is going to come at the expense of everything. If you tell me to drink water, I'll die of like, I just so wanted to live on my own terms and feel in control of my life. And so I was associating all of these healthy behaviors and stability with being compliant or like giving up my sense of self. So I think for a lot of teens, they're pushing back against outside influence because they're trying to develop their own compass and their own AI tennety

Casey O'Roarty 35:00
Oh, that's so big. That's so big. And I think that plays into what I mentioned earlier around me the parents saying, This isn't hurting me, it's hurting you. Right? Right. Then when the lenses all of these things are me being who you want me to, right instead of me being me, like all of this is related. And so prior,

Ciara Fanlo 35:20
it's like all actually take the hurt if it means that I'm my own person. Yeah, that was like how I felt at the time economy

Casey O'Roarty 35:25
is and sovereignty I mean, so. Yeah. thing.

Ciara Fanlo 35:32
Yeah. So I think that understanding why they have this automatic resistance. And it's not that they're trying to be obstinate. It's also something that people do grow out of like, later on. I was like, it's actually okay for me to be who my parents also will think that I shouldn't be if I'm making choices that are in my best interest, like doesn't really matter, like coming. Sure who agrees with it?

Casey O'Roarty 35:54

Ciara Fanlo 36:00
I think for teenagers, it's important to help them feel that they are in control and like to highlight the choice that they're making when they're making Yes,

Casey O'Roarty 36:14
yeah. So I mean, as soon as you start talking about home contracts, whether it's like the therapist wrote this, or the parents wrote this, it's like, no, no, not, you know, we talk about making agreements. And it is a co created. Yeah, I experienced and when the agreements aren't useful, it's typically because the kids were done. Yeah, with the whole experience and just said, Fine, whatever. Do it. Yeah. And then they don't do it. Because ultimately, they just were trying to get out of this judgy critical conversation that they were in with you. So totally, yeah, that really highlights that. So that being said, Yes. Now it's like, Oh, my God, you're in the dark hole. Let's get you some help. Yeah. So you work with teens that are struggling? Yes. Boys and girls. Yes. Okay. I'm sure you have plenty of parents who are like, Oh, my God, I think that you would be so magnificent for my kid. And how do I get them to come talk to you? Do you get that question?

Ciara Fanlo 37:13
I do sometimes. Yes. Yeah. Yeah.

Casey O'Roarty 37:17
So how do you? Or even that reluctant teen is like, fine. You know, I'll do it. How do you bring a petition? to teenagers? Well, only one now that high reps lately? So what does it look like to encourage them to be willing to do the work? That's a great question. Do you have the magic answer?

Ciara Fanlo 37:42
Just you wait.

Casey O'Roarty 37:44
The magic formula is

Ciara Fanlo 37:46
still in the lab working on it. But I would say like, I don't have an agenda with them when I first talked to them. Because teenagers have like BS radars. Oh, no, if you want something from them, they know if you're good as fine tuned, it is so sharp, so on point. So when I first talked to them, I'm not trying to get them to open up or want to do the work. Like I'm just there with them, trying to get to know them, you know, following whatever threads they bring up and trying to establish just that sense of rapport and connection. And I think that, you know, it's important, like, I really listen when they talk. And a lot of times people like listen to respond, or they listen to have something Yep, is say not to understand. And I'm also not afraid to, like, let my emotions show, obviously, in a way that's appropriate. I'm never hijacking the moment or making it about me. But I remember sharing with a guide, in wilderness once a story that I told many therapists, and I could feel like, Oh, you're actually like, feeling this pain with me. You're not just listening to me, you're going there with me. So I would never, you know, like collapse into emotion. But when they speak, like I allow it to touch my heart. And I think people are more willing to be open if they know that they will be received. So it's really simple. But what I'm saying but like, really deeply listening, for the sake of understanding is huge. This is something I say to parents as well. But that I also try to observe is relating to your child as someone who is whole and healed and powerful. And holding them in that vision when you're interacting with them because it naturally elicits a motivation in someone when they Yeah, that's it. They're regarded that way. Yeah, yeah,

Casey O'Roarty 39:52
having faith. I mean, and I just think about the kids that are struggling like you were and to have Parents say one. Yes, I see you in this. And I trust that you're going to make your way out of it. Yeah. When they don't, yeah, I think is such a powerful gift. Totally. So and I love what you're saying here because I'm so grateful for people like you and others who work with the teens. I don't work with teens I work with parents. And absolutely, like, feeling into when it's time for outside support. I'm also hearing just really powerful tools that I love talking about listening without an agenda. Yeah, like listening to listen and to understand and to get a bigger picture about what's going on for your kiddo. And when you talked about the guide, like, to me that sounds like you felt attuned to your right. Someone's seeing and hearing you without this added? Like, how can I make you feel better? How can I fix this problem? How can I change your mind? Yes, we don't always have to go there.

Ciara Fanlo 41:09
Totally. Yeah, it constantly blows my mind how brilliant all the teenagers I work with are because I see over the course of our time together. I'm really not doing.

Casey O'Roarty 41:23
Don't tell the parents Yeah.

Ciara Fanlo 41:28
They know, they know. Yeah, they do. Yeah,

Casey O'Roarty 41:31
we'll get there. It's so interesting. I think that there why No, because as a parent myself, like, there is this urgency. Yeah, right. There's this urgency around time. Mm hmm. And doing enough and the traditional timeline, which I mean, like, Yeah, four years of high school, four years of college, you're out on your own, you know, and it's just not real, though. It's not real. And I think that when our kids are struggling, it's hard to be with the time it takes for them to continue to grow and evolve. And it's heavy work around patience and trust, which can feel impossible, especially when our kids are, you know, self harm is like, it's interesting, and I'd love to hear your take on this. But self harm is so hard for parents to hold. Because it's violent. Yeah, it feels violent. And it's also quote, simply, right, yeah, a coping skill. Yeah, it's just an unhealthy coping skill. And we get really worked up. And it's not always an indication of suicidal ideation. Do you feel comfortable talking a little bit about? Because I know I have clients and I know that there's listeners whose kids they know are self harming, and it's just terrifying to them. Yeah. are we holding it too heavy? Or what do you think? And I know, it depends on the kid. Yeah,

Ciara Fanlo 43:07
yeah. 100% Depends on the kid, especially in the point you're making that for some people. They are self harming, but they're not suicidal. It's a way that they're coping with the pain that they feel for some people. Yeah, they're self harming because they're suicidal. And it's a way that they feel that they're getting closer to that to doing that. Yeah. So I appreciate the language you use how you describe it as a coping skill, because that was totally what it was. for me. When I first the very first time I did it. I remember feeling like my body was on fire. I was so upset. And I just didn't know how to move the energy. And it felt almost like this balloon was like swelling up. And then that just like popped the balloon. So interesting. It kind of brought things to a close and obviously not in a long term way. But I was 10 years old, I didn't know what to do with these big feelings. For me, there was very much a mental component as well, where I felt like I was matching the pain that I felt inside like I was like making it more real. It would almost kind of validate the pain that I felt or like put it someplace else. Like I was carrying so much shame, and I didn't know what to do with it. And so that would relieve it for a little while. would help me feel like I had done something productive towards changing myself because I hated myself so much. Yeah,

Casey O'Roarty 44:45
it's like a distraction. Yeah, I've also heard it described as like the experience of numbness and not feeling Yeah. And then seeing your own blood as Like, Oh, I am alive. Yes.

Ciara Fanlo 45:02
Yeah, for people who are very like dissociative, it brings them back to their body actually, like, if you're in the spiral it like cuts it. It's, um, say like, it's like the balloon it like brings you into like, a moment of calm in a way. Yeah.

Casey O'Roarty 45:15
I mean, when we take it away, like the act of hurting ourselves to distract or to be alive. It's kind of a brilliant process. Yeah, I mean, it's a quick fix. Obviously, it's not healthy, nor would we ever be like, I have an idea. Yeah, but yeah, right now, here's the razor blade. But I feel like I feel less afraid when I understand that it's useful.

Ciara Fanlo 45:46
Yes. Does that make sense? 100%. And I think that was why the same beginning, I so appreciate the way that you language it as a coping skill, and not like a problem behavior, which is frequent language for things like self harm or substance misuse. Yeah. Because it's strategic. It's a fish, right? It works, right? And then when you have that framework, you can actually kind of create some distance with it and not be like, Oh, my God, this is this awful thing that needs to be fixed. It's like, oh, you have a need that you're meeting in this way? What alternative strategies could we find that are going to meet that same need, but in a way that's not inciting more harmed for you? Yeah. So I think for parents listening, who do have teens, having that understanding of what it is, can be really helpful to just take some of the fear away from it, that it's a strategy they've identified. Do

Casey O'Roarty 46:41
you have 15 more minutes? Can we keep Ah, okay, great. Because I just had this huge epiphany, you know, we talk about, you know, it's no longer acceptable in many circles to spank your kid. Right. And given them a hard spot on the bottom is a short term tool. Yeah. For Yeah, shaking things up. Yes. Right. Yes. And if we don't want to spank our kids, we've got to add more tools to the toolbox, so that that one falls to the bottom. And I feel like it's kind of that same mindset, when we've got a kid who, that's the tool that's helping them is self harm. And so instead of demonizing the tool that's offering them relief, there's this opportunity to grow the toolbox, so that that particular one falls to the bottom. Yeah. And they have more things that they can lean on. Yes, yeah. To handle what's coming up, especially for the long

Ciara Fanlo 47:45
term. Absolutely. 100%. Yeah, it's like, you can see that it's effective in the moment, because it's an extreme intervention, it's affecting the body. So it's like, you're gonna feel that instantly. And you want to have more at your disposal. So that's not your first course of action.

Casey O'Roarty 48:07
Yeah, yeah. Do you work with kids, you know, that are self harming? And yeah, so I'm thinking about, you know, the listeners, and who might want to have this kind of conversation with their teen? What tips do you have, from your own experience? And through your work with teens? What's the perfect way? Not just kidding. But how can we create openings to have conversations like this, where we can say I see you, I see that you're struggling? I see that you've found this way of helping yourself? And, you know, I'm here to talk like, or maybe it's where we're getting it wrong, like, what do you hear from the kids that you work with? That they wish their parents understood? Okay.

Ciara Fanlo 48:53
A lot of times, they say, I wish my parents knew that I wasn't doing this for attention, that this isn't a choice. I think, yes, a lot of times, especially for parents who didn't have challenges with their mental health, they're, like, bewildered, they're like, why are you doing this? This makes absolutely no sense to me. And so they sometimes assume that it's for attention, or because their kids are lazy, or they're trying to cause discord in the home or something. And teenagers often feel so misunderstood by that, that it's kind of completely missing, like the pain that they're actually in. So dismissive. And I think they also say that they wish their parents understood that they don't expect their parents to fix it, either. A lot of times, they'll say, like, I don't really open up or share about this because my parents either just give me advice, or they blame me for it, or they invalidate how I feel. And so I keep this to myself. I want to double down on that. They don't expect you to fix it. And that the value you bring is not in having all of the perfect answers or the magic formula all the time. But just being there for them.

Casey O'Roarty 50:10
Yeah, yeah. And being there can be a quiet presence. Yeah. Right. We can be there without even opening our mouths. Yes, absolutely. And as I say that I'm recognizing on my end, my work with the parents is figuring your shit out so that you can sit there quietly? Yeah, yeah. Like doing whatever you need to do to tend to the fear and the anxiety that you have for your kid. And find the faith? Yes. Right. Find the faith because they need to know that you have faith in them to move through it. Yeah,

Ciara Fanlo 50:51
because when I didn't have that faith in myself, I needed other people to hold that for me for some time, until I could find it again. Oh,

Casey O'Roarty 51:00
my gosh, I don't even think we actually did any of the questions that I wrote down for you. But that was so useful. Oh, my gosh, thank you. I'm gonna have you back on. This is the beginning of a lifelong relationship. Kara, I am so glad to meet you and to know you. And I'm so grateful that you share your story and that you work with teens that you advocate and stand for teens. Thank you for who you are. Thank you any final words that you want to leave listeners with? As I wrap us up?

Ciara Fanlo 51:31
Yes. One piece I want to offer is how essential self forgiveness is on both sides for the parent and child. Because I think that self awareness is possible with self forgiveness. When I was in treatment, I kind of saw this pattern and so many teens where they would like not want to look at what was happening because it was so painful to see their own role in what they had created, or to admit how they've been hurt by other people. And I think for parents, too, there's like so much, you know, self blaming, oh my god, I shouldn't have said that one thing on Tuesday to seven to 12:02pm. Like I just ruined my kid for her whole life. And on my side, too. I carried a tremendous amount of guilt and shame for years of like how much I hurt my family, because we didn't really talk about this much like I was really, really challenging. And I was often in very dangerous situations and did things that terrified my parents. And I realized, like, in those years after I'd come home, I remember I was like doing something in the kitchen once with my family. Like I was like making a pie or something. And I noticed like how much I wasn't actually in the moment, I felt this like, kind of wall around my heart. Because I was like, wow, I missed so many nights doing this because I was away. I'm such a bad kid. I hurt my family. I don't deserve to be here. And I could see like, I'm actually not available for what's here now. Because I'm still holding on to so much shame and guilt from how I was. And so I think people need to infuse their process of awakening and doing the work with that self forgiveness. So they can continue to be open to what's coming.

Casey O'Roarty 53:36
Well, that's led me into another thought. Another thing that Yeah. Well, I'm curious, because, you know, this is totally a personal side note. Well, first of all, I've been thinking a lot about, I'm reading people's books, and I'm continuously learning about this interpersonal relationship, parent child dynamic. And as I learn and grow, I'm like, Oh, well, I could have done that better. Yeah, I could have done that better. So I really appreciate you talking about self forgiveness. I'm also thinking to myself, like I'm so in awe of my daughter's growth. And the hard days are still very, right there. Yeah. You know, like they feel like recent history. Yeah. Not ancient history. Yep. And I bring it up, and I don't bring it up. Like God. Remember when it sucked and you were a nightmare? Yeah. But I do bring up like, it's amazing to me, you know, you're in this healthy dynamic. And I think, as I'm listening to you talk, I'm doing my own kind of personal inventory around, maybe I can let go of that and let her be the one to say, Yeah, remember when it was really hard and now look at where I'm at now and let her connect those dots. Because I wonder if I am creating an experience where She's then going back to? Oh, yeah, when I made it hard for everybody, and oh,

Ciara Fanlo 55:10
I can't speak for Rowan because she might have that experience or a different one. My mom often says that to me, and I actually feel her pride in me when she says that, yeah,

Casey O'Roarty 55:21
yeah, it might be a little both and there too, right. But what is awakened in me is a different awareness around that. So thanks for that question. What does joyful courage mean to you?

Ciara Fanlo 55:32
So, so funny, I was like, looking at the etymology of both those words, because I love doing that whenever I'm trying to go into the roots of what a word is. But my own answer to this is like, joy to me has this depth to it. And it almost has this acknowledgment of all like, it's to me, it's this very, very inclusive term that has curiosity and fascination and movement to it. And I think that it takes courage to feel joy, because I think a lot of people as well sometimes struggle in healing or recovery because they're so scared of feeling joy or feeling good in some way and then losing it. It's almost like loss is like more painful than ignorance. So I think joy and courage go hand in hand that it takes courage to be open to joy.

Casey O'Roarty 56:30
Thank you, where can people find you and follow so work

Ciara Fanlo 56:35
My website is homing instinct.org And from there people can find my Instagram which is just my name cura fan Lo and as well for parents who are interested they can find my Facebook group for support group for parents where I post a lot of like live videos and other resources but my websites a good place to go for all of it.

Ciara Fanlo 56:56

Casey O'Roarty 56:57
Okay, we'll make sure the links are in the show notes.

Casey O'Roarty 56:59
Thank you so much. My pleasure. Great,

Ciara Fanlo 57:01
Thank you so much for having me, Casey.

Casey O'Roarty 57:08
Thank you so much for listening in today. Thank you to my spreadable partners as well as Chris Mann and the team at pod shaper for all the support with getting the show out there and making it sound good. Check out our offers for parents with kids of all ages and sign up for our newsletter to stay connected at bees profitable.com. Tune back in later this week for our Thursday show and I'll be back with another interview next Monday. Peace

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