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A shift to prevention helps maintain self-esteem

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

A war is being waged against adolescent girls, but Kristin Bohan is fighting back.

Bohan is a Pawleys Island psychologist who specializes in behavior and development of adolescent girls.

“I presently have a staggering number of adolescent girls in my psychotherapy practice,” she said. “It’s not what I advertise for; it’s what shows up on my doorstep,” Bohan said.

To combat the surge in mental health issues among young women and girls, Bohan will speak to parents at Waccamaw High School April 29 at 6 p.m. She will provide research on popular culture’s effect on adolescent girls and will give parents tools they can use to encourage their daughters to hold onto their authentic selves as they grow up and evaluate the messages they get in the media.

The talk is part of Bohan’s new nonprofit, myTERMS, that she created to help adolescent girls as bright and happy as they were before they come to her office angry, anxious, depressed, overwhelmed, starving themselves and suicidal. The acronym stands for my time, energy, rights and mission. Her goal is to help girls maintain a strong and healthy sense of self while they grow up in a culture filled with what Bohan calls “girl-hurting messages.”

“When I see a girl I knew at 11 as vibrant and feisty turn into a shell of her former self by 14, I want to scream,” Bohan said. “Who and what is stealing the selves of our daughters?”

Angry at what she saw happening to girls, Bohan decided she couldn’t continue to do intervention without adding another element to her practice: prevention.

MyTERMS is Bohan’s attempt to reach girls before they are affected by cultural pressures.

“From the time they are born their lives become more and more narrow,” she said.

Bohan has a doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Tennessee, completed a clinical internship at Duke University and was chosen as the 1997 postdoctoral fellow at Yale University’s Center for Eating and Weight Disorders.

Through research and her own professional experience, she found that society’s standards of female beauty and behavior can pigeon-hole girls so they feel like they can’t do as much as boys. They’re better off being a pretty and pleasing object.

Popular song lyrics, music videos, magazines, TV, movies and even the toy aisle support that idea, Bohan said.

When they can’t force themselves to fit into that mold, or they fight back, they usually end up on Bohan’s couch.

“As a psychologist in private practice, I am throwing twigs under a runaway train. I can treat these girls, one by one, for anxiety, depression and eating disorders, and the next group will just keep coming,” she said. “It is not enough to wait until they are symptomatic and then treat them individually. So much damage has been done.”

And what about parents who can’t afford therapy, she asked.

So she began a weekly support group in January for girls 13 to 18. It met for 90 minutes a week for eight weeks to teach girls about the cultural pressures, empower them to stay true to themselves and give them a place where they can support each other.

Bohan hopes the new myTERMS office will also offer such a place. She’s meeting with architects this month to look at space in a medical building in Murrells Inlet.

She hopes to open in August.

While she’s working on creating the perfect safe space, she’s also developing a summer camp for girls 8 to 18. For four weeks at $200 a week, girls can meet female counselors at the Reserve Harbor Yacht Club. They’ll discuss what the media sells, girls in history, body image and relationships.

The idea of the camp is to give girls tools to critically examine the messages they get in the media and learn what it really means to be a woman.

To learn more, go to myTERMS.org. If interested in getting involved in the organization, e-mail Anna Milling, the volunteer coordinator at annamilling1@gmail.com. The first volunteers meeting is tonight at 6 p.m. at Quigley’s Pint and Plate in Litchfield.

Complimentary drinks and appetizers will be provided.

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