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Emotional Needs and the Treatment Process of Parents and Children


Noel Koons, MS, CMHC, Lead Therapist at Evoke Therapy Intensives and counselor & owner of Volition Counseling


Brenda Zane is a Sky’s the Limit Fund board member, Founder of Hopestream Community, and podcast host of Hopestream

About the episode:

This is an introduction to Emotional Needs 101 by Noel Koons. Noel explores the 6 emotional needs including how emotional need issues contribute to struggles leading up to treatment.
“What are Emotional Needs? Emotional needs are the essential, inner, subjective conditions that must be met for well-being. If we meet them well, we’ll experience lasting periods of peace, joy, and wholeness. When we meet our emotional needs both personally and interpersonally, we feel serenity, self-efficacy, contentment, and thriving. If we don’t meet them, we may become chronically frustrated, dysregulated, desperate, resentful, anxious, depressed, pessimistic, cynical, listless, numb, and nihilistic.”

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Brenda 0:01
Hey, welcome back. We are here for another episode of the Sky’s the Limit Fund Speaker Series slash podcast. And I am Brenda Zane, I am a board member for Sky’s the Limit Fund and I get to participate in helping the organization fund wilderness therapy and family support services for young people, whether that’s a teenager or young adult who is in need of some therapy and wilderness therapy is the the option that their parents have chosen or that they have chosen themselves. So I get to host really great conversations with people in the field of wilderness therapy. And we just are trying to bring credible and reliable information to you about wilderness therapy, and have you meet some of the people who are working with the young people in this field. And I think sometimes what people don’t realize is that wilderness therapy provides world class therapeutic treatment in a lot of different ways, in nature. And so it is a really phenomenal form of treatment. And today, I get to speak with a person who has a lot of experience in this area. No coons he is with evoke wilderness therapy, and he leads the Evoke Therapy Intensives. And we’ll have him talk about what those are. And he also has a private practice has worked extensively in this field. And so we’re going to talk today about the emotional needs that both young people and parents have. And kind of what happens to that dynamic when a child is in a stage where they’re really needing to have treatment. So I can’t wait for the conversation. Welcome. No,

Noel 1:45
thank you very much, Brenda, it’s great to be with you. And it’s also great to be a part of the Sky’s the Limit Fund program and podcast, I’ve worked in my especially wilderness days, I’ve worked with families who were able to get, as you mentioned, this excellent wilderness treatment, and because of sky’s the limit, whereas they they probably would not have been able to, to get what they needed. Without Sky’s the Limit. So thank you Sky’s the Limit Fund for for helping so many families out who are who are struggling and and in need of, of some really robust therapy and treatment.

Brenda 2:34
Absolutely. i It’s why I sit on the board, because I just first of all, I’m such a huge believer in wilderness therapy. Just seeing what it did for my own son, who I would have said never in a million years, would he you know, go to wilderness therapy. And, and yeah, and unfortunately, it is extremely expensive. It is extremely, you know, effective. And like I said, world class therapy. And often insurance companies still today aren’t paying for it. So there are a lot of families who just get stuck in that position where this would be a phenomenal treatment for their child, and it is so out of reach. So we are so appreciative of our donors who give so generously to allow us to give these scholarships to families to help them with that, and then help on the back end, right? Because it is it’s not like when they leave wilderness therapy, they’re all fixed, and everything’s fine. And there’s still a lot of need for support for the family. So we’re incredibly honored to do that. So Well, thanks for joining me, why don’t you give us a little bit of background on you kind of how did you land in this wild world of wilderness therapy and a little bit about what your day to day looks like?

Noel 3:47
Sure, yeah, I can share a bit about that. Actually, when I was going to graduate school, I was planning to work with the older population, you know, like oldsters, who were, who were, you know, the latter end of their lives, I thought, you know, especially in the United States that this is an underserved population and undervalued population. And, and I still think that would be a noble pursuit, I ended up not going in that direction. Because one of my one of my classmates invited me to, to join her at she was the program director at a residential treatment center. And I didn’t know what a residential treatment center was at the time. But she said, yeah, they’re, you know, they’re teenagers, and they stay here and they go to school, and they, you know, do a lot of cool exercise and they do yoga, and they go on camping trips and different adventures and they do service. And I was like, wow, this is this is amazing. like, Can I can I join? Can I be, can I live there for a while and do all of these things. And she, of course, said they also get a lot of therapy. And, and so she was my connection to I eventually, you know, started into I joined, I joined the team and had a very quick intro into the depth and depth of the work and how meaningful it is. Because I was there, less than two weeks and, and I saw a graduation. And as, as you likely know, where when, when a student graduates from a place like this, they often recall and reminisce about, about how they got to, you know, what life was like before treatment, you know, what led to it and, and kind of giving a snapshot of, of their journey in this. And even though I, I’d only known this student for two weeks, I was so moved, I was in tears, I was, I thought, this is this is incredible, this is the, the the alchemy of, of the process where this person, and her and her family was struggling so mightily, and, and then getting the support that they needed were, at least at this point, even though there are further mountains to climb post graduation, right. But at this point, there was this enormous sense of of triumph, because of engaging fully and vulnerably. And courageously. And in, in this process and getting the support that she and her family needed. And it was so cool.

Brenda 7:00
So you were hooked.

Noel 7:03
I was hooked. Yeah, I so I continued, I continued and then have worked in the residential treatment center realm, as well as the therapeutic boarding school realm and, and the wilderness therapy realm. So kind of seeing the different stages that some of these kids go through, in order to be get the get their needs met, and, and be successful in their, in their own lives. And, and all the while figure themselves out a bit better. And so now, as you mentioned, I’m with I do evoke intensives, which are, which are sometimes that name sounds intimidating, intense sounds. What’s that about? But the, it’s their retreats. And so these are retreats for groups of individuals, they can be couples, they can be families. And these are where people can get a lot of very nurturing, very well supported therapy done in a short amount of time. And so that’s the intensive part.

Brenda 8:29
Not so scary. It’s just time time.

Noel 8:33
Yeah, it’s not it’s not like military, what is that? It’s not like Hell Week, military type thing. It’s just where you’re able to do a lot of therapy in a short amount of time, because because you’re in this nurturing, well supported secure environment. We all have a big belief in attachment theory. So cultivating a secure attachment, a secure base, where people can feel some, some cure, courage and security, to explore, to explore, typically, typically their history a bit, their families of origin, and also present day struggles. And, and often bridging that because our history and forms are present. Right? And so it’s not quite in the past. It’s, it’s typically still present, or at least some of it. So doing that, and then I also do I also have a private practice. So I, I meet with individuals, couples, and families and sometimes groups in a private practice setting. And so that’s that’s kind of What I do

Brenda 10:00
that keeps you busy regularly?

Noel 10:04
Well, you know, fortunately, and unfortunately, you know, in a couple of ways where there’s the demand is high, demand is high, but also fortunately, fortunately, therapy is, is less, there’s less stigma around it then than decades past, especially, especially with youth, where a lot of I work with adults and teenagers, and a lot of the teenagers are excited. And sometimes, sometimes they’re asking their parents, Hey, can I can I see a therapist? Can I go to therapy? And that is so different than when I was growing up. Right? That’s super, it was this bizarre thing? If someone went to therapy or went to treatment, right? It was bizarre. It’s like, what’s wrong with them?

Brenda 10:58
Right. So that’s good to hear that gift? Yeah, yeah, I think that’s great. And I think you’re right, there’s, you know, COVID is a blessing and a curse. And I think one of the blessings coming out of it really is that we are all talking about mental health more, we all are talking about ways that we can navigate our way through a really kind of crazy world. And I know that you sort of in in thinking about this conversation, there’s these six basic emotional needs that you talk about, and you have great article, hopefully, we’ll be able to link to that, in the notes for this. And we were talking before we recorded about what that looks like in a family kind of how these needs, whether they’re met, or unmet show up in a family dynamic, especially leading up to treatment, because things have things are obviously not going great. If your young person needs to treatment, maybe you can talk a little bit about what those are and how what parents might be seeing show up in their, in their child.

Noel 12:01
Definitely. So a quick introduction to these six emotional needs. And just as a caveat, when I say needs, like, I don’t, I don’t use that word lightly, where these are needs just like we have physical needs of, you know, breathing, breathing oxygen and, and getting food and water and, and sleep, things like that, where if we don’t get our physical needs met, we will will be in trouble. We will, we will not function, well, we will. So with these emotional needs, I, I’ve distilled it into six of them. And a quick list is a sense of feeling understood. Like it’s, we need to feel understood, especially by those we care about, and who care about us. So feeling understood, and others feeling accepted, especially by those we care about and who care about us. And also feeling connected again, with those we care about and those who care about us. And then additionally, three more having a sense of safety and security. Another is a sense of power and control over our own lives. And a sense of mastery and mastery being being I sense that I’m capable, that I’m good at some things and also that if I if I practice, if I work at something that I can improve, you know, where I can practice the guitar and, and I can have a sense of mastery, I can sense that I’m improving or I can study Spanish and, and sense that I’m I’m growing in that capacity, but also that I’m that I’m good at some things that I have some strengths. So all of us have some mastery, power and control, safety and security, feeling a sense of connection, acceptance and understanding. So, these are these are critical and in my experience working with with kids and families, where is that before treatment, they may be getting their physical needs met, you know very well, but their emotional needs may be may be falling through and and Sometimes this manifests through all us. You know, one example is if we don’t get our emotional needs met, well, we will, we’ll take a cheap, easy solution for that. And one cheap, easy solution is using substances to get our emotional needs met, where we can And, you know, we can often feel understood, feel understood by those, you know, where we can, if we’re using with people, it’s like, oh, they understand me, we often have that, you know, they may feel that feel that sense, they get me, they accept me, you know, they’re not judging me, they accept me, I feel connected with them, because this is what we do, you know, we get together and we use together. And it can help them feel a sense of, of safety and security, at least in the moment. Right, and a sense of power and control. Right? Hey, like I can, I can adjust my, the way I think and feel very quickly, as I as I use these substances, so I feel this power and control, then a sense of mastery, it’s, it’s somewhat easy to be kind of really good at, or to get good at, you know, pack in a bowl, or being sneaky, about about one’s use, or knowing the knowing the vocabulary, the street vocabulary for this stuff, and, and having a sense of power or sense of mastery, power and control, safety, security, feeling connected, accepted and understood. All through that, and it’s, it’s a cheap, easy, kind of solution. For and I’ll, I’ll switch to the opposite. Because if someone is getting their emotional needs met, in an unhealthy way, it usually means that they’ve, they’ve tried to do it in healthier ways, but have been unsuccessful. So maybe they’re feeling misunderstood. Maybe they’re feeling, you know, not accepted, they’re feeling rejected in some way, either in by their peers, close friends, maybe in a romantic relationship, maybe in family relationships, maybe not feeling connected, maybe they feel alone, perhaps abandoned, and then not feeling safe and secure. And we can often feel unsafe, and insecure. within ourselves. This is where this is where the emotional work can come up, like anxiety. And I’ll use a panic attack for an as an example, where people typically I mean, no one feels safe, secure, and a sense of power and control, while they’re having a panic attack. Right now feels chaotic, it feels like I’m gonna die. And where I don’t feel safe, I don’t feel secure, I don’t have a sense of power, or control. This is just happening to me. And I’m, I’m just in the, in the washing machine, like, like getting flipped around. I’m totally upside down. And so we can often experience the opposite of these. And then of course, with feeling powerless, feeling out of control, or sometimes feeling overpowered or controlled by someone else, then the opposite of mastery is a sense of failure. And so adolescence especially is a difficult time where kids are navigating their world is expanding greatly during adolescence, including into the with peer relationships. And many of us experience a sense of failure, with peer relationships, or sometimes, excuse me. Sometimes kids are having more difficulties in school. You know, I’ve worked with a lot of intelligent kids who are somewhat disorganized, and they can get away with that in elementary school, but as soon as middle school and high school hits. It’s, it’s as if Oh, I actually need to study to do well and actually need to be organized. Because I have several classes, and I need to keep all my classes separate. And, and be organized in that way. And they can begin to have these failure experiences. Yeah, academically with peer relationships with themselves and their own emotional experiences, and sometimes with families. So, as going jumping back to the example where you know, that if you ask someone, you know, why do you why do you smoke Wheat, for example, why do you why do you use wheat? And it may just be because? Because it feels good,

Brenda 20:08
very common answer.

Noel 20:09
It feels good, very common answer, and it’s very superficial. And the deeper, the deeper, more important reasons that we try that we aim to get to, therapeutically is okay, what emotional needs? What are the psychological needs are not being met in healthy ways that this, that this person has resorted to this quick, easy solution, right, in order to get the Met. But what often happens is, the substance use gets a lot of attention, which is totally understandable, right? It’s a big deal, you can get a lot of attention. These are developing brains. And so introducing these substances can be not healthy. You know? Yeah. And, but what’s often overlooked is the emotional needs driving this behavior.

Brenda 21:08
Yeah. You know, what I love about what you just went through is it gives me and whoever’s listening a construct to, through which we can think about, like, sorting that out, like, Hmm, I’m seeing this in my kid is that a sign of, you know, feeling inadequate, feeling overpowered, feeling unstable. So it doesn’t feel as just random, when it shows up with your, you know, your teenager or your young adult, it starts to make some sense, like, Okay, this actually, I can start to see a little bit of structure around what might be going on. And I think that’s a perfect example of the the benefit of working with a really great therapist is, you all see these things, and can really start to dissect what’s going on with that young person. Whereas a parent, like you said, we’re just like, oh, my gosh, you’re smoking weed, I got freaking out about the, the one thing instead of being able to start to look at all of these different layers, so I love that I think that’s really important. And I really liked what you said about when you were talking about safety, because I think a lot of parents we go, Well, of course, my kid is safe. Look at this amazing house they live in look at the, you know, there’s they’re perfectly safe. And so what you brought up about the emotional, feeling emotionally unsafe, is such a huge insight, because that we might not see from the outside looking in, we might not see that feeling of terror of like, I don’t feel okay, inside. Therefore, I’m gonna layer this bandaid on that’s called weed because it just makes it go away. So those were really, really like lightbulb moments for me. So thank you for those.

Noel 22:57
Yeah, you’re very welcome. And just to piggyback off off that a little bit, where all of us are ideally, meeting our emotional needs, both personally and interpersonally. You know, meeting like self acceptance, self understanding, and again, not to preach all about therapy, but this is where therapy is a great place where we can understand ourselves better. And we can also learn to be in relationship where, where we work with someone so that they can understand us better, and that we can understand them better. Yeah. And then consequentially Acceptance comes and a feeling of a sense of connection comes and, and then, you know, the other the other three psychological needs emotional needs, but interpersonally and personally, and so sometimes the, it’s like the inner world and the outer world, academics, outer world, right. And that can be a difficult thing to navigate and, and also the inner world, my emotional world, right? Where my experience growing up, my family was very good at the emotional suppression, just like don’t talk about it. If you’re, if you’re feeling something, if you’re experiencing something, if you’re struggling with something, just just sweep it under the rug with everything else,

Brenda 24:26
right. It’s a perfect place.

Noel 24:28
Perfect place where that’s where everything else is. And we try to forget about it. But it’s it’s always there. So, so for me, I was like emotionally immature for a long time and probably still am, where my wife can attest to that. Where were learning to navigate our emotional world. Yeah, you know, that’s where and if we get skilled at that we can have Again, a stronger sense of safety and security within ourselves a greater sense of power and control and a sense of mastery. Like I’m, I’m getting successful. Whereas I got successful at emotional suppression bottling it up. That’s where I can reach mastery. Exactly. Right. These emotional needs can go in a variety of direction, directions if we don’t get them met. Well, and if we’re not taught how to get them met Well, in young, healthy, healthy ways, again, both personally and interpersonally.

Brenda 25:37
Well, I have a question about that. Because as you were talking through these things, having been a parent in the situation where I had a child, really not doing any of these things. Well, I was thinking, wow, I was feeling all of these things like you were talking about the personal interpersonal, as a parent, I was feeling misunderstood, rejected, not definitely not safe, totally unstable, totally out of control, no control whatsoever, no power. Everything in my house was chaos. I was being overt, like, every single thing that you listed. I was like, huh, that was exactly me. So now what I’m thinking is, this is so much is making sense. My kids failing this, I’m failing this. Holy cow, like, No wonder we’re struggling. So what if you’re feeling like that? As a parent? What do you do so that you can start to then work on okay, my kid really needs some help, but I need some, I need some help to, like, what what is a parent do in that case?

Noel 26:39
Yeah. So Brenda, great question. And, and thank you, I mentioned it before we started recording where thank you for your work, and you sharing your story. And your experience and and being a voice and perhaps a mentor in some ways for other parents who are now navigating this extremely difficult experience. And, and feeling as you mentioned, like, out of control, misunderstood, feeling like a failure, have a feeling power less, and all of that. And, you know, what do parents do with that? Right? And fantastic question. And

Brenda 27:25
you probably don’t have that time. But I just wanted to sneak that in.

Noel 27:29
Yeah, that’s, that’s probably a series of it’s probably a series of books or several, several long, long podcasts. But I’ll try, I’ll try to distill it. Again, in my opinion, and my experience, were, knowing that having awareness, having an awareness of I may not be getting my emotional needs met, starting there is is a great place to start. Because if we don’t acknowledge it, if we don’t admit it, if we’re not aware of our emotional needs, not being met, then we will act. And I’ll use this word in desperation. Because that’s what happens when, with our physical needs. If I’m not getting if I’m not getting enough nourishment, if I’m not getting enough food, I will become desperate. Right? And I will, I will start acting in all these uncharacteristic ways to the point where, if worse, comes to worse. I’ll eat garbage. Right? Yeah. Yeah, to in order to get that need met, I will eat garbage, you know, whatever it may be. And it’s, it’s the same with our emotional needs were first we get clumsy. You know, and how we get these mats. We get clumsy as if we’re sleep deprived. We get very clumsy when

Brenda 29:02
we also are sleep deprived.

Noel 29:06
We as a society, Oh, yeah. Right. Yeah. Difficult to sleep when, when you’re in this situation. And and there’s certainly overlap between physical needs and emotional needs, where our it affects our appetites. It affects our, our, our breathing, right, it affects our sleep. And so I said I was going to try to distill this now I’m being long winded. So awareness first, first awareness, you know if I can pause because if I’m not aware, I’ll be I’ll be clumsy and I’ll get desperate. And when I get desperate, I’ll make mistakes. Include including damaging relationships, doing things that that are against my values. Hurting those close to me mean to those close to me perhaps. And so awareness first. And if you’re in relationship, you know, sometimes sometimes if someone we we love we care about deeply is acting is behaving in ways that we think are perhaps Irresponsible or even dangerous. We may, we may feel out of control or a sense of powerlessness, and we may try to, to control them in order to satisfy our own need. And certainly we, you know, keeping, keeping our kids safe, is of paramount importance. And it’s my responsibility to meet my own need. You know, as parents, it’s not our kids responsibility to meet our emotional or psychological needs. Yet, sometimes we make it about them, you know, if you just behave, if you just do this, then I’ll feel a sense of control. And I’ll feel secure. And I’ll be okay. Or sometimes, you know, I do this. And sometimes we explain our rules. It’s like, oh, you know, and we try to get our kids to agree, or buy into agree to our rules. And we feel understood. But it’s, it’s, it can be rare, it can be rare that our kids actually agree with our logic around rules or boundaries. And so we can feel oh, misunderstood with that. And when we feel misunderstood, sometimes we, we explain further, oh, you just need a longer lecture, you need more reasoning, and louder and louder. Maybe we’re yelling, and we’re talking about this article, I read that, that talks about how this is important. And this and that, and we’re using professionals, to back us up to try to get us to be right. When we’re actually trying to satisfy our need to feel understood. Right. So first, awareness, second. Taking responsibility for our own emotional needs. Yeah. And that may sound contradictory, because I said, we do that both personally and interpersonally. And so yes, personally, you know, taking care of my emotional needs. And it may be that I speak with my own therapist or friend, or, or spouse or partner, or spiritual leader, or someone about these things where I can feel understood, accepted and connected. Yeah. Yeah, great point. And that’s a much better base. That’s a much better place and base where we can go into a difficult situation. Almost as if we’re not sleep deprived, you know, being fully rested. And yeah, and well nourished. Yeah,

Brenda 33:17
amazing. Well, this, I feel like we could, yes, have about a very long series about this. But I think this is good to give parents a way to start thinking through and making sense of some of the behavior that they’re seeing, and really trying to be a little bit more empathetic about that. And to understand the root of that, and then also just to help ourselves, because it is a really uncomfortable place to be as a parent. So thank you for joining us, and for all the work that you do with families, and we might have to have you back for part two.

Noel 33:51
I’d love that. Brenda, and thank you very much for for inviting me on and I’m very grateful to speak with you and also to have this in a way this conversation with with a lot of parents who are in it. Right? Yeah. courageously in it right now. So I feel for you and and hope you feel well. You all feel well supported. Even though I realize there are a lot of fluctuations and there’s a lot of uncertainty. But um, yeah, I wish for all of you understanding, acceptance, connection, safety, security, power control, and mastery, perhaps beautiful time or time with patients. I love it.

Brenda 34:35
Thank you so much for joining us.

Noel 34:38
You’re very welcome. Thank you, Brenda. Thank you very much.



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