Jaynay Johnson, LMFT, is a therapist who specializes in teen mental health and practices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. She does amazing work with teens struggling with self-harm, suicidal ideation, depression, and anxiety. She is also the author of three books: Dear Teen Self, a book to help adolescent girls through the difficulties of being a teenager, My Dear Teen Self, a guided journal to help teenagers develop insight into their emotions, and Dear Mom, Dear Daughter, a guided journal for adolescent girls and their mothers to complete together to promote healthy communication skills. Jaynay took the time to chat with me over Zoom about her important work.
Jaynay shared with me that the word “teenager” was not coined until the 1940s. It was not until recently that we recognized and focused on adolescents’ unique needs and stage of development. “We didn’t really give teenagers their space” until recently, and she is excited to be part of this movement. “These people aren’t adults … but we’ve never really carved space for them this way.” She focuses on helping teens through “guiding” rather than punitive approaches. “I just want people, when we think about mental health, to not neglect teen mental health. … The stereotype with teens is, they think they know it all, and yeah, of course they do, but they also haven’t lived a lot. … But can we also provide some grace, they might know it all based on their life experience.”
Jaynay wrote Dear Teen Self and self-published it in 2015. This book uses cognitive behavioral techniques and addresses issues including friendship, sex, mental health, and school. She wrote this book to expand her reach to teens beyond her clinical practice.
Dear Mom, Dear Daughter came out of Jaynay’s clinical work: “Being a teen therapist, a lot of the chief complaints that I hear from teen girls often is the relationship with their mother. I think mothers tend to negate their role in their teen’s lives and how important it is to them.” She noticed that adolescent girls might have something they want to share with their mother but are not sure how to say it to their face. “I just wanted to create a tool in between that could assist with the communication.” The book includes a mood tracker to help with communicating feelings. She is currently working on a follow-up journal to foster communication between mothers and sons.
Because Jaynay works with teens experiencing suicidal ideation, she has to navigate maintaining relationship with her clients and informing parents for safety reasons. She described how she creates a plan with the teen and parent to ensure safety. Teens often want to share these concerns with the parent but are unsure about how to bring it up, so Jaynay facilitates this discussion. She shared that being “extremely transparent” about what has to be shared and why. “I really try to frame it as, you’re unsafe, that’s okay. That’s what adults are here to do, we’re here to protect you and make sure that you’re safe, and when you are feeling safe again … I also want you to be emotionally safe to process what happens next.”
In addition to her clinical practice and writing, Jaynay speaks, consults, and is a “parent educator.” Information about these services is available on her website, linked above. She is also working on developing a “therapist academy” to help other therapist who work with teenagers access important resources and skills.