Unique Therapy Empowers Local Teenage Girls

Teenage girls today are under immense pressure. Not only are they expected to excel at school and in sports, but they’re also expected to look like supermodels and be nurturing, all while juggling homework and extracurricular activities to get into the right college. All of these pressures are causing what University of California, Berkeley, psychologist Stephen Hinshaw calls a generational mental health crisis. He explores the topic in his book “The Triple Bind.”

Sisters Melissa and Caroline Novack recognized the pressures teen girls are under today. They also noticed that these pressures don’t necessarily go away as girls grow into women: rather, the pressures change or manifest in new ways. The Novacks, both licensed clinical social workers and fitness/yoga devotees, wanted to work together to fill a gap in the North Shore community, to help empower girls and women by combining traditional therapy with exercise. Thus, Inpower in Northbrook was created, and today the Novacks are teaching young girls how exercise and mental health go hand in hand.

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Four years ago, Melissa, a self-proclaimed “fitness junkie,” had a thriving private therapy practice specializing in teenage girls. Her sister, Caroline, was a school social worker and an avid yogi who had been contracted as a yoga therapist at a treatment program for youth. Both women were working with many girls struggling with low self-esteem and body image issues.

After examining the current research on the role that exercise plays in improving mood and reducing anxiety, Melissa became certified as a personal trainer and began to combine talk therapy with movement. Caroline, already certified in yoga, dove into research and advanced training in yoga therapy to incorporate yoga and mindfulness into her clinical therapy for teenagers. By combining their expertise, the Novacks have created a place that nurtures individuals to identify and cope with stressors through therapy and exercise. Sessions at Inpower combine fitness therapy and yoga therapy to create meaningful psychological and physical changes.

“Individual fitness therapy sessions go above and beyond what you can receive from a traditional trainer – they will enable you to become motivated and goal-oriented while you adapt to life’s changes,” Caroline says. “Yoga therapy helps individuals learn to be present in the moment, utilize their breath and body as tools for anxiety reduction, and to gain a sense of strength and confidence inside and out.”

Caroline recently worked with “Melanie,” a 10-year-old girl who had increasing anxiety. Melanie was having difficulty completing homework without meltdowns, getting ready for school and separating from her parents. While she had some initial success from meeting with an individual talk therapist, she still felt paralyzed when anxiety would take hold. Caroline worked with both Melanie and her mother to help Melanie identify what anxiety feels like in her body, recognize the warning signs of an episode, and implement yogic strategies (breath, mindfulness, movement and relaxation techniques) early after the warning signs in order to prevent the anxiety from rising out of control. Melanie became in control of her anxiety, and was able to refocus her time and energy on activities she enjoys. Caroline has worked with numerous clients with similar issues as Melanie, and this experiential mind/body treatment tends to be short-term (five to 10 sessions) and highly successful.

Melissa recently had success with “Jenny,” a 13-year-old girl who was referred because she was significantly overweight, stuck in negative habits and struggling with low self-esteem. Melissa and Jenny combined talk therapy and fitness by meeting twice weekly, creating achievable goals, doing check-ins while on the treadmill and completing a comprehensive strength training program. With this program, Jenny was empowered to make meaningful changes. She was able to create new positive life habits, increase her sense of self-worth and get to a healthy body weight.

Through her work with teenage girls, Melissa discovered that it wasn’t just the teenagers who were stressed out. Many of her clients’ mothers had “hit a wall,” questioning their true purpose and happiness or feeling stuck in their personal lives, careers, relationships or health. Some of the women felt stressed, overscheduled and depleted, as well. One of the women, “Stephanie,” participated in “LifeBalance Counseling: A Program for Stressed-Out Moms.”

“She was ready to determine what was ‘next for her’ as her children were high school- and college-aged,” says Melissa. “I met with Stephanie for 12 weeks and throughout the process, she identified where she was stuck in unhealthy patterns and ideas about herself, determined her goals, and began making meaningful change. By the end of the 12 weeks, and with a newfound confidence and belief in herself, Stephanie took adequate steps to start pursuing a new career. She uncovered that at her core she was intelligent, creative and quite determined.”

Inpower has grown from the two sisters to a team of five clinicians. By early fall, Inpower plans to reopen in a brand new location in Northbrook, where they will continue to offer the same services along with some new ones.

Inpower will also become a comprehensive wellness center that will offer:

  • Continued talk therapy services for girls and women
  • Talk therapy for boys, men, couples and families
  • Play therapy
  • Neuropsychological, psychological and educational testing
  • Executive functioning tutoring
  • Psychiatric services
  • Fitness therapies, including yoga, weight loss groups and small-group fitness

Have you had success with talk or movement therapy? Please tell us about it in the comments below or send your story to [email protected] with the subject line “My Therapy Story.”


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